Walking into the Urbino headquarters of fashion designer Piero Guidi is like walking into heaven: You’re surrounded by angels.
Everywhere you look – the colorful mosaic on the side of the building, sculptures that rise above the landscape, a giant bronze statue that seems to the guard the front entrance - you see angels.
“In Italy the angels are all over,” said Guidi, the designer of the popular handbag and luggage lines, Magic Circus and Lineabold. “The world’s artistic patrimony is in Italy. It could only be born in an area where these things have been seen for hundreds of years.”
Guidi obviously has a deep love for angels. His company’s tag line Angeli Del Nostro Tempo – Angels of Our Time – is incorporated into every product he makes, from belt buckles to bomber jackets to briefcases.
Finding the right symbol for his internationally recognized company took two years. One day, while sketching, Guidi came up with an image of two angels embracing each other. The date was Jan. 11, 1991, or 01-11-1991, “It’s a magical date,” Guidi said, noting the date has many “1’s,” not simply a coincidence in Guidi’s playful mind.
For 18 years, Piero Guidi has used Angeli Del Nostro Tempo to advertise his products. His advertising campaigns have included a constellation of the world’s great celebrities, including the famous American boxer Muhammad Ali and his wife Lonnie, daughters of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yolanda and Bernice King and Margherita Hack, Italian astrophysicist.
All of these figures exemplify heroism and creativity, says Guidi, a sculptor who began studying fashion in Rome in the 1970’s. For him, fashion models aren’t just mannequins, but role models. They speak about social contribution, civil rights, sports and scientific achievement and a natural desire to make a difference.
His current campaign, photographed by son Giacomo Guidi, art director and photographer for the company, can be viewed in the July/August L’uomo Vogue. The advertisement features German filmmaker Wim Wenders and his wife, Donata. Wenders directed the classic film “Wings of Desire,” which is about angels watching over the world.
Born and raised in Urbino, Guidi draws his inspiration from Renaissance artists and thinkers. His creative design office and workshop in Urbino are run like a bottega, or studio, in which a select number of talented assistant designers complete new prototypes and creative lines.
Guidi thinks of himself as a “metropolitan farmer.” Unlike most internationally recognized designers, who jet from Milan to Paris to New York for fashion weeks, he prefers to stay close to home, traveling “seven or eight days a month, that’s all.”
“If I want to see a fashion show I can watch it on the Internet. I live with my eyes,” he says, sitting in a conference room surrounded by his products. Colorful handbags from his “Magic Circus” line created in 1986 and now considered a classic, fill low shelves on one side of the room. Sleek black leather briefcases from his Bold line are displayed on another, with the company’s silver logo shimmering in the fluorescent light.
Even on a business day, Guidi doesn’t look the part of a famous fashion designer. Dressed casually in jeans, a navy polo and a dark khaki blazer, he is laid back and hospitable, serving espresso to a group of visiting student journalists.
Guidi is passionate about his work but said he doesn’t get caught up in the high lifestyle of many designers. He keeps his focus on design.
“This company is like a racer doing the Tour de France with other racers,” he said. “We are not watching TV. We are in the race.”
As Guidi guides the group around his factory, he stops at two framed pictures of his meeting with Pope John Paul II. “He held my hand for ten minutes,” the designer remembered.“He told me his whole life story. I gave him a white jacket, naturally.”
Guidi is very much a family man and employees his two sons. “I love working,” Giacomo says. ” I am happy to work with my father.”
Guidi’s other son, Gionata, works as marketing director for the company, managing the international operations.
Although Guidi works mainly in Urbino, he has manufacturing facilities in Hong Kong, China and Osaka, Japan. In Italy, he has 500 outlets but currently there are none in the U.S. He had a store in New York City years ago, but closed it because he found it difficult to cope with the ever-changing American market. Guidi hopes to find an American partner soon to help him reopen the New York store and expand his sales in the U.S.
Guidi is not just a fashion designer and entrepreneur. In 2006 he became involved with establishing the Urbino Press Award, which recognizes outstanding American journalists.
“If you decided to do this prize for recognition in journalism you have to shoot for the stars,” Guidi said.
Previous winners include Diane Rehm of National Public Radio in 2006, Time’s senior correspondent Michael Weisskopf in 2007, Chief White House correspondent and ABC News reporter Martha Raddatz in 2008 and this year’s winner Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times.
“If you become a writer, it becomes your lover,” he said. “It is your spiritual lover. You take it to bed and put it under your pillow, otherwise there is no spirituality.”
Guidi is not like other designers who borrow ideas from their competitors. His designs are not based on something he has already seen. He said, “It took 30 years of activity to come up with this. Security comes 40 years later. Who can say this is not beautiful?”