The story of one of the world’s most famous Italian brands, as far as aperitifs go, began way back in 1828, almost two centuries ago, when in a family of farmers from the Lombardy-Piedmont countryside was born Gaspare Campari.
Gaspare, at just a bit older than 14, was in Turin, first as an apprentice in a distinguished downtown cafe then as a distiller to learn the trade. Turin, not by chance, is precisely where, at the end of the 18th century and thanks to Antonio Benedetto Carpano, the inventor and producer of Vermouth (better known as Martini by one of the brands which helped diffuse it throughout the world), the “aperitif” as we know it today was brought to life and made popular.
But back to Gaspare who, after a brief experience in Novara as his own boss, moved to Milan after 1860, just steps away from Italy’s Unification and the turmoil which shook the big cities. He brought with him his secret formula for Bitter all’uso d’Hollanda (today CAMPARI Bitters, key ingredient for cocktails like the Negroni or Americano) – a bitter alcoholic drink coming from an infusion of herbs, fruits and aromatic plants seeped with alcohol and water leaving an intense aroma and a beautiful ruby red colour. He found his fortune thanks to this and due to his bar – after the renovation of the Piazza Duomo – centrally location at the head of the Galleria del Duomo. Its position and the superior level of professionalism found, guaranteed the visit of clients among the most famous of the century. Let’s not forget that we are just steps away from the Teatro alla Scala and Maestro Giacomo Puccini who was just one of the many famous faces who seemed to appreciate the bitters recipe. In 1882 Davide, Gaspare’s son, had a knack for business and apparently left the “limelight” and management of the bar to his brother, only to then take over production. He focused on the creation of new liquors and patenting their recipes (his is that of the CAMPARI Cordial) and as such, gave an edge to the company. It was he, who in 1904, opened a real establishment in Sesto San Giovanni near Milan.
Up to here, one could say that the luck of the CAMPARI name was because of Gaspare’s talent, who like so many self-made men, able to wisely balance skill, initiative and a bit of luck. But together with Davide’s capability and successors in maintaining the legacy, Campari has continued to grow. But so little, isn’t enough to get the recipe of the real bitters!
Over the years, as the business grew, in addition to the number of factories abroad and new products, the CAMPARI family managed to stay truly in step with the times thanks to the discovery of a unique ingredient; that of art. Davide CAMPARI had already understood that entrusting great painters, illustrators and artists of the time his family’s own drinks, would have brought the brand tremendous visibility. And this is exactly what happened. His ability to choose the right name is undeniable; it is because of this artistic sensibility that, over the years, resulted in the perfect fusion of images, messages and products. CAMPARI makes itself heard in train stations, among the pages of magazines and newspapers and on public transportation. And art is not the only advertising vehicle but also as gift, as in the case of the books, especially made, containing the works of many great artists (Il Cantastorie di Campari, The Storyteller of Campari with its 1000 limited copies given to customers between 1927 and 1932) .
Here is how the CAMPARI recipes began to be enriched with ingredients such as: art nouveau, futurism, symbolism that accompanied them with the names of Marcello Dudovich, Leonetto Cappiello, Bruno Munari (who in 1964 designed the poster, Declinazione grafica del nome Campari which is today on a permanent display at the Modern Art Museum in New York) or Fortunato Depero (who in 1938, honoured us with the design of the famous Campari soda bottle) and many others. Let’s remember that at the beginning of the 20th century, Dudovich and Cappiello were among the artists who contributed to the innovations and changes in advertising billboards thanks to their posters, which were among some of the most famous, and able to cause people to “talk” about the products through personages or contexts which only apparently overlooked the brand (as mere examples, the “Spiritello” which jumps out of an orange peel by Cappiello and Coppia al Tabari (the Couple at a Nightclub) by Dudovich).
The tendency to anticipate time but also the know-how to choose and select channels to be used to diffuse one’s own name continued with the advent of television and to this day. Television réclame has become an other important stage where CAMPARI entered the scene as a star thanks to the choice of great directors; one of which was the great Federico Fellini who in the 1980s lent his name to advertising. The history of CAMPARI is certainly a story of “passion” but also of great ability; just like that of a distiller, who knows how to skillfully mix various ingredients with the certainty that the final outcome will be a recipe containing all the elements and able to give them all back in a single sip.
Today, it is possible to visit the Campari Gallery which has been set up at the offices in Sesto San Giovanni of the former factory site which is now located in Piedmont. But be aware that the approximate one hundred pieces on display are just a drop in the ocean of the over three thousand stored in Campari’s Historical Archive, which you may find on display at one of the world’s greater art museums, or … just imagine perhaps, sipping an excellent aperitif after your visit.