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.