In the Ottoman Empire during the early 1900s existed the figure of the Pasha. This was the title given to the highest rank of military or civil officials in Istanbul and was placed after the person’s name. They were extremely affluent and lived a life of outrageous luxury that in the West became synonymous of living like a Lord. To live like a Pasha was the dream and a fashionable, playful wish also in Milan in 1905, where an eighteen-year-old by the name of Paolo Carati arrived one day with the idea in mind of doing business as a salesman.
Carati was well-educated and had a clear vision of what he wanted. It took him little time to see that in order to advertise his business, he needed a “company” (the name of his business), which was not limited to a name and surname, but would give imagination free rein. Initially, Carati represented various companies whose products ranged from bric-a-brac to glassware, furniture and smokers’ accessories. The question was how to make these goods enticing. An idea occurred to him: why not use a humorous and alluring brand name that would refer to precisely those oriental officials surrounded by luxury? In Ottoman Turkish, used by the upper classes at that time, “Pasha” was pronounced “al-Basha”. So maybe the name could become “Al Pascià”. Or else the idea was simply to refer to a place to frequent, a place fit for the Pasha, where one could by goods that a Pasha would covet.
It was the brand name itself that determined Carati’s choice of a central head office, if possible an aristocratic residence. After a few years he settled down in the heart of the city in Via Torino, in the part where nearby was the sixteenth-century Casati Stampa Palace at the crossroads known as Carrobbio. While he mainly focussed on pipes and accessories, his store was located in a series of addresses that were close together (first Via Stampa 14, then Via Torino 77 and finally Via Torino 61 (since 1920). A place where wholesale and retail customers were welcome, where pipes could be repaired, and it is likely that it was also where pipes were made. Indeed, the practice of selling pipes with the brand name Al Pascià started at this time, along with the sale of pipes from other renowned companies.
In the mid-1920s Paolo Carati decided to expand, going from the sale of a limited number of items to a vast range, by building a factory for briar pipes in 1925 on the banks of Lake Varese, which was an area that was already specializing in this type of manufacture. The store in Milan remained his main headquarters, but in 1936 he handed it over to his eldest daughter together with the brand name Al Pascià, in order to concentrate on production.
Adriana (his daughter) and her family ran the store until the end of the 1980s. They followed the traditions of its founder, selling a wide range of smokers’ accessories, but above all pipes, whether famous brands, pipes manufactured by third parties for Al Pascià, or pipes manufactured by Al Pascià, the latter being made in a factory located in Finigeto, which is part of the municipality of Montalto Pavese, since the late 1960s. Subsequently, the store and brand name, which by now was widely known by both smokers and non-smokers in Milan, was taken over by another family of pipe lovers, but with commercial experience in other sectors: the Sportelli family. From that time on they have been the heart and soul of Al Pascià.
It was not easy to take over a shop with such a historic background. The aim was to continue its tradition, but at the same time it had to be relaunched. The first thing to do was to thoroughly restore and refurbish the shop. Then the logo had to be redesigned, as well as the packaging, and a massive advertising campaign was also launched in the main newspapers. However, above all the policies concerning sale and purchase had to be reviewed, as the needs, requests, and even the mentality of the customers themselves were changing. Outside of Italy, which was still quite traditional, new trends were appearing: a different way to conceive, make, use and live smoking accessories. It was time to investigate these phenomena and see which way the wind was blowing, in order to anticipate the taste of old and new smokers. Al Pascià 2.0 had to identify and then offer exclusive products that were not yet available in Italy, and at the same time create others from scratch with their own brand name of Al Pascià.
In the late 1980s the Internet was in its early stages: there was only email, phone and fax. By consulting what was then known as the Istituto Nazionale per il Commercio Estero (National Institute for Foreign Trade), as well as the embassies and consulates, a long list was drawn up of possible interested clients, to whom letters were sent. On the basis of their replies, the most interesting clients were identified. However, correspondence was not enough to establish ties with them. It was in 1990 that the “briar tours” began. The two youngest members of the family began to travel around Europe in the most obscure places (including Italy) seeking out the best innovative pipe makers. Meeting them in their workshops, watching them at work, building relationships based on friendship and respect was a wonderful experience. From this emerged an incredible flow of magnificent pipes to the shop in Via Torino 61.
The first website named Al Pascià was launched in 1999. This amounted to a leap in the dark at a time when this technology was still largely unknown, using first a scanner and then 1-megapixel cameras to photograph the products, which were then advertised in the first smokers’ newsgroups. However, as early as 2006 supporters of Al Pascià could follow our briar tour online daily. In 2012 Moments was launched, the cultural section that is now to be found on Al Pascià’s new portal, together with other three sections on the site: Al Pascià, Curvy, and Leather. Quite a feat, which does not stop here because whoever fails to keep up to date will miss the boat. The Internet has enabled and enables Al Pascià to reach all pipe aficionados worldwide, who, however, are not satisfied with the digital window, but when in Milan rush to visit the real “analogue” shop, set in the walls of Casati Stampa Palace.
Right from the beginning of the new endeavour, Al Pascià has sought to meet the demands of its customers by manufacturing the best smokers’ accessories, seeking out the best leather craftsmen (just as we sought out the best pipe makers). Once these were identified, we went beyond smoking products by creating a wide range of highly elegant leatherware.
Since we took over, one of Al Pascia’s goals has been to follow the traditions of the company by taking up again and increasing its own production of pipes, starting with the first series of 24 classic English-inspired models in six different designs that came out in 1990 and then have been proposed again with variations throughout the following years. The Al Pascià tailor-made pipes are obviously unique models for individual customers, which is the maximum that anyone could wish for. A special pipe was dedicated to Al Pascia’s Centenary in 2006, just as one was created for the first 80 years in 1986. The forward-looking Curvy was launched in 2015, and subsequently confirmed through series after series. In 2018 we launched the classic “1906” pipes. Thus, creativity is continually expanding, having no intention of stopping, and customers from all over the world wait for Al Pascia’s new surprises in store.