He who works with his hands is a labourer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsperson. He who works with his hands, and his head and his heart is an artist.
Such wise and tender words, uttered by the much-loved St Francis of Assisi, both inspire and define the essence of the artisan. These words also define the essence of The Italian Collection, which seeks to represent those in Italian fashion who aspire to St. Francis’ characterisation.
The Milan-based Association of Artisans defines them less philosophically and more practically as: “A person who has an activity (or artistic endeavour) that produces (or repairs) goods made by a select group who do not make multiples of an item, or a series, and who tool, by hand, in a workshop.”
Moreover, master and apprentice artisans frequently work together on projects, with experts ensuring that a workshop maintains its quality. No short cuts allowed!
Before he passed in June 2015, Pierluigi Ghianda, known as “the poet of wood,” spoke of the importance of quality and the crucial role masters play in transferring their legacy. He shared that “quality plays a dominant role in the life of the craftsperson; as does the time-consuming task of finding the right material.”
He goes on to say, “a meticulous attention to form and detail, and a strong leaning towards a flowing and clean process, belong only to those who from a very young age have worked in their field, and who have along the way acquired centuries-old knowledge passed down through the generations.”
Indeed, there are two types of makers – the crafts’ people who labour in large industrial settings producing an endless stream of sameness; and the artisans, guardians of age-old methods, creating masterpieces and heirlooms to covet forever and a day.
Artisans who have a vocational calling rarely succumb to industrial levels of production; rather their hubs are manned by a few skilled in one field or another. Our own Lucilla Giovanninetti, for instance, works alone in her studio in Milan. There she doodles on paper, designing and making prototypes of her artistic leanings manifesting in beguiling jewellery.
In Piedmont, not far from the Lombardy border, Colette della Vedova (endowed with a keen eye) works alongside her spouse Nanni making what are undisputedly gorgeous rain warriors. Nanni’s skilled hands make the infrastructure for each umbrella and also sculpt precious wooden handles out of Malacca or other pliable materials.
Back in Milan, Maria Vittoria Albani, who learned the trade from her mother, works tirelessly holding court in a space filled to the brim with adornment revered in the hallowed galleries of quite a few museums, most recently at Palazzo Reale in her hometown.
All of their hands, minds and hearts are inextricably linked to the creation of their artworks. Their artistic expressions, be they soulful charming bijoux, or umbrellas that ooze a lightness of being, collectively demonstrate an immense love of art and a passion for life itself.
The co-founders of The Italian Collection feel enormous pride in being the gateway to a treasure-trove of unsung “heroes”, traditional artisans, and old-school craftspeople whose masterpieces will endure swings in taste and the current trend of mass consumption.
So, if at any time you seek refuge from the proliferation of fabricated values or items in daily modern life, The Italian Collection will virtually transport you to the seductive charm of Italy’s no-label, sartorial nooks and crannies.