At the end of World War II, an enterprising Bolognese housewife named Ada Masotti invested in a sewing machine and started stitching sumptuous confections of satin and lace in the middle of the family kitchen.

Then she put her small collection of fine lingerie in a little case and took it around door-to-door to the local shopkeepers -- who snapped up her creations, the likes of which hardly existed in Italy at the time.

From that determined beginning, La Perla -- the company Ada Masotti founded with her husband -- has grown into a mini-multinational of luxury lingerie that does $270 million a year in sales, with some 30 percent of that coming from exports.

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