Uncle Bernardo was short, astute and generous and had made his fortune in London. When he returned, he worked in various business sectors and was the right person to ask for help.
The last few years for Enea Buzzi had been intense: in 1943 his diploma in Accounting, the following year in the mountains with the partisans, then Bocconi University which he left to work for the electricity company in Varese, and finally setting up his own used car business. However, he wasn’t satisfied. The fire that blazed within him was the same as that of his grandfather Achille, who had built a small power plant in the municipality of Brebbia, near Varese, between 1890 and 1893. This power plant was capable of supplying electricity to his family’s cotton mill as well as to various villages nearby. It was the same mill where his father, Carlo Andrea, known as Gino, had worked, establishing and managing a weaving mill in Gavirate until the 1929 crisis forced him to close it. Thus, they were a family of entrepreneurs, with relatives and friends who were also entrepreneurs, so it seems that Enea was almost obliged to follow in their footsteps.
From the mid-nineteenth century the province of Varese was home to small and large pipe factories. The first was established in Molina di Barasso by the Piotti family, producing pipe bowls in boxwood, pear, apple, and cherry wood turned with treadle-powered lathes, and mouthpieces in ox horn. In 1886 Ferdinando Rossi, a leading Milanese retailer for all smoking accessories, chose briarwood for his pipes and opened a modern factory in Molina di Barasso that would become a highly successful industrial concern within just a few decades. Other smaller businesses were established in villages nearby, as well as independent artisan enterprises. The industry flourished until the first half of the twentieth century, but at the end of WWII cigarettes took hold and the pipe industry felt the first signs of a crisis. Enea Buzzi was no stranger to this world and knew almost everyone through his family, especially the Rossi family and their pipes.
Towards the end of WWII, when he happened to be at a station in Varese smoking a Rossi pipe, Enea began to wonder how a pipe could be smoked in the rain. At least, that is how the story goes, but it is a fact that he was fascinated by this problem: what was needed was a lid and a few vent holes in the upper part of the bowl, and a further development could be hand-carved bowls featuring the face of a famous person, the vent holes corresponding to the nostrils – in this way the smoke would be blown out of the nose! It was the Rossi company who crafted these pipes, which were highly appreciated by the American troops who were stationed in the area. The next step was to order machinery from a specialist workshop in order to set up their own production. Unfortunately, the machines were never ready, and there was no money to start, either. This called for Uncle Bernardo’s help.
Bernardo Papa, as the uncle was called, thought highly of his nephew. The idea for the pipes wasn’t bad at all, and meanwhile the machinery had arrived and the family power plant would supply electricity for free, and they would also provide the premises. Bernardo also had a niece who was the wife of Achille Savinelli, who was slightly older than Enea and worked with his parents in the shop in Milan that had been established in 1876. Indeed, the Savinelli family also aspired to produce pipes. Under the auspices of the uncle who also funded them, Enea Buzzi and Achille Savinelli began working together in 1947 with three expert artisans, full of enthusiasm and good ideas. The problem was that the ideas of one did not exactly match the ideas of the other, concerning product type and how to market it. They realized this almost immediately and so, while Enea went to London to seek out his first foreign clients, Achille established his own factory in Molina di Barasso. From 1953 Enea began to use the trademark MPB (Manifattura Pipe Brebbia) for his own production and market, while the other pipes bore the Savinelli logo. The two finally completed their mutual separation with few problems in 1956.
Enea had the makings of an entrepreneur. In early 1954 when a fire destroyed the factory (fortunately the power plant was spared), undaunted, Enea took advantage to redesign the premises based on manufacturing requirements. In the same year he bought a foundry to make the base of a pipe in aluminium which, thanks to the metal’s high conductivity, would provide an especially cool smoke. When the bases were no longer needed (the public was not particularly enthusiastic about this feature), he reconverted the plant for other types of production. Another company, which he founded with different partners in 1967, worked in the sector of hot-drink machines. Nevertheless, Enea’s enthusiasm for pipes never diminished.
From 1956 onwards Enea’s production was on the right track: seeking innovation, also taking into account some unsuccessful projects, such as the bases in aluminium; paying great attention to competitors’ products and buying numerous samples of them; placing great stress on smokability, an essential prerequisite for a pipe; diversification that reflected market trends, balancing the production of classical models with more imaginative ones: curved and animal shapes are interesting examples of that period.
In 1968 the “MPB” logo was substituted with “Brebbia”. In the same period an event held at the Sports stadium in Varese launched a slow smoking competition, a highly successful idea that soon spread to other countries. Each competitor was given three grams of tobacco, and told to fill their pipe bowls. At the starting signal everyone lit up their pipes and started to smoke taking things as slowly as possible. To win the person had to keep the pipe lit the longest possible. Enea’s and his family’s great intuition was to create a team from the employees of the Brebbia company. As they were experienced smokers, they entered competitions for a long time throughout Europe and often won. Thus, the name and pipe shapes were on display everywhere they went. The pipes were beautifully crafted and smokable, also renowned for their “sweet” smoke, a true gift from the Bosco Grande in Brebbia where the company has always had its headquarters. The power plant that houses the company lies on a bend of the River Bardello, effluent of Lake Varese that flows into Lake Maggiore and a winding river flowing on a sandstone bed. Such basic soil, poorly ventilated environment and extreme humidity create a microclimate that is ideal for the natural curing of briar. In fact, the tannin in the wood, which is responsible for the bad taste of a pipe when first smoked, is almost eliminated, for which the smoker is grateful.
The 1970s were hard times for the pipe world. The first signs of creaking that had been perceived after the war now seemed a deafening roar. Of course, the slow smoke competitions promoted interest in pipes, but they addressed reduced numbers of members of the public, and these members were now more demanding. Thus, only by meeting demands, innovating, inventing, perfecting and never stopping could companies stay afloat, so Brebbia innovated, invented and perfected. Between 1976 and 1977 the company introduced the “frangifumo” (smoke breaker) mouthpiece, thanks to which the smoke that was inhaled through several holes was dispersed in several directions and so reduced tongue bite. Also in 1977 one of Enea’s children, Luciano Buzzi, graduated in Architecture. He had already helped out in the company for a few years, but now having finished his studies he could make a more significant contribution.
His first task was to revive sales abroad. For a few years from 1978 he traveled above all throughout Europe establishing contacts with different markets, and meeting important people in the sector, as it was indispensable to be more attuned to the complex reality consisting of trends, tastes and demands. This was just the first step, however. All those divergent incentives then had to be filtered through the producer’s discernment. Soon Luciano Buzzi mastered the craft, the first thing being the accounting, fiscal and creative aspects, then those concerning production. His training as an architect was fundamental for the last two aspects, but above all his idea of design as a function that becomes form. In other words, the pipe was first and foremost a pipe, a device that should be smokable. However, at the same time it should satisfy the smoker’s wish to own it as a precious accessory that can say something about him/her.
Luciano’s first creation was the 79 series, in 1979. The German market, which favoured traditional long-stemmed large pipes capable of retaining impurities, wanted the modern briar pipes to have a filter. This demand was met by inserting 6mm filters, that were not efficient, however. Brebbia’s challenge was to insert 9mm filters without enlarging the stem too much. Four years later, the 83 series was introduced that had been perfected having a slimmer stem, and the pipes are still being produced. Nowadays, all Brebbia pipes have a 9mm filter, but for those who dislike these filters, adapters may be inserted instead.
In the 1980s, when pipes were relaunched as a status symbol, freehand-style Brebbia pipes were introduced crafted out of perfect straight grain plateaux. Initially they were highly individual in the style of the Danish school, and then in the following decades the styles were more classical, but still retaining high quality craftsmanship and materials. Between 1998 and 2012 the great designers of pipes series introduced models designed for Brebbia by important pipe makers. In the freehand line nowadays models range from Linea A (featuring briar insert in acrylic mouthpiece) to the Collection SS in two versions, “naturale”(natural) and “noce” (walnut), with a rugged-rimmed bowl. The briar used for these models is completely without imperfections, which is why it is called “pure”.
However, Brebbia’s range of products doesn’t stop here. A real gem thanks to its shape and technical aspect is the Duo Filter: its gentle curves recall certain traditional old German pipes, but not so bulky. It has two filters: the lower one (charcoal or balsa) serves to absorb moisture, while the upper filter in charcoal is the actual filter. The cool, dry smoke of the Duo Filter produces unique, priceless sensations. Browsing through the rich catalogue of product models, you can see the calabashes, light meerschaums, the rounded Egg so easy to carry, the traditional Oom Paul with lid and chain, the Toby inspired by corn cob pipes, the Stand-up that can stand alone on the table, the perfect editions (one a year) of the Classic series…
In 1992 Enea Buzzi decided to find a fitting place to house his collection of various models acquired over the years to study competition, and vintage models purchased from around the world. Thus, a former large warehouse in Bosco Grande was turned into the Pipe Museum, a destination for numerous enthusiasts. But the most frequent vistor is Luciano Buzzi himself. The sight of so many vintage models inspires him, as there is always a way to reinterpret them in a modern style. However, for someone as creative as he is, sources of inspiration can be found everywhere, as he confesses: “I end up seeing everything in the shape of a pipe!”.
Special thanks to the Buzzi family for their precious contribution
Milan, June 2017