In 1873, Domenico Conti Borbone founded the bookbindery that still bears his name. An accomplished master bookbinder, he left the baton to his niece Giuseppina and her husband Isacco Marchesi. The two moved to Corso Magenta in 1919, and it is still here that their grandsons, Gianluca, Gabriele and Angelo, officially at the helm of the company since 2000, cultivate and innovate the art of bookbinding. The workshop produces marbled papers, special colouring on leather, gold embossing and perfect bindings. Everything is done by hand, from sewing the book, gluing, cutting, making the cover to the beautiful decoration and printing.
Share with us something about your history.
According to records, the Borbone bookbinding business dates back to 1874, located in Via dei Ratti in Milan. My brothers and I entered the workshop when we were very young, between the ages of 7 and 8 we started to learn the trade, but no real work was done until we were 16, when the training had taken place. A job that then became our passion. Each of us has a specific role within the family business: Gianluca is mainly involved in the restoration of antique books; Angelo, the youngest, are dedicated to communication and social media.
According to records, the Borbone bookbinding business dates back to 1874
Being a craftsman is not easy: you have to be a craftsman, an economist, a communicator, and be able to keep up with the fast pace of digitalisation.
Which materials do you use the most?
Certainly leather, which we choose personally, basing our selection on softness, hardness and origin. Many years ago it was us, in the workshop, who painted the leathers; today we choose them after a careful analysis and research, in order to have the best quality.
How do you combine tradition and innovation in your work?
I am convinced that tradition for a craftsman, and especially in bookbinding, is fundamental. Each type of bookbinding has its own style, a distinguishing trait that makes it possible to recognise Italian bookbinding from the French one, for example. Innovation in my craft can be brought in by designers and architects, who can design with a modern and contemporary vision, enhancing the 'trademark', which makes Made in Italy famous throughout the world.
How does the restoration of a book take place?
We restore book covers and bindings and it is essential that the restoration work is visible. We restore everything from the 'family diary' to an edition of St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica from 1600. Attention to detail, the meticulousness of the intervention, the type of leather and all the operations required to 'revive' a book are all factors that affect the restoration, from the timing to the final yield. The types of intervention also depend on the characteristics of the edition, the material used and the year of edition. One can do some or all of the work, or sometimes the book is so compromised that not much can be done.
Which is the profile of your clientele?
Our work is recognised in Italy and abroad; our clientele is composed of private individuals, collectors or connoisseurs of the beautiful and well-made objects. We follow the customer through all the stages of realisation. We have had the good fortune to work with major clients: Beretta, Motta, Campari, Tina Turner, who also came to our shop here in Milan, Anna Wintour...
What would you recommend to a young person who wants to become a craftsman?
Being a craftsman is not easy: you have to be a craftsman, an economist, a communicator, and be able to keep up with the fast pace of digitalisation. But the satisfaction of seeing a work realised from the beginning to the end with your own hands, the face of the client when the work is completed, and the fact that your work is recognised, is priceless. Love, spirit of sacrifice and dedication are key ingredients. To young people I would say: turn your passion into your work.