Tag Archives: Artisans

The Italian Job: Luxury at the Source. A Journey up the Supply Stream from a Boutique in Paris to a Specialty Yarn Producer in Florence

By Michael Battista
Industry Coordinator to the Global Fashion Management Program

During a seminar to Florence, Global Fashion Management students tour Lineapiù Italia’s “Stitch Room,” a library of over 5,000 sample stitch swatches of the company’s specialty yarn.

The apparel and fashion industry is complex and multifarious. With variables steeped in aesthetic and material culture that both affect and lie at the mercy of increasingly unpredictable and unstable economic and political forces, there are many learning opportunities to be had. In the case of our international seminars, we are on a journey–both in the pedagogical and literal sense–where students are confronted with connections that extend between and beyond the artistic, commercial, cultural, industrial, and political. These connections are not always obvious in the moment or on the road. Sometimes lucidity is attained after-the-fact, when the components and context of the whole experience is reflected upon.

Following the program’s recent Paris Seminar, such an opportunity presented itself in our pilot seminar in Florence, where we traveled to further enhance our understanding of luxury fashion, and to explore Italy’s connection to this sector. Since the Renaissance, Florence has been a renowned center for expertise in artisanal craftsmanship and the transformation of raw materials into high quality leather goods and textiles. This reputation endures to this day, with Italy serving as the number one source of France’s textile and leather imports. Of course, France has its own high quality fabric mills and leather tanneries­, and certain cities have historically enjoyed reputations as epicenters of industry specialty: lace in Calais, linen in Normandy, and silk in Lyon. However, Made in France is expensive, even for those doing the making. While certain French luxury brands consistently earn annual profits between ten and over thirty billion dollars, for brands with tighter margins, the priority is product differentiation, quality, and skillfulness in production. The object of this affection is Made in Italy.

Our itinerary in Florence was developed and made possible with the expertise of the dynamic Pascal Gautrand, a textile specialist and developer of specialty trade shows Maison D’Exception and Made in France, and Founder of Made in Town, an online magazine, digital and consulting platform, and “manifesto to local fabrication.”

It was towards the end of our journey, on a visit to a specialty yarn producer nestled at the foot of the Tuscan hills, that we realized our own pilgrimage through luxury boutiques, ateliers, and production houses across France and Italy had been mirroring the journey of a value and supply chain. Back in Paris, at Chanel’s headquarters in the haute couture salon on Rue Cambon, students received an overview of the company’s fashion strategy and value chain from its tenet of client services to the craftsmanship in its famed métiers. After the lecture, we dispersed through the ready-to-wear boutique for a full merchandising experience and mise-en-scène of the flagship.

Inside the Haute Couture Salon at Chanel’s headquarters during the GFM Paris Seminar, students receive an intimate address by Florence Dennetière, Chanel’s Human Resources Director for Fashion Activities, on the house’s fashion strategy, its focus on customer service, and preservation of craftsmanship through its métiers.

A few days later, we traveled to Normandy to visit luxury manufacturer Les Ateliers Grandis. Here, we saw what it means to be Made in France. The artisans worked meticulously at a methodical pace, constructing high-end garments for notable brands. Among them, we saw the making of jackets of a certain unmistakable tweed variety.

Onwards, in Florence, after many other exclusive executive lectures and site visits, by bus we ascended the meandering roads of the Tuscan countryside to tour the knitwear manufacturing facility of Il Borgo Cashmere, a small family-owned company established in 1949. Here, expertise and specialized machinery is leveraged to execute complex and unique orders of high-end luxury knitwear and home products for brands such as Chanel, Gucci and Loro Piana. Textured evidence of an iconic brand revealed itself on the production floor in a glimpse of a scarf emblazoned with an interlocking logo in a relief of cashmere thread. Afterwards, in a final step towards the source of the supply chain we had been following, we returned to Florence to visit a material supplier of Il Borgo Cashmere.

GFM students in the showroom of Il Borgo Cashmere, a small family-owned company outside of Florence that produces high-end knitwear and home products for marquee luxury brands.

We descended from the Tuscan hillside to the historical archives and spinning mill of Lineapiù Italia, a creator of rare and exceptionally fine yarns since 1975. “Creator” is the most apt word to encapsulate the distinctness of their offering: technical expertise in manufacturing, research and development of innovative materials; and a resource for designers of high-end knitwear.

We were welcomed into the company’s Museum by archivist Chiara Petruccelli, a luxury native and textile savant formerly with the archives of Gucci, and credentialed in conservation at the University of Florence. True to form in Italian hospitality, with sweeping hand gestures she pointed out details of historical and technical significance as we were guided through the textile and swatch library, a designer garment collection, and a “stitch room” for design research. Amongst so many intriguing textures and surfaces, the curiosity of our group was irrepressible. No question went unanswered, and thankfully, “no touching” was not part of the lingua franca here. Afterwards, we were lead on a short walk through the company’s campus to tour the spinning facility where specialty fibers such as mohair, alpaca, and cashmere, among others, are transformed into yarns destined for the production of storied luxury brands such as Armani, Chanel, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, and many others.

In the production of truly luxurious knitwear, all yarns are not created equal. Simply touting a composition of a noble fiber­­–such as cashmere, for example–is not enough. Further steps must be made to distinguish the basic and banal from the exceptional. While Lineapiù certainly uses premium raw materials, it excels in market competitiveness with its scientific method, artistic approach and penchant for whimsy.

Archivist Chiara Petruccelli gives Global Fashion Management students an overview of some of the historical artifacts in the collection of the Museum at Lineapiù Italia.
A selection of yarns on display in the knit sample book of Lineapiù Italia’s  fall/winter 2018-2019 Fantasy Mohair collection. Knit samples of the line are paired with images of their respective inspirations. The text at the bottom of the page translates to “The freedom of expression infects art. The colorful mohair patterns present generous and daring details.”
Lineapiù Italia Archivist Chiara Petruccelli (left) invites Global Fashion Management students to touch the fabric of a dress from the Winter 1991 collection of Azzedine Alaïa, which is made of specialty yarn produced by the family-owned company.

Laurels are not rested on here. Innovation and development are tirelessly pursued. The entire research, development, and manufacturing process–including combing, carding, twisting, dyeing, and finishing­–is carried out in its own laboratory and mills.

Yarn is designed and created in three categories of collections that coincide with the two primary seasons of the fashion calendar. In addition to three ready-to-knit lines, it offers clients bespoke production services to create exclusive yarns. Yarns are engineered from the inside out, composed from a selection of natural, manufactured, and synthetic fibers that are precisely blended and constructed to express the tactile, aesthetic or technical qualities desired. Yarn structure can have a traditional twist or a more complex design: employing certain fibers as scaffolding for encasement, or as a lattice for a garden of embellishment. A multitude of variations achieve the desired hand, strength, weight, texture, sheen, breathability, color intensity, and capacity to retain heat, among other features. From the ultra-soft and lightweight, to luminous and striated surfaces that intimate their inspirations. The results are as artful and original as they are scientific. Whether they are “mélanges inspired by mushrooms, lichens, the earth and leaves ruffled by impetuous winter’s winds” (as their fall-winter 2019/2020 season of its Knit Art collection is described) or made with filaments of carbon fiber that shield its wearer from electromagnetic radiation (the yarn named Relax, released in 1990).

At Lineapiù Italia, GFM receives a demonstration of the specialty yarn producer’s photoreactive yarn, named Lumen and released in 2017, which was developed with a coating of photosensitive pigments that change color as a reaction to UV light (from the sun or as shown here, with a special flash light).
A sample stitch swatch of the yarn named Gioiello, released in 1999, is embedded with Swarovski crystals.

What was demonstrably clear from our visit is that Lineapiù Italia is an enterprise with an innovative spirit in full command of its capabilities. Unfortunately for us, of all the components of luxury surrounding us, time was not one of them. Transfixed as we were by this immersion into specialty yarn production, we required prodding to depart and board our bus. We had a schedule to keep, after all, and our lives in New York to return to.

We study this industry from the vantage point of our offices and classrooms, with troves of data, articles, resources in databases, and lectures by executives and intellectuals. Yet, to physically arrive at this point in the process, to the source of luxury, in a facility at the foot of the Tuscan hills, to run our hands through strands of alpaca and cashmere fibers in hues of hot pink and cream destined for the type of garment that might be on display in a Parisian boutique, fully rendered the intricacies of supply and value chains into a tangible experience that was both grand and granular. Whatever your expertise or experience is, if you’re going to study an industry as complex as apparel, you can expect to be confronted with limitless opportunities to discover connections and learn something new. To get out of the classroom and into the world to experience these connections through our own hands and eyes, we could at least now be 100% certain of the quality and specialized skill that is Made in France and Made in Italy.

A student looks through a selection of sample stitch swatches inside Lineapiù Italia’s “Stitch Room.”
A Global Fashion Management student inside the spinning facility of Lineapiù Italia runs her hand through a blend of freshly combed (but not yet spun) alpaca and cashmere fibers.

Different Worlds: Exploring the Fashion Systems of France and Italy

By Pamela Ellsworth
Chair, Global Fashion Management

Didier Grumbach, Honorary President of the Féderation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (center) on campus at Institut Français de la Mode after his lecture on “The Invention and Reinvention of Haute Couture.” Students hold copies of his book, “History of International Fashion.”


GFM Seminar: April, 2018

This year’s Paris seminar was devoted to an understanding of the professional organizations established to support France’s legendary fashion industry. In addition, the multicultural team assignment was created to provide a deeper analysis of the design inspiration of current couture members. Fascinated as we tend to be by the Paris collections for their creative beauty and extravagance, as well as for their excess and occasional insanity, it’s easy to forget that they thrive and contribute to France’s economy based on the strength of powerful state-run organizations.

Dr. David Zajtmann, Professor at Institut Français de la Mode presents his lecture on Haute Couture and Fashion in Paris to GFM during the Paris Seminar.

David Zajtmann, Creative Brands Strategist at Institut Français de la Mode, and author of Understanding the Role of Professional Organisations in Supporting the Creative Industries writes, “the presentations of collections in Paris remain important events for the global fashion industry thanks to a long-term strategy of strong professional representation, regulation and integration of national and international key industry players carried out by the Fédération over time.”  Mr. Zajtmann presented to GFM on the first day of the seminar, laying an essential foundation for the following several days of immersion into the structure of the organization and the creators that uphold its reputation.

By the end of the seminar, our knowledge of the Parisian fashion system – the introduction of the couturier in 1858; the creation of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in 1911; the rise of ready-to-wear in the 1960s; and the establishment of the Fédération de la couture, du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode in 1973 – helped us to understand the methodology and evolution of what is still the world’s most well-developed fashion system.  In his article, Mr. Zajtmann discusses the French government’s supporting role in establishing a list of authorized couturiers every year, and, until 1979, even financing the purchase of French fabrics to be used in the shows, in addition to making it possible for fashion companies to host fashion shows at the Louvre until 1986.

This historical insight and much more – as we heard from a broad range of speakers at the IFM’s YSL Amphitheatre as well as at site visits – provided essential background in making comparisons and contrasts to the company structures and organizations we would visit when we continued on to Florence and Prato, Italy at the close of the Paris seminar.

Our brief seminar in Florence and Prato was organized to introduce GFM graduate students to a textile and fashion system that was culturally, historically, and organizationally different from the Paris system of haute couture we had just experienced during our 10-day seminar at Institut Française de la Mode.

We organized our two-and-a-half-day Italy seminar with the guidance of Pascal Gautrand – a founder of Made in Town and a consultant for Première Vision – a French colleague who studied at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome, and has worked closely with Italian companies in recent years. In his introduction to our students, he described the unique history of Tuscany as the inspiration for the region’s ability to manufacture luxury goods since the Middle Ages, and how Italian companies are reinventing their heritage to survive in today’s highly competitive business climate.

We began our seminar with a private meeting in the conference room of Pitti Immagine, with Raffaello Napoleone, the CEO. This organization is devoted to promoting the Italian fashion industry, and is perhaps the most important trade show for menswear in the world. Mr. Napoleone began with an overview of the American Marshall Plan’s impact on the Italian fashion industry following World War II, continuing with statistics on the large volume of Italian women’s fashion purchased by American department stores post war, and describing the struggle to compete in the 1970s based on the small size of individual companies and lack of organization, resulting in the industry’s move to Milan. Mr. Napoleone has reinvented Pitti Immagine from a conventional trade show to one that reaches beyond fashion to a cultural strategy, by offering a research division, art, architecture, food, wine, and fragrance. He commented that because fashion can change easily and be communicated quickly, the trade show must reinvent itself season after season.

As one of the most high-profile business executives in the Italian and European fashion industry, we knew that Mr. Napoleone didn’t have a great deal of time to spend with us, but none of that seemed to matter as he answered every question around the table (and there were many), even leaving time to make recommendations for the best spots for lunch in Florence. Happily, we could think of no place farther from New York City, and no one more generous or knowledgeable in relating the details of the Italian fashion industry.

The Global Fashion Management Florence Seminar began with a meeting with Raffaello Napoleone, CEO of Pitti Immagine (left), inside the headquarters of one of the most impactful menswear trade show events in the world.

Our next stop was Scuola del Cuoio, a leather school founded by Franciscan friars after World War II, located near the banks of the Arno River, which has been the location of the leather tanneries since the 13th century. The portion of the building that we visited was donated by the Medici family during the Renaissance, with the photo below showing one of the frescos from that time.

GFM students inside Scuola del Cuoio, watch an artisan make a woven leather briefcase. The school’s original mission from the 1930’s was to teach a practical trade to orphans of the war.  Today it’s open to everyone and offers workshops and short courses to study under a master leather craftsman or craftswoman.

From Scuola del Cuoio, we visited the Palazzo Pitti’s Fashion and Costume Museum, a shrine to some of the most extraordinary costumes and contemporary garments in the world. The Museo della Moda was founded in 1983, and contains haute couture Italian design, cinema, and opera costumes, and a rather astonishing display of the funeral clothes of Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici and his wife, Eleonor of Toledo. (Their bodies were disinterred, and the bones and textiles were examined.)

GFM students on a site visit to Palazzo Pitti Museum of Costume in Florence.
The Palazzo Pitti  Fashion and Costume Museum hosts a collection of rare and precious garments from Italian designers from the renaissance through the 20th Century. Shown here, are couture designs by Gianfranco Ferré, circa 1989.

By bus, we headed out of Florence to Fiesole and the Stafano Ricci atelier. Mr. Ricci explained the brand heritage, and his staff toured us through the small custom shirt and belt factory. You won’t see any photos because we were sworn to secrecy, but the small-scale atelier of beautiful quality Italian cotton shirts was unlike any productions facility we would find most anywhere in the world.

Stefano Ricci Spring Summer 2018 campaign
An image from the Stefano Ricci Spring/Summer 2018 campaign.

We continued north to Il Borgo San Lorenzo to visit Il Borgo Cashmere, a family-owned company since 1949 where research and experimentation is based on ancient craft techniques. Here, the company knits luxury garments and home products for Loro Piana, Bergdorf Goodman, and other high-end retailers and major fashion houses. In this small town, the company’s artisans train local crafts people to hand knit some categories of product out of their homes, which means that the company devotes considerable resources to time management and quality control, while still encouraging a spirit of creativity. The European Union finances a good part of this training. We were struck by this community dynamic, but had to keep in mind that its origin lies in the guilds of the Middle Ages, a system common throughout Europe.

Inside the showroom of Il Borgo Cashmere, a Global Fashion Management student takes a closer look at the craftsmanship of a cashmere dress.

From Il Borgo, we moved on to Capalle and Lineapiu Italia, an extraordinary company that designs and produces specialty yarns for designer fabrics. The company also serves as a repository for the research and protection of Italian sartorial art, housing more than 33,000 archived products, and providing trend direction. They worked extensively with Armani, for example, to develop new ideas and technologies for knits. Hermes and Chanel are also customers. The company runs two mills where they spin mohair, alpaca, cotton, and wool, and they took great pride is walking us through the combing, carding, and sliver phases, preparing the yarn for the knit machines.

Inside a spinning mill, students see luxury yarn being created.
Inside the spinning mill of Lineapiù Italia, a creator of luxury yarns. GFM students receive an overview of the process of creating yarn from fiber. Shown here in the foreground, is an alpaca/cashmere blend before the spinning process.

As we visited these small-scale, high-quality businesses, I was reminded of political economist Francis Fukuyama’s description of Italian companies in his book Trust, where he draws parallels between a culture’s characteristics and its prosperity. He argues that because of the nature of social capital in Italy, family bonds tend to be much stronger than those between the individual and the state, and where “private sector firms tend to be relatively small and family controlled, while large-scale enterprises need the support of the state to be viable.”  Fukuyama is careful to distinguish Italy’s highly productive “Terza Italia” (third Italy, which includes Tuscany) from the impoverished southern portion of the country. He suggests that the networks of small businesses – such as those we visited – represent “an entirely new paradigm of industrial production, one that can be exported to other countries. Social capital and culture give us considerable insight into the reasons for this miniature economic renaissance.”

The vulnerability of the small enterprises that we visited – their locations remote from a large, experienced work force, and dependent upon a rapidly-changing and quixotic luxury consumer – stood in sharp contrast to the depth of creative and manufacturing talent and commitment that we witnessed in every business. In describing the manufacture of the competitive products from the Terza Italia, including textiles and apparel, Fukuyama writes, “This confirms that there is no necessary connection between small-scale industry and technological backwardness. Italy is the world’s third-largest producer of industrial robots, and yet a third of that industry’s output is produced by enterprises with fewer than fifty employees.” Since this book was written, the point about robots is no longer a fact, but Fukuyama does make a strong case for the advantage of sophisticated, small-scale, highly skilled enterprises, based on their ability to adapt to changing consumer markets. Especially for those of us from the U.S. who have been made weary by the magnitude and monopolies of our retailers, we’re rallying to the side of Italy’s artisanal luxury designers and manufacturers to prosper.

Our final stop was a guided tour of the Prato Textile Museum, which occupies a building and location that had been the site of textile manufacture since the Middle Ages. Prato’s textile history has enjoyed enormous success and has more recently suffered great defeat under global competition, but as often as they’ve reinvented themselves, their identity remains closely tied to the textile industry.

GFM students on a docent led tour of the Prato Textile Museum.

Since the focus of our study in Italy was creativity, makers, and manufacturers, our dinner location was no exception. In Fabbrica – the name of the restaurant, which also means Factory – is a silver workshop dating back to 1902. Above the factory on the second floor, we enjoyed dinner by candelabra manufactured on site, where the wait staff worked as artisans just hours prior to our arrival. (The chef, fortunately, was a specialist in food rather than precious metals.)

At In Fabbrica, GFM students tour the silversmith workshop with owner Gianfranco Pampaloni
Gianfranco Pampaloni, owner of In Fabbrica (left), shares stories of his most notable creations with Global Fashion Management students inside his silversmith workshop and showroom.
GFM students enjoyed dinner by candelabra at In Fabbrica. The workshop turns into a restaurant by night, where the silversmiths trade in their overalls for white gloves to serve as the restaurant’s waiters.

On Saturday morning, our last day in Florence, we met at the Polimoda campus where Luca Marchetti, Professor and Researcher at the Ecole Superior de Mode at the University of Quebec in Montreal, delivered a lecture to GFM and Polimoda students. Professor Marchetti, who is from Italy and where he also studied, spoke about the socio-historical roots of Italian culture, making comparisons to France along the way. He defined Italy as a country with a “chaotic urban context” and one without a major social revolution, based on what he referred to as unstable and ephemeral power, as compared to France’s more orderly and defined regimes.

On campus at Polimoda in Florence, GFM students ended the seminar with a lecture on “Made in Italy, Cultural Imaginary, History and Identity” by Luca Marchetti, Professor and Researcher at the École Supérior de Mode at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

We felt that this brief visit to Tuscany could be the start of a much deeper exploration, comparing two of the world’s most important cultural centers. In Paris, we studied the structure and well-developed organization of haute couture and prêt-à-porter – a legacy with well-established roots in the luxury manufacturing and export of 17th century France under Louis XIV.  Italy’s small and widely scattered companies, on the other hand, reflecting its history of warring city-states until the 19th century, still struggle. But the dominance of China, Italy’s languishing export numbers, and the trend for ever faster fashion are not what we were thinking about as we witnessed the beauty, creativity, and superior quality of the products we had the privilege to see during our final two seminar days, as well as the humility and generosity of company hosts and artisans. We all agreed that the world would be a much poorer place without Italian and French fashion and the people that create it.