Tip your hat to Borsalino
The iconic Italian hat manufacturer celebrates 166 years of tradition and innovation.
As the oldest Italian manufacturer of luxury hats, Borsalino is now rightfully considered the father of the craft. The company has earned the status of quintessential Italian icon in headwear.
Over the years, Borsalino hats have been spotted on the heads of royalty, presidents, popes, gangsters, journalists, theater critics, detectives, and cowboys. Hollywood personalities, celebrities, dignitaries, and style enthusiasts appreciate them. What made this fashion luxury brand from Alessandria (a small town in Piedmont) a success is, undoubtedly, the fact that it originated from a brilliant spark of intuition. Founder Giuseppe Borsalino hypothesized that a comfortable and soft felt headpiece would be a perfect option for top hats or flat caps and something in the middle, between an aristocratic and a working-class accessory. Behind the brand’s enduring success is its ability to maintain tradition while interpreting changing fashions. It also has also been able to establish a deep, unbreakable bond with both the art world and cinema.
The film industry began its love affair with Borsalino hats in 1942, with the brimmed hats of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman almost touching, like a hint of a kiss, in the goodbye scene of the movie Casablanca. The expressiveness of the actors’ faces is accentuated by the clever game of shadows created by the shape of the hats, and the scene is unforgettable. In 2018, Borsalino introduced The Bogart by Borsalino, a special collection dedicated to the great Hollywood actor.
Many movie stars and directors followed the trend initiated by Casablanca. Jean-Paul Belmondo wore a Borsalino in Breathless (1960), and then again, this time with Alain Delon, in two cult movies of the 1970s–Borsalino and Borsalino & Co. Delon greatly admired the Italian brand, and the title was his idea. Borsalino accepted (on the condition that the company logo would appear on the posters), becoming the first Italian luxury brand to give its name to a movie production.
Federico Fellini had a custom Borsalino made for Marcello Mastroianni in the 1963 movie 8 ½. Robert Redford loved that hat so much he contacted the factory to have an identical one made.
Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich were seen in Borsalino hats in some of their movies. Italian director Sergio Leone made Robert De Niro wear several Borsalino hats in Once Upon a Time in America (1984). Paolo Sorrentino’s characters Jep Gambardella (played by Toni Servillo) in The Great Beauty (2013) and Pope John Paul III (John Malkovich) in The New Pope (2020) also sport Borsalino headwear.
Nicole Kidman wore a spectacular wide-brimmed model in Australia (2008), and Monica Bellucci flaunted a Borsalino in Diabolik: Ginko Attacks (2022). Among the other famous names devoted to the brand are Elton John, Naomi Campbell, Jennifer Aniston, Johnny Depp, Italian actress Sandra Mondaini (who modeled for Borsalino after WWII), singers Al Bano, Adriano Celentano, and Jovanotti. Even the President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, is a fan.
In 2023, a short film about the Piedmontese factory, titled “Tornando a casa,” was released, starring internationally renowned actress Caterina Murino (stunning in her Borsalino both in the movie and at the official presentation of the movie at the Italian Embassy in Paris, of course).
April 4 2023, marked the 166th anniversary of the legendary hat factory. To celebrate the occasion, the Alessandria town council and the Borsalino Foundation officially inaugurated the Borsalino Museum opened in a palazzo bearing the same name in the town. This monumental front building of the former site of the hat factory now houses an extraordinary exhibition of about 2000 pieces of different styles, shapes, and colors, each one with a story to tell. The collection includes several rare cinema relics and headpieces worn by Popes John XXIII and Benedict XVI.
In 2009, the Triennale Design Museum of Milan hosted an exhibition entitled Serie Fuori Serie which included the brand as a quintessential Italian icon. Serie fuori serie was replicated in March 2017 in Beijing, China. In 2011 the same museum held another exhibition called Il cinema con il cappello: Borsalino e altre storie.
Innovation and tradition are inextricably linked at Borsalino. The luxury brand has collaborated with prominent figures in fashion to create original capsule collections. These big-name collaborations include the likes of Gianni Versace, Krizia, Valentino, Moschino, Italia Independent, Marni, and the “architect of fashion” Gianfranco Ferré. Borsalino also inspired fellow designers to pay tribute to the mythical brand. These included The Chapeau Lamp, designed by Philippe Starck for Flos in 2014, and Moritz Waldemeyer’s 2016 sculpture, The Hatband.
Borsalino’s latest range of baseball caps, bucket hats, and berets target a younger audience, keeping the company relevant into the future. In addition, it includes the classic legendary felt hats or summery straw Panamas to reach a younger market. The Italian luxury brand has also targeted more women customers, now accounting for half of its revenue.
While Borsalino is a trendsetter and innovator, it has remained faithful to the company’s values by and traditional production process. It takes seven weeks to produce a felt model and up to six months for the straw models. The tradition of fine hat-making that has earned Borsellino its fame and VIP clientele has been handed down from generation to generation unchanged in Alessandria.
Cover image: Tony Servillo wearing a Borsalino hat in The Great Beauty (2013)