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In 1861, the same year Abraham Lincoln was getting himself elected 16th president of the United States, Gaspare Campari was hitting upon a successful (and very secret) recipe for a new drink with a bitter flavour: Campari.

The Campari archives describe Gaspare as “both stubborn and brave”, since he set about making his “bitter in the Dutch style”, when at the time, the world of liqueurs was dominated with cordials, elixirs and the like. By 1867, Gaspare was opening a venue in Milan – Caffè Campari – next to the city’s landmark Duomo and in 1904, Campari was being producted at its first plant in Milan’s Sesto San Giovanni. His bravery paid off.

In 1915, Gaspare’s son Davide opened Camparino as a ‘younger sibling’ bar next to his father’s Caffè Campari with a simple but delicious serve: Campari and soda. The Aperitivo moment took off and the bar’s signature drink was a hit. Campari is all about classic cocktails and The Americano, a mix of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water, was on the menu at Caffè Campari in the late 1860s, where it was known as the ‘Milano-Torino’ because Campari came from Milan and vermouth from Turin. The story goes that it became known as the Americano thanks to its popularity with American tourists.

The Americano is also the precursor to the Negroni. And like all good booze stories, the origins of the Negroni are drenched in confusion. One tale suggests a Count Camillo Negroni asked the bartender (Fosco Scarselli) at Caffè Casoni to swap out the soda in his Americano and replace it with gin way back in 1919. Don’t let the lack of evidence of there ever being a Count Negroni from enjoying how cool it sounds. Whoever came up with it, The Negroni was another hit and led to more and more drinkers imbibing Campari.

Pushing forward from this point, the brand was able to make inroads in the art world. In the 1920s, Leonetto Cappiello created the famous Spiritello sprite wrapped in an orange peel and by the 30s, Campari’s advertising has taken on the deco, futuristic style. The 40s and 50s saw Campari engage with more artists and in the 60s, Bruno Munari designed the iconic ‘Graphic Declination of the name Campari’ poster for the opening of the Milan subway. (It’s one with all the Campari labels sort of torn up and stuck on a red background). From the art scene to the big screen. By 1985, Campari’s relationship with the world of film reached a new peak with Federico Fellini (of La Dolce Vita fame) directing a commercial for the Italian market.

In the 90s, Kelly LeBrock (Weird Science and The Woman in Red) became a different woman in red as she fronted the brand’s ‘It’s Fantasy’ ads, with mega stars like Jessica Alba, Eva Mendes, and Salma Hayek all fronting campaigns in the 2000s, as well as the once famous Campari Calendar – a calendar that counted Mario Testino among its photographers.

While the world of art of film was in full swing, things were changing in the background, too, and in 2006, the company largely stopped using little red cochineal beetles to get the bright red Campari colouring. Sadly, they were never the subject of a calendar. When a brand has amassed so much art, its owners need somewhere to put it all, so in 2010 the new Galleria Campari opened, coinciding with Campari’s 150th birthday.

The Campari brand is now distributed in over 190 countries as a registered trademark of Davide Campari Milano S.P.A., part of Gruppo Campari (Campari Group).

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