This past week I’ve been in Biella, visiting the lovely people at Vitale Barberis Canonico and researching a piece on Italian mills and bunches – a follow-up to the popular post on English mills.

Barberis is going through something of a transition at the moment, with Fracesco Vitale Barberis recently taking over from his father Luciano as creative director. (Below, Francesco on the left, Luciano in the middle and head of communications Simone Ubertino Rosso on the right).

Barberis is in a good position, being the only big mill left that doesn’t also have a clothing line (Zegna, Loro Piana and Cerruti are the others) and its independence will only be more of a bonus given the recent takeover of Loro Piana by the LVMH group. Zegna is already VBC’s biggest customer.

Francesco is a true anglophile, and the only Italian I know whose favourite game is Mornington Crescent (always a sign that someone really understands the English). Simone is a sharp young guy who, usefully, speaks fluent Mandarin. And the rest of the team are extremely switched on, gearing up for trying to increase awareness about Vitale Barberis Canonico. There is to be an archive room – they are the oldest recorded mill still working in the world, after all – and a celebration later in the year of the 350-year anniversary.

As I have said before, there is little difference between mills and less between cloth merchants. Your choice of cloth shouldn’t be based on the brand on the front. Barberis is often seen as lower in quality than Zegna, Dormeuil or others, but it’s only because they produce a wider range, from the cheap to the luxurious.

What difference there is between all these mills/merchants is down to quality control and some finishing (what Lesser’s reputation was always based on). Your decision between bunches should be based on the objective facts: the raw materials, the weave, the design. And what your tailor likes working with.   

The biggest difference between English and Italian mills is that the latter are vertically integrated. Where Pennine weaves, Johnson’s finishes and Dugdale’s sells in the UK, Barberis actually owns some sheep in Australia (only a few, mind) and then combs, dyes, spins, weaves and finishes itself.

It’s hard to think of another industry with such a contrast in integration – yet there is little difference in the final product. There goes the argument always trotted out in luxury magazines about how great it is to own every part of the production.

Over the next few weeks: the dyeing process, the Barberis tailor, Italians mills and merchants explained, and the great VBC cycling team. 

Summer cloths from 1931. Crikey. 

I love old cloth books. Such beautiful objects. Notebook used to show scale
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Very nice article, I remember some very lighweight fabrics from canonico barberis inside a caccioppoli book. By the way, if still in northern italy I would go visit the musella dembech atelier in milano, by their website it seems they are doing great things..


Hi Simon
It seems rather strange reading about cloth given the weather we are currently experiencing and esepcially in London and i wondered if you are experiencing the same problem as many others – that of trying to look smart in the heat?

I have to admit that i am short short sleeve shirt today with suit trousers (terrible i know) but, as i spend a few hours outdoors every day at work, i simply cannot wear a suit let alone a tie even though we do have air-con.

It would interesting to know what you have been wearing and what you would suggest to those, like me, who simply cant dress well in hot humid days. And what makes it even more annoying, is that some people look as cool as a cucumber on their way back home every evening!

Help and guidance on cloth choice and suitability would be appreciated.



I am a big fan of VBC and have been wearing it for over ten years, their Revenge collection is particularly good, anything more luxurious gets a bit too delicate. Generally being Italian VBC fabrics are lighter weight compared to their English counterparts


One question Simon, when you say decision between bunches should be based upon objective facts, raw materials etc. What does this mean? Raw material would be wool? Or is it the type of wool and what would that be?