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When I told my friends I wanted to create a new luxury business, they shook their heads and said I was crazy," says Massimo Suppancig, the CEO of Valextra, a 67-year-old Milan-based leather-goods company once famous for catering to the likes of Maria Callas and Grace Kelly. In its heyday, Valextra had been known for filling extravagant custom orders—the Emir of Kuwait once commissioned 14 sets of hippopotamus-skin luggage. But over the past two decades, the business had declined and licensing deals had diminished the name. Enter Suppancig in 2003, a former Hugo Boss and Escada executive who immediately recognized...

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