Luisa Spagnoli (1877-1935)
In the early 1900s female entrepreneurs were as rare as a golden egg. But Luisa Spagnoli was no ordinary woman, she was driven. Her creativity and ambition led her to create the now famous Baci Perugina.
Born in 1877, Luisa came from a local family in Perugia. In the early 1900s she founded two of the most important companies in the town - the chocolate factory Perugina and the women’s clothing company that bears her name.
Portrait of Luisa Spagnoli
Both continue to be recognised as symbols of Italian style and quality.
Throughout the following years, Luisa and her family developed the company while also ensuring their workers, especially the women, were looked after.
Being the practical sort, she developed a plan to help improve the lives of her employees. Near the workplace, Luisa had terraced houses built as well as a swimming pool for the employees.
In addition, leisure activities such as dances, football matches, sports competitions and parties were regularly organised to help the employees keep fit and healthy.
Women employees of the Perugina factory
During the First World War when all the men had left for the front, Luisa - like many other women- found herself alone to take care of her home and her three children.
She knew all too well the challenges of looking after the family, let alone running the factory.
So being one of the most forward looking business owners she opened a nursery in the Perugina factory, allowing her female employees to continue to work.
They could bring their babies to work and not have to give up their jobs, which were vital while the men were away at war.
In 1922, with both the chocolate factory and the clothing business to run, Luisa developed a unique way to use up extra local hazelnuts, while also creating one of the most iconic of Italian chocolates, naming it Baci - the Italian word for kisses.
Baci chocolates in 1922 and in 2016
Nearly 100 years later, the original recipe remains unchanged: dark chocolate, enveloping a heart of 'gianduia', dotted with more chopped hazelnuts and crowned with a whole hazelnut.
The little slip of paper nestled beneath each chocolate with its message, meditation or musing on love has been inside the shiny foil wrapper since the early 1930s.
By 1939, the success of Baci Perugina was overwhelming and it eventually arrived overseas in the country where dreams come true: the United States of America.
Fifth Avenue in New York was just the place for such a superstar. And it was there that the first Perugina shop was opened.
Baci Perugina shop on New York's Fifth Avenue
Sadly, Luisa would never see the opening of Perugina shops around the world. The matriarch of what would become one of Italy’s most famous exports died too young at the age of just 58.
But Luisa would be pleased to know that Nestlé continues to support women in the workplace with outstanding maternity protection policies.