Dolmen have three production lines: reptile, calf and horse (actually hair-on calf) and each line has its own identity and brand name. One of the four owners, Pietro Giananti was smiling when he told Leather International about their ‘hobby’, an amazing range of chairs, sofas and other items which are covered in exotic leathers and ‘ponyskin’.

They keep a selection at the tannery but the bulk is shipped to their showroom in New York. The choice is impressive and you can select from python (natural markings or if you prefer, the colour peach is available), a piebald pony effect, leopard print hair-on and blue crocodile to name a few.

Gianante, his brother Davide and two other partners Alberto Ciabattini and Mauro Nieri are responsible for both tanneries and there is a large tannery in Romania, producing crust, wet-blue and finished calfskins. Finishing of selected calfskin products is carried out at the main plants in Santa Croce. This group have a e50 million turnover/year.

They bought the Romipel tannery in Romania when it was privatised and initially there were difficulties, as might be expected. However, thirteen years on they have ironed out all the problems. Romipel source all their own raw materials and provide the beamhouse for calf and pony production at the main tanneries.

New articles are always developed from the raw in Italy and only when they are happy with the results is the methodology transferred to Romania. They buy reptiles from Indo China, croc bellies from Venezuela, lizard from Argentina, plus American alligators direct from the breeders, thus bypassing the middlemen. Calf skins come from Europe with the major proportion, 80%, originating in France.

There are 115 employees at the Dolmen tannery which is accounted for by the high degree of hand tinting and finishing which is necessary to meet their own high standards. Their reptile ranges and the ‘pony’ are important to the company because they are different from the usual choice of leather on the market; there are twelve selections for the hair on skins.

When it comes to calf, however, there is a lot of competition and Dolmen have a policy of hand finishing to give a higher added value. There are another 48 employees at Camaleonte and a further 190 in Romania where the management is Italian. Camaleonte were formed in 1972 and Dolmen in 1980 but the tanneries were newly constructed only a year ago.

Camaleonte specialise in classic calf for men’s shoes which is heavier, stronger and less dependent on fashion. It is not easy to produce a classic calf which requires specialised technology but Camaleonte are competing on their own terms with major calf leather producers in France.

Dolmen really push the boat out at Bologna where they displayed finished goods to the value of e250,000 and have to hire security guards day and night for the duration. The big fashion houses are their customers and to help them keep ahead of fashion they have a collaborator in the fashion industry, stylist Mauro Volponi.

Dolmen directly export 50% of their production but most of the rest is indirectly exported in the form of finished goods. The USA is their biggest customer with Russia, Japan, Hong Kong and China now knocking on their door. When the Chinese prime minister visited Italy last year he requested a visit to a tannery. He chose Dolmen because of what his ambassador had seen in Bologna.

In the past China took the bulk of low cost production from Italy but now they are becoming a major purchaser of high cost articles. They may well copy but, ultimately, the Made in Italy label will ensure that Italian goods remain more desirable. China is a country in transition, developing and creating wealth which will then be used to purchase top quality imported merchandise. Ironically, China is Ferrari’s main customer.

Giananti is another optimist. He knows that times are hard but says they are for everyone. He believes in the future but thinks that low cost articles will cease to be produced and only fashion items will continue. He says that many tanneries will have to reinvent themselves to stay in the game. He foresees larger tanneries and a disappearance of the smaller ones which will result in more work for the remainder.

As impressive as the tanneries appear on arrival at the site, Giananti says the greatest strength and investment lies in the technology and equipment inside the tannery which is absolutely key to their success. It is impossible to imagine how anyone could effectively copy the leathers this company have to offer because, in addition to the top notch technology, the huge amount of hand work which goes into creating them makes each skin almost a work of art.