A few years ago I stumbled across a book that completely changed my perspective of the luxury industry, a book which I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone remotely interested in the harsh reality of this field: “How Luxury lost its Lustre”, by Dana Thomas. It was in the pages of this book that I have first discovered a company called Antico Setificio Fiorentino, and I remained fascinated with this manufacturer ever since.
There is something to be said about Italy’s legendary heritage in the creation of textiles, with certain regions such as Florence, Prato or Lucca keeping this tradition alive and building on this expertise to present day. Antico Setificio Fiorentino (ASF) is the perfect example in this sense. Not only have they been manufacturing silks since 1786, but they still use some of the original wooden looms dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries in their ateliers.
The ancient silk mill takes great pride in these looms, and in their connection with Leonardo da Vinci. It is said that some of these warp machines were built after Da Vinci’s designs, and so it was possible to admire such a machine as part of a recent exhibition dedicated to the genius artist and inventor at the Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci in Milan, earlier this year.
It is on these looms that the ASF craftsmen of the past have reinterpreted old techniques of weaving fabric or come up with new ones, that have later become hugely popular within the elitist circles who could afford and who would require such lavish materials. That is why almost each type of silk they produce has a special story, or better still is part of history. Saia Fiorentina, for instance, is a traditional 14th century cloth made of silk and linen threads; the Nemours fabric dates back to the 16th century and was named after Giuliano de’ Medici, Duke of Nemours; while Le Roy was originally commissioned by Maria de Medici.
And although the company is no longer family-owned, having been controlled by the reputed Emilio Pucci since the 1950s and recently acquired by Stefano Ricci, a producer of fine clothing and accessories for men, both ownerships seem to have benefited ASF. Emilio Pucci’s connection to the Italian aristocracy provided ASF with the perfect outlet to channel their efforts, by helping restore important buildings and museums after WW2. The current ownership is also notable, as they appear to develop ASF into a modern heritage brand, whilst still maintaining their core values and their commitment to deliver outstanding quality fabrics.
Their recent projects are a testament to that. For instance, ASF created a range of pot-pourri in collaboration with the equally celebrated Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. The collection is meant to reflect the scents representative of Italy, and features packaging made of Ermisino silk. The result is a strategic effort which reiterates the historical connection ASF has with its country of origin, and associates the brand with another Italian heritage company, which shares its values.
The collaboration falls naturally into place, in coherence with the rest of the company’s activity. Thus, nowadays ASF produces collections of decorative accessories for the home, putting their fabulous fabrics to great use. From bed linen to bath robes, from curtains to sofas, the range is extensive, and has the potential to turn the ancient silk mill into a luxury lifestyle brand.
In a time when streets are no longer draped with tapestries in order to celebrate the might of noble families, like during the reign of the Medici dynasty, precious materials are still in great demand. Now wealthy individuals may choose to use the special taffetas and brocards to restore their antique furniture and the grand interiors of their old mansions, or to furnish their yachts.
Lifestyles may change, but the demand persists. The company only has to adapt to the changing contexts, and it seems to me they are doing a good job at that, without compromising on quality or damaging their reputation.
Only to accentuate this reputation, ASF has also contributed to the restoration and archiving of ancient volumes documenting the Art of Silk and the inestimable cultural heritage that comes with it.
To me this is a good example of honourable transition from a prestigious traditional mill to an equally prestigious but refreshed company, which maintains its relevance to this day, but makes sure to keep a firm grip onto what makes it special.
Have a closer look
Step inside the ASF universe, with the following video: