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Ongoing research and development allows for constant newness. According to fashion director Francesco Di Carlo, a new printing base called promilk, derived from milk protein, "exalts the luminosity of color." An improved rotary machine cuts down on production time on even the smallest of orders, and new washes and finishes deliver antiqued or lacquered looks.
But sometimes there’s no substitute for history. The company’s research library includes 8,000 volumes while the fabric archive houses 150,000 fabrics, each constantly inspiring new designs. Says Ratti: "They’re like a dream."
Based in Prato, just north of Florence, Picchi produced mostly outerwear fabrics when Francesco Picchi set up shop in 1947. Since then, the family mill has evolved into a leader in competitively priced wovens used in better, contemporary and bridge sportswear lines. It’s client roster includes a broad range, from Zara, Gap, J. Crew and Liz Claiborne to A|X Armani Exchange and Marc by Marc Jacobs.
The mill, which did $38 million worth of business in 2001, has the ability to produce up to 30,000 meters a day. It specializes in yarn-dyed wools and wool blends for winter and linen blends for summer, with 70 percent of its business in the women’s market. Equipped with 36 looms which are updated every five to six years, Picchi also owns a factory in Poland with 150 looms, where 70 percent of production is done.
Today, the mill is run by Francesco Picchi’s son Piero and grandsons Francesco, managing director, and Filippo, general manager. Recently they changed direction to focus on a smaller range of selections. "We cannot be everything to all people," says Piero. "What’s important now is to offer something that has been proven to work either in terms of price, quality or service. So instead of offering 200 qualities, we’re offering 50. Now is the time to be smart."
Piero’s plan also calls for exploring uncharted markets. His current favorite: Russia. Picchi recently opened an office in Kiev to accompany the office in Moscow, established four years ago. "Although [the Russians] are not seasoned in manufacturing, I believe that it will get better," he says. "The novelty fabrics we create are something they don’t have access to there, so they really appreciate these looks."