“Every day … the hands of an artisan unite two strips of silk, whose stitches seem invisible as they magically join together. On one is written ‘Fendi’ and on the other ‘Made in Italy’. In this way the etiquette of the brand is realised …” (Translated from Marie Claire Issue April 2006, p.184)
Fendi is one of many Italian brands that prides itself on being able to attach that powerful ‘Made in Italy’ proclamation to their garments. These three words signify much more than geographic location of production. They symbolise artisans’ skills, painstaking work and quality materials. And also, importantly, they represent a legislation that guarantees workers are well-paid and well-treated. Fendi might be a glamorous internationally popular brand, but they also want to be valued for the craft that goes on behind the scenes.
Often ‘hand-made’ is considered synonymous with small boutiques and specialist products. But in Italy it is much more widespread. Along with Fendi, several shoemakers retain their hand made policy. Tod’s, for example, produces shoes that are completely ‘fatto a mano’ while at Santoni you can have made to measure foot wear. At Bruno Magli around 30 people touch each handmade shoe during the manufacturing process. (http://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/top-ten-italian-shoemakers)
Italians unashamedly, and rightly, celebrate their own creations, and particularly the arts and crafts that they represent. They place value on preserving traditional skills and techniques. As Silvia Venturini Fendi, artistic director at Fendi, comments, artisans don’t work only with their hands, but also with their minds. (Marie Claire Issue April 2016, p.184). Although, inevitably, there are fewer artisans than in the past, skills are still passed down through generations. The value of these irreplaceable skills is recognised by various associations and organisations. The organisation Italian Artisan is dedicated to partnering artists and artisans with large companies. They state, ‘Italian Artisan has set as its goal to bring to light the hundreds of artisan companies, representing the “jewels” of the Made in Italy tradition’. (http://www.italian-artisan.com)
New technologies are also considered to derive from older techniques. Recently 3-D printing has revived many small artisan workshops that have been struggling to survive in the economic climate of Northern Italy. Many of these were companies that previous competed in the global manufacturing market. Architect Rosa Topputo recently designed some (now internationally popular) customisable sunglasses using 3-D technology, which feature a delicately woven pattern inspired by the renowned lacework produced by artisans in the Ventian Lagoon. Topputo comments, ‘Even when you do something with new technology, you can’t forget the ethics of the past.’ (Business of Fashion, How 3-D Printing Is Saving the Italian Artisan).
Of course, this ideology exists not only in the fashion world. The ‘Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro’ in Rome has experts from every corner of the world performing highly skilled techniques in the service of restoration that can rarely be found elsewhere. This institute has worked on projects ranging from Caravaggio paintings, to an ancient turbine, to fragmens of flags. They even succeeded in using their specialised skills underwater, at the Villa dei Pisoni, where they worked on a 3.5×6 metre submerged mosaic among other projects. Just like Fendi’s artisans, their work is as much scientific, academic and creative as it is manual.
Result of Artistic Ethics
In Italy producers of art and design, such as those mentioned in this article, admire and appreciate the importance of anothers work. Many are also conscious of the zeitgeist environment of history and culture from which their artistic ethics evolved. Consider, for example, the Baptistery Scarf by Pucci, originally handrawn by Marquis Emilio Pucci using the iconic Baptistery in Florence as inspiration. Recently there has been a surge in popularity for fashion brands to subsidise high cost, prominent heritage projects. Fendi bankrolled the Trevi Fountain, Tod’s pledged millions to revive the Colosseum and Bulgari similarly splurged on the Spanish steps. Pucci, sealing their historical links to Florence, have assisted the restoration of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. Certainly there has been speculation as to their real intentions as most brands took advantage of their own generosity to plaster publicity across the scaffolding, but there is no mistaking the connection between brands that prize hand finishes, specialised details and artisan heritage, and those which subsidise similarly technical restoration projects. Perhaps the giant Bulgari jewellery adverts decorating the scaffolding at the Bridge of Sighs in Venice was intended to be viewed as another historical ‘monument’, this time to generations of artisans and their skills…
While in Britain we work in a world of numbers, intangible values and disposable products, in Italy their products can still be touched, felt, and admired aesthetically. In fact, this resistance of specialised national production against the encroaching mass production of other countries represents the appreciation retained in this country for individual quality, artisan skills and artistic heritage, be it in shoes or in monuments.