Made in Modena

Mark Bramley

When a particularly picky Ferrari customer wants the cabin of his new dream machine to match his current girlfriend's favorite handbag, the factory in Maranello puts in a call to Simone Schedoni. When a Lamborghini owner wants tailor-made luggage in the same color as his just-ordered LP640, the representative from Sant'Agata sends him ten miles down the road to Simone Schedoni. When Horacio Pagani accepts the order for the next Zonda supercar - chassis number 96, if we're not mistaken - he'll make sure that the client meets with Simone Schedoni, not only to choose the type and color of leather, which can be as extreme as red ostrich or green lizard, but also to customize the shape of the seats. That's how papa Schedoni got involved in motorsports back in 1983, when Enzo Ferrari tricked him into supplying free Formula 1 seat trim in exchange for a prominent display of the company's logo on every racing car.

Twenty-five years later, F1 is still a major showcase for the small family enterprise that employs forty-eight craftspeople in two locations in Italy. In addition to Ferrari, Schedoni recently agreed to extend its services to Scuderia Toro Rosso (Red Bull's second F1 team, which uses Ferrari engines), and this time one can assume that money will flow. Perched next to Simone's desk is a heap of well-used, brown and black, made-to-measure F1 seat covers, which typically last only three to four races. Is real leather out of place in this high-tech environment? "Absolutely not," protests il presidente. "Even when impregnated for inflammability, hide is the perfect body-hugging, moisture-absorbing, naturally expanding material. The fact that it wears makes it comfortable for the drivers." Prominently displayed thank-you notes from such great racers as René Arnoux, Alain Prost, Gerhard Berger, and Michael Schumacher support the maestro's point. The day prior to our visit, Toro Rosso driver Sebastian Vettel had his measurements taken before signing the celebrity wall in the main factory building.

The name Schedoni is perhaps best known for the luggage the firm makes to order for all present Ferraris and past models dating back to the 1977 mid-engine 308. Only recently, Simone bought back the original car for which his father had designed the firm's very first three-piece set of flush-fitting suitcases. Early in the game, the company also offered full interior treatments boasting its trademark amber "cuoio" leather. But this bird did not fly. "Untouched by chemicals and totally natural in every respect, this leather changes color when exposed to the sun," explains Simone. "It doesn't comply with any fogging regulations, and it quickly develops a specific patina. To the product-liability guys, these characteristics are like a red rag to a bull. That's why our cuoio leather is fitted only on special request." To understand the difference between natural leather and treated leather, you need to examine the different processes.

Cuoio is dry-rolled for thirty-six hours in special oak barrels, using a secret mix of chestwood and mimosa powder, along with natural wax and a few tons of water to finish off the tanning procedure. In contrast, industry-grade hide is first mechanically peeled to eliminate cosmetic defects such as insect bites, and then this homogenous surface is either sprayed with several layers of paint or vat-dyed.

Which leather would you rather sit on? Exactly.

"We use only the shoulder parts of the cow, where the skin is particularly smooth, even, and virtually damage-free," says Simone. "The scarred flanks, which act as the animal's all-around bumpers, are sent straight on to the big tanneries." Stored in fifteen-foot-high open racks and in large metal cabinets are the patterns for all Ferrari seats, including limited-edition models such as the F40 and the Enzo, and for all luggage kits. Requests for a cuoio retrim on new and used vehicles come in quite frequently, but the Modenese artists can also cope with exotic special orders, like the wall-to-wall alligator interior that an American customer insisted on for his factory-fresh yellow F430 Spider. That job required finding twenty-nine hard-to-match hides and eight months of skilled labor. "Such rare materials are priced by width, not by length. One inch costs about $115, so a full conversion definitely doesn't come cheap."

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