Transforming Tradition

NEW YORK — Italians love life. They revel in good times, from daily two-hour feasts to month-long holidays each August. They’re justly...

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NEW YORK — Italians love life. They revel in good times, from daily two-hour feasts to month-long holidays each August. They’re justly celebrated for pursuing everything with passion, whether it’s food, love or even textiles.

From the earliest of times — historians report that as far back as 715 B.C., wool dyeing was established as a craft in Rome — fabric has been part of the fashion equation in Italy. Today, while the country continues as a front-runner in textile trend direction, each region has its specialty — Biella for fine wools, Como for silks and Prato for more moderately priced wools. Italian fabric makers export an estimated $440 million worth of product a year, garnering Italy an 8.1 percent share of the market worldwide. Much of this is accomplished by family firms whose members pass on their love and knowledge of fabrics from generation to generation.

Recently, WWD visited four very different mills, all firmly rooted in tradition and forging ahead despite a tough economy.

Luigi Boggio Casero

For the past 32 years, Luigi Boggio Casero has operated quietly in Biella, in the northwest. And by Biella standards, that’s not very long, since the area’s textile industry dates back to 500 B.C. Currently, the region houses 1,800 textile companies, most of which specialize in high-end wools. Founded by Luigi Boggio Casero and now run by his two sons, Nicola and Eugenio, the small mill did $20 million last year, producing more than one million meters of fabric. While the firm focuses on luxury novelty wovens for the women’s market, it produces less expensive goods as well, with prices ranging from $10 a yard for basic novelties to $60 a yard for a double-faced cashmere.

With today’s short lead times, the key to doing business is to speed up production without compromising quality, according to Mario Melchisedecco, sales manager and North American agent. "The way we do that is to get close to our customers, to develop a relationship and to understand what their needs are so we can act immediately," he says. With that in mind, Melchisedecco spends two weeks each month in the U.S., working closely with clients such as Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Ellen Tracy and Dana Buchman. European customers include Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Armani and Max Mara.

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