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“Made in Italy” has stood for uncompromising quality standards paired with extravagant innovation that nevertheless remains anchored in tradition and cultural heritage. The book “Italian Textile Design – From Art Deco to the Contemporary” by Vittorio Linfante and Massimo Zanella tells of the vibrancy and diversity of Italian textile design – whether for fashion or furniture.

Review by Silke Bücker

It is a journey through time through colours, patterns and shapes. It impressively demonstrates the high artistic standards of the Italians, coupled with a preference for first-class materials such as silk, cashmere and wool, as well as the influence of the country’s regional diversity, which leads to the unmistakable aesthetics and elegance for which the Italian style is appreciated worldwide.

The importance of textile decorations as a means of communication and seismograph of the zeitgeist is also emphasised. The opulent volume opens with an essay by Valerio Terraroli, who explains how the value of simple textile fabrics was gradually raised to a new level through the continuous development of printing techniques that were initially handcrafted and later industrialised.

Art director, textile designer and fashion professor Vittorio Linfante and art historian Massimo Zanell guide the reader through the turbulent but ever-evolving history of modern textile printing from 1900 to the present. Starting with the various design methods – from hand-applied colour to block, roller, screen and thermal transfer printing through to digital printing – they take the reader on an opulent and captivating visual journey that vividly illustrates the influence of taste, cultural, political and sociological impulses as well as the desire to experiment and the penchant for extravagance.

Decorattivo! – Innovatives Textildesign aus Italien
Left: ‘Versus’ by Gianni Versace, dress, 90s, printed velvet. | Right: Gianni Versace Tailleur, autumn/winter collection 1991, printed wool crepe Massa Lombarda (Ravenna), Archive Mazzini | Photo: Alessandro Dealberto
Decorattivo! – Innovatives Textildesign aus Italien
Left: Enrico Coveri, down jacket, 1980s. | Right: Massa Lombarda, printed cotton, dress, spring/summer 1986.
Textile design ‘Botanica’, spring/summer 2022, design by Gentile Catone, a brand by Francesco Gentile and Chiara Catone | Credit: Gentile Catone, Pescara Italy.
Textile design, ‘Zambia’ 1982, design by Nathalie du Pasquier, manufactured by Memphis S.r.l., Mui Mui collection 2006.

Designs with Cult Status

For example, it shows how the clear formal language of Art Deco replaced the flowery and exuberant playfulness of Art Nouveau, how the painter Giacomo Balla propagated a provocative futurism in the 1920s that flowed into textiles, and how the Como-born designer and painter Carla Badiali created iconic fabrics for Hubert de Givenchy in the 1950s. In any case, the fashion and textile industry in post-war Italy became the driving force behind industrial, economic and social development and thus served as a playground for many creative minds. 

Jetset-Chic à la Capri and Portofino

One of the best known was Emilio Pucci, who made a name for himself at a time when so-called boutique collections were becoming popular. In the 1960s, Pucci propagated jet-set chic, based on the myth of Capri and Portofino: simple yet sophisticatedly cut garments characterised by a wide variety of materials, colours and, above all, patterns. The painter, illustrator and set designer Vittorio Accornero achieved a stroke of genius in 1966 when he launched the iconic Gucci design “Flora”, a homage to Botticelli’s “La Primavera”, composed of lifelike flowers and plants as well as snakes and insects – in a total of 37 colours on a white background. This was reanimated by the history-obsessed Alessandro Michele in a Cruise collection from 2017, which once again emphasises the fashion-historical significance of the décor. 

Illustration from the Italian Textile Design – From Art Deco to the Contemporary, published by Hatje Cantz, Berlin 2023

Creatives as the Engine of the Economy

Step by step, the authors take us through the creative change of times. Back to the 1970s, when the Florentine Elio Fiorucci ironically applied influences from the transforming pop culture to textiles. He used existing quotes from pop art and comic aesthetics and found a new remix in them, which he humorously and strikingly staged on clothing, which increasingly became a product. During the economic boom of the 1980s, the collaboration between companies and designers then became a permanent feature of an internationally active Italian creative workshop. The era of “higher, faster, further” was also characterised by brands such as Fendi, Salvatore Ferragamo and Roberto Cavalli. This era pushed eccentric and, from today’s perspective, wasteful boundaries by decorating patchworks made of leather, denim, knitwear and fur with various printing and finishing techniques or hand-painting. Back then leading to a whole new approach to materials and design possibilities. 

Looking Backwards to go Forwards

The “more is more” was followed by the minimalism of the nineties and brought with it a certain calm that invited reflection and analysis of textile history. The archive became the source of design. Prada and Marni, for example, referred stylistically to the tradition of their houses, flirting with the banal and turning fabrics for domestic use or workwear into luxury products.

At the turn of the millennium, in the wake of rapidly advancing possibilities and spurred on by the dynamics of digitalisation, the expressive forms of printed surfaces experienced another renaissance. Brands such as Antonio Marras and Pardsen’s established an unmistakable visual language. Marras takes motifs and symbols from Sardinian customs and transfers them to the present day, while Parden’s is inspired by Puglia. More recent progressive brands such as MSGM, Sunnei, IUTER and Octopus mix different, often contradictory influences and borrow from the Italian street art and subculture scene. 

Finally, the book documents the current significance of the fashion archives of established design houses and focuses on Alessandro Michele, who, during his tenure from 2015 to 2022, literally dissected the textile and visual history of Gucci and created dazzling and quirky visions that oscillated between past and future, earning him the nickname “archaeologist of fashion” in addition to his cult status. The chapter also reports on how a deliberate backward-looking approach combined with the need for constant innovation and renewal has dominated the last 20 years of fashion, particularly in the highly competitive luxury segment.

Informative and Impressively Illustrated

Whether outlining the vicissitudes and changes in the development of textile design analogous to the development of the economy and society, the advances in technology and a wealth of names and information, the book is a relevant reference work for design and fashion enthusiasts.

The meticulously researched illustrations are particularly impressive, filling the majority of the pages and marvellously demonstrating the excellence of Italian design concepts. The exhibition falls short of expectations when it comes to sustainability. Only rudimentary reference is made to environmentally and socially compatible approaches to textile design techniques, such as dyeing with natural agents or resource-saving printing and finishing processes, which are currently the talk of the town. Criticism of conventional, generally uneconomical techniques and the excessive use of resources and chemicals is also neglected. 

All in all, however, “Italian Textile Design” is a recommendable and, above all, aesthetically pleasing work that confidently emancipates itself from the status of an entertaining “coffee table book”.

Italian Textile Design – From Art Deco to the Contemporary

Hrsg. v. Vittorio Linfante and Massimo Zanella
Vorwort Valerio Terraroli
Texts from Stefania Cretella, Cristina Maria Da Roit, Chiara Pompa
hardcover, 224 p., 500 ill, 
Publisher Hatje Cantz, Berlin 2023
ISBN: 978-3-7757-5499-6
48,00 euros

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