It is with considerable excitement that I introduce this morning one of Kapp & Peterson’s shining stars, Gianluigi Fiori. You have seen his photography and videography on the internet in Peterson’s social media outlets for a while now, but that’s only a part of his extraordinary talent and story as a lifelong pipeman, designer and reader. He also may be the only person since the days of Frederick Kapp, Charles Peterson and Alfred Kapp to have worked in both the retail shop and the factory!
1. THE LITERARY JOURNEY INTO PIPES
I’ve been smoking a pipe for thirty-five years although I’m only forty-eight. When I was about eleven years old my father began to travel for work, and returning from his travels he brought me books—that’s how I came to read Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, J. R. R. Tolkien, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Robinson Crusoe. Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift (another great Irish author), is another book that’s made a lasting impression on me—in fact, I did an illustration for our beloved Sykes Wilford:
Jonathan Swift in the Factory (Collection of Sykes Wilford)
It was Daniel Defoe’s Crusoe, however, that first made a deep impression on me, because he risks his life trying to save a barrel of pipe tobacco, which he then lovingly dried with great care. I thought damn the pipe and tobacco must be very important to Crusoe, and so I built a small pipe with a river reed:*
Gianluigi’s River Reed Pipe
“But I think I was never more vain of my own performance, or more joyful for anything I found out, than for my being able to make a tobacco-pipe; and though it was a very ugly, clumsy thing when it was done, and only burned red, like other earthenware, yet as it was hard and firm, and would draw the smoke, I was exceedingly comforted with it.” –Ch 10, Robinson Crusoe
The river reed pipe, however, burned too easily and stank. I couldn’t afford tobacco so I crumbled cigarettes or used the cigar butts I found. But one day at a Scout meeting a friend’s dad arrived puffing a pipe, from from which came the best aroma I had ever smelled. He worked at the NATO base where I grew up in Sardinia. He was a civilian but had access to the wholesale PX shop on the American military base and bought 12 oz cans of Captain Black Royal. The fact that they were so big allowed my friend to steal some tobacco one week from his father for me. And that’s how I started smoking the pipe.
Gianluigi’s 80s P-Lip
I’m not proud of it, but I confess that I stole my first real pipe, a Peterson 80s, P-Lip, without knowing anything about Peterson or briar or the P-Lip. It was just a tempting opportunity and I didn’t resist. It was my first real pipe. And then at sixteen, I was finally able to to buy the STG’s Clan and Scandinavik and other aromatic blends.
After that, for years I smoked all kinds of tobacco, including cigarettes and cigars as well as obviously the pipe, inhaling everything, unfortunately. I’d built up quite a collection of pipes, but more for feeling than as an investment.
Portrait of the Artist (Gianluigi) As A Young Man
I grew up in my hobby alone, I’ve never been part of smoking clubs or groups, I’ve studied a lot, read many books, made many experiments, but I’ve always lacked conviviality. I have always considered smoking a pipe to be intimate. When I was a painter (and I was young with good teeth) biting into my billiards was essential to be able to paint like Norman Rockwell of which I am a great admirer.
I’ve been visiting Dublin since 1997, but it was around 2000 that I began frequenting the Peterson shop and met Glen Whelan (who was still working at the shop then), Brian Tracey and John Dromgoole (now retired). In 2014 my wife and I decided to leave Italy to raise our three children in Ireland.
It was essential to stop smoking—cigarettes were too expensive! So I took a long break from any kind of tobacco or habit as a kind of mental detox. I was almost on the verge of giving away everything: pipes, humidors, lighters… Then one day playing golf with friends I was offered the opportunity to taste and smoke an important Cuban cigar. I concentrated on not inhaling even a moment. It was like turning me from an alcoholic into a sommelier—what you in the US would call a professional gourmand! That gentle, slightly salty and woody flavor, not at all pungent.
I didn’t suffer any consequences except that days later I opened my pipe holder and started in this new guise to try the best of my collection: Savinelli, Brebbia, Dunhill, Peterson, Meerschaum Calabash… it was fantastic! My approach was different, I wanted slow, fresh, tasty, smokes. I preferred to smoke only when everything allowed me.
The aspect that I missed the most (but which now as a “pipe sommelier” was more fascinating) was the ability to store tobacco, collect it and mix it, without swallowing it (inhaling it) by getting drunk on it. For, as I have studied painting and as an Italian I love cooking, this mixing and blending of tobacco is what makes us special. But I’ll come back to it later.
As I said after my long detox, I approached my pipe collection again humbly and without prejudice. I didn’t work for Peterson yet but I had a good number of Peterson pipes, over a dozen, many Systems. I have no idea how some Americans do it, but I think I can compare the work I did to people who collect guns and rifles. I went there, cleaned them one by one, and I checked to see if they were shooting properly, deeply cleaned my pipes, and then loaded them with a light blend of old band Virginia gold and burley. I wanted a neutral smoke for everyone. Well needless to tell you that over the years the Systems hadn’t taken on any flavour any taste any residuals of anything , they were dry and returned to the palate exactly what I was looking for. Combustion was perfect despite choosing a very fine rubbed tobacco for my taste.
Charles Peterson built smoking machines not just pipes. The other thing that happened was that I didn’t like the fishtail mouthpiece anymore with those impertinent tongue bites. I had a few filter pipes (don’t forget that, as mentioned earlier, I used to inhale everything) which I now found useless and annoying in my new way of smoking.
Some of Gianluigi’s Favorite Petes
In my rotation today there are mostly medium big bowls like the 2s or the 9s but also B42. I love to act as if I were in a slow smoke competition, about 4 grams maximum of tobacco and only two ignitions (matches or pipe lighter) and try to puff slowly for about a hour and a half or more, and once it is finished and the pipe has cooled down, see if there is only ash left in the bowl to the bottom. For years we’ve been letting others do the cheerful mouthpieces, pure flamed briar, extravagant shapes or collections. We’ve always been more interested in making pipes people can smoke and smoke and then smoke some more! You could say we’re a bit like Henry Ford and his Model T cars of all colors as long as they’re black, in the sense that we offer something that’s going to run and run and run—and we’ve been doing it exactly this way since the final patent on the System 125 years ago.
(Can you spot the photobomb?)
So there I was, working as a visual merchandiser for a large company in Dublin in addition to being a freelance photographer, videographer, family man, devoted to my beloved English Bull Terrier Bronco, playing golf when I could, painting and sculpting a bit but cooking at lot (I am Italian, after all. And one day passing by the now-familiar shop on Nassau Street I understood there was an opportunity to work for Peterson, many things were evolving Laudisi and Smokingpipes landed in Europe with a new Linfa and many things to reorganize.** At the end of my interviews with them, I felt like Charlie and his Golden Ticket in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory!
2. THE NASSAU STREET SHOP
Gianluigi outside the Nassau Street shop
I work full time in the shop on Nassau Street, I’m the creator of the famous Sherlock Holmes window and I do visual merchandise and window dressing too, or sometimes on the top floor where Debóra (newly promoted) is located: merchandising specialist, she entrusts me with photography stuff for the Smokingpipes Europe website supporting Adam O’Neill’s work.
Today working in the shop (one of the tasks I love most is being on the shop floor) allows me to be part of an international club made up of a lot of different and very interesting members, each of them extraordinary. One of the recurring questions which I always answer in the same way is, “I smoke cigars—what is the difference between them and investing in a pipe?” I use the metaphor of what in the US is called a “foodie” reply, “It is as if you and I are lovers of good food, you go to the Cuban restaurant, you order your Cuban food, the Cuban waiter serves it to you, you enjoy your dinner, you pay the bill and you leave satisfied.
Like you, I love food but I have my Peterson barbecue, which allows me to prepare a mix of Cuban, Italian, American food, I enjoy this because I have many more possibilities and advantages than you apparently (you’ve only got Cuban food, after all), but of course then I have to cleanup, put everything back and make sure everything is ready to cook again next time.
This love and passion also leads me to want an apron, suitable tools, different types of coal, then I also want a gas barbecue, one just for fish, then a smoker, then a dedicated corner in my garden—the possibilities are infinite.
I could say that Peterson perfectly represents the spirit of the Irish smoker. It’s more culture-specific that people think: it has to be solid, with very few frills, and smoke damn well. Nothing can be wasted! Each crumb of tobacco must be burned and smoked to the bottom of the bowl. I believe this was the success of the Peterson System 125 years ago. If anyone looks at Mark Twain closely I’m sure he understood this early on, being a rough river-boat captain on the shores of wide Mississippi.
You don’t mess with tobacco it must be respected. Other pipes deposit drizzle or don’t draw properly and create lots of “leftovers” of damp, unsmoked tobacco. An outrage!
Brian Tracey told me how in the early nineties when he started in the shop he had to learn over fifty types of tobacco blends plus the specific ones of some special customers. The tobacco was kept in large jars. We still have the precision scales of earlier eras. Unfortunately, the law here no longer allows us to do this. As the tobacco has to be sealed at the source and totally neutral, with an inscription in English and Irish warning that smoking is seriously harmful to health.
Since Gaelic is the national language, every producer who wants to import tobacco here must produce this packaging at his own expense, making the success of the operation nearly impossible because we have so few pipe smokers. So our selection has become very limited. After visiting the shop, many tourists believe they can walk out the door and easily find pipe tobacco elsewhere to smoke in their Donegal or Aran, not understanding that there are no tobacco shops in Ireland like there are in the rest of Europe. They are really rare and only found in large population centers.
3. THE FACTORY DURING COVID
Gianluigi during COVID at the factory
During the COVID lockdown period, thanks to our very special Maggie Pym and Darrell Hughes I was offered work at the Sallynoggin factory, which was a fantastic experience. Many still struggle to understand that behind every one of our pipes there are dozens of craftsmen who work with commitment and precision to make a pipe. I’m the only one who’s had sales and distribution tasks in the shop and small active parts in the factory, where I know all the production phases and background.
Two Irish Classics: Peterson 264 Rosslare and Yellow Spot
I have a soft spot for the 264 shape as a design and proof of engineering craftsmanship, which I now understand much better. It was with reverential respect that I stood next to Tony Whelan, Jr. and Joe Kenny and had the opportunity to say hello every morning to our beloved Doris Barrett and then see how the skilled hands of our craftsmen went to work work, like Jason Hinch’s silver bands and Willie Murry’s meticulousness in grading and selecting bowls.
Portrait of Joe Kenny, Pipe Manager & Senior Craftsman
Jonathan gave me a great welcome and everyone wanted me there. I am a chatterbox, though, and I could not have lasted so long. What remains in my heart are Giacomo Penzo, our Pipe Specialist, and Joe Kenny (one of our most revered craftsmen) entrusted me with a few hundred long mouthpieces and Joe himself explained to me how the imperial green 1970 Myford Super7 Metal Turning Lathe (older than me) works to get the job done.
I’m proud of how Josh and the whole team is building the brand from the ground up in an orthodox and honest way. The Engineering of a DeLuxe System with its tenon and P-Lip can’t be compared with anything in the field for a slow smoke. As an Italian I understand the need for taste and style in everything, but as an Italian who comes from an island like Sardinia who has been transplanted to Dublin for ten years and after more than twenty years spent in Florence I see our era just now as Peterson’s renaissance, where the touch and the mastery of our Giacomo Penzo meets the pragmatism of Austin Quinlan and the guidance of Glen Whelan and Josh Burgess who together bring lead us in creating extraordinary things!
(photo courtesy Craig Hairrell, CPG)
It was in Sallynoggin during lockdown that I managed to find a rare Sherlock Junior Deerstalker in meerschaum as well as capture an amazing Natural 2s DeLuxe. Like Jake and Elwood in The Blues Brothers, I spent almost everything I earned on pipes. This was caused in part by Mark’s Peterson Bible, so it’s his fault I found and restored a Peterson meerschaum made on the Isle of Man and have begun to collect old Peterson memorabilia and even unsmoked pipes that I dare not touch.
Gianluigi’s Aboriginal System
I like all types of tobacco and they all have their own reason for existing and their specific properties, and the fact of being able to mix them together makes the opportunities exponentially infinite. But I also believe that ancestral DNA has something to do with tobacco taste. If you have had a certain imprinting you will like strong oriental, British, pungent tobaccos, perhaps they remind you of your grandfather, or the expert tobacconist who told you to start with this, which is what real men smoke, or the tobacconist recommended to you because you were a neophyte. Of course, no one should be allowed to judge you by the tobacco blend you smoke.
It’s Negroni Time
I love the way my wife sits next to me reading while I smoke my pipe with a super sweet and swaggering concoction of Christmas memories or Halloween nights, and I’m happy to keep her happy and by my side. Only my dog Bronco on a few walks knows the bitter but acrid aroma of a Perique or the smoky or soapy flavor of another English blend… but if I sip my Negroni, there is nothing better than a pure Kentucky hand-rolled in Tuscany.*** Unless it’s a sweet aromatic blend, which makes me feel like it’s
PHOTOGRAPHER & VIDEOGRAPHER
I get immense satisfaction from my creative work for Peterson. It wasn’t clear to me what the brand guidelines were five or six years ago. I remember that one day I took over an old Instagram account that Glen had set up for the shop and Josh and Adam O’Neill told me I could play with it for the Dublin shop. I had a lot of fun interpreting everything in a very personal way, sometimes even too much, taking risks like the controversial and world-famous Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani or sometimes making our brand glamorous like a Pirelli or Campari calendar, or sometimes with that US style that brands like KitchenAid or Weber or Zippo know how to do. Here’s a few of my Toscani-inspired photos:
I grew up flipping through my mother’s old magazines with those gorgeous ads from the 60s and 70s. But I’ve also experienced the ad wars between Pepsi and Coca-Cola or Apple and PCs. I like to identify Peterson as a brand worthy of that ever-present vintage patina, for a cultured and expert smoker like a European, but also bold and practical like only an American can be. Irish, but with an Italian twist. From a few initial Instagram and Facebook followers, they have increased tremendously. Then I opened the factory to the public with small videos and photographic forays
Smokingpipes pays meticulous attention to its photos and images. The quality is very high, very patinated and it is an essential point for a refined and attentive market. They were the forerunners twenty years ago. But twenty years ago Peterson, too, paid attention with their colorful boxes, advertisements and posters. So I wanted to find a compromise, a mediation. I liked to tone down everything and have a more naive product, like Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers.
Gianluigi with Pete 264, Nikon, Estrella Damm (Spanish lager) and his drawing pencil
Photography and videography by Gianluigi Fiori for K&P
used by permission of Kapp & Peterson and Mr. Fiori
Portrait of Gianluigi at the Nassau Street Shop courtesy Craig Hairrell
SHERLOCK’S XL5BC ARRIVING SOON
I received word Thursday evening that the XL5BC will ship from Dublin around October 6th. Sinéad Carroll, K&P’s Production Coordinator, has recently been working like an Oz Munchkin to get the PPN “Chat” brochures in pipe boxes and put in the final sprinkles of Gaelic Sidhe dust (Irish fairy dust). Given fair seas and favorable tides, expect to receive your notification to purchase in a week or two. If you’re on the wait list, don’t despair! You will receive notification (by your place in line) if a pipe becomes available within a few days of the Drop.
* As a matter of interest to the literary-minded, there are eight mentions of pipes and twenty-seven of tobacco in Defoe’s classic.
** “Linfa is a comprehensive toolkit for statistical learning, providing algorithms for optimal model and density estimation. It contains common learning algorithms such as Elastic Net, Support Vector Machines, Kernel Methods, Linear Decision Trees, etc. and bundles them together.”
*** Negroni is a classic Italian cocktail, made of one part gin, one part vermouth rosso and one part Campari, garnished with orange peel. It is considered an apéritif. A traditionally made Negroni is stirred, not shaken; it is built over ice in an old-fashioned or rocks glass and garnished with a slice of orange.
Happy Birthday, Poppa Tom (1931-2019)!
Future Pete Geek (left), Lil’ Precious (middle) and father Tom Irwin (right), c. 1959