The headquarters of the Distillerie Fratelli Branca in via Resegone, one of the few factories still active in Milano, is the home of the Branca Museum exhibition space. Here, the company tells about its 170 years of history, with the aromas of the spices, the tools that innovated a traditional process, and the visual support of its advertising campaigns.
Distillerie Fratelli Branca, established in 1845 by the founder Barnardino, are still today under the control and the operative management of his descendents. Fernet Branca, one of the iconic labels of the city of Milano, is still today produced according to the recipe developed back then – with the help of a mysterious Swedish doctor Fernet – using 27 herbs and roots from all over the world.
The area of Via Resegone, thanks also to its anything-but bothersome “fumes,” is the home to one of the last factories still in operation in the center of Milano, between the Isola, Dergano and Bovisa quarters. The complex extends over more than 20 thousand sq.m between Viale Lancetti and Viale Jenner, and the buildings that make it up, dominated by the central smokestack, have conserved much of their original look. At the center of the side on Via Resegone, the 3-storey office building rises up between the two lower wings, originally intended for production and storage.
In addition to the manufacturing complex of Via Resegone, in operation since the early 1900s, since 2002 the Branca family has associated its name with the Parco Sempione panoramic tower, designed by Gio Ponti for the city of Milano’s 5th Triennale in 1933, and restored after a lengthy period of neglect.
After an initial period of parapharmaceutical activity, the Branca family launched the production of the liqueur that was to make their fortune. Aware of the role of brand promotion in the modern marketplace, they called on illustrators and artists of international fame to contribute to Fernet’s advertising campaigns and the production of labels, signs, and furnishings of public premises. One of the best-known images is the eagle designed by Leopold Metlicovitz, with outstretched wings clutching a globe, which appeared for the first time in 1893.
From 1907 to 1955 Dino Branca was at the helm of the company, which immediately inaugurated its new Milanese headquarters and then focused on its penetration of international markets, in terms of both sales and production, opening offices in various countries and factories in Chiasso, Buenos Aires and St. Louis.
In 1965 the company launched Brancamenta, which combines the taste of Fernet with a minty freshness, said to have been developed from an idea of the divine Maria Callas. In the seventies and eighties, the company continued its expansion through acquisitions with the purchase of Carpano, with its Punt e Mes vermouth, grappa Candolini in Tarcento, and the legendary Borghetti coffee liqueur.
In the new millennium, the top manager is Niccolò Branca, who in 2009 inaugurated the space dedicated to the Branca museum inside the Milano factory. In this industrial archaeology setting on display are signature posters and sketches, promotional materials and tools for the production of Fernet, such as alembic stills, barrels, and mortars with the spices that imbue the whole place with a special scent.
The museum includes a collection of Art Nouveau posters and calendars, with illustrations based on French originals or directly purchased from French agencies. These contributed to the company’s success. Fratelli Branca commissioned a series of large, colour-printed posters which, above all up until 1914, marked the “golden age” of “Liberty,” Italy’s Art Nouveau. They show considerable influence from artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Steinlen and Chéret. This fascinating collection comprises artists such as Giuseppe Amisani, Elio Stelminig, Plinio Codognato, Osvaldo Ballerio, Achille Luciano Mauzan and Leopoldo Metlicovitz.
Anecdotes and curiosities
The collection includes the first Fratelli Branca advertisement, dating to 14 February 1865 when it appeared in the liberal Milano newspaper “La Perseveranza” (published in Milano from 1859 to 1922). In this advert, sized about 10 x 10 cm, Fernet-Branca was named simply “Fernet”, and it was announced as “anti-fever, anti-worms, tonic, invigorating, warming, and anti-choleric.”
The company’s first logo dates to 1893, designed by the famous illustrator Leopoldo Metlicovitz (one of Marcello Dudovich’s teachers), with the Latin motto “Novare serbardo” (innovation with conservation), featuring the eagle holding the bottle, with the globe underneath. It appeared on the 1895 company calendar, but it was registered at the Ministry of the National Economy on 27 November 1905.
Anecdotes and curiosities
The Museum illustrates an example of Milano’s transition towards a modern economy. Visitors are attracted above all by the information on the famous liqueur Fernet, made to a secret formula that has never been revealed or changed, and that still today is carefully conserved by the family. This product contributed to the development of the Lombard and Italian economy from the mid 19th to the early 20th centuries. Fernet is exported all over the world, and it won prestigious awards and prizes in Italy and Europe: Florence 1861, London 1862, Paris 1867, and Vienna 1873. In the United States, it won awards in Philadelphia, Melbourne and Chicago.