Made in Italy: Style

On the first floor of a recently renovated late-nineteenth-century building with frescoed ceilings and a marvellous inner courtyard, there is not a moment of silence. The music stops, then resumes playing. A voice shouts: “Ora da capo”, then says the same in English. Another, more nervous voice says something about the lights. Models walk down a horseshoe-shaped catwalk. They stop, then resume walking - they’re rehearsing. The chairs placed all around, will soon be sat on. Other girls chat in front of mirrors, exposed to the make-up, their hair done up. Behind a closed door, in a room whose windows look out over the spires of the cathedral and the soft hills on the horizon, seamstresses hold scissors, wear pincushions like bracelets and measuring tapes around their necks. They move swiftly in front of large tables. The clothes that lie on the tables look like sculptures or draperies from a painting - Titian and Raphael and Brunelleschi. They’re breathtakingly beautiful and the seamstresses apply inserts of fine trimmings on them. One of the seamstresses is on her heels next to a girl. She’s adjusting the hem of one of the collection’s garments, a pair of Pigiama Palazzo trousers, making sure it’s perfect. She says: “Quality is in the details, you know? Details - that's what elegance is all about,” but the girl barely understands Italian. The door keeps being thrown open by someone who reminds them to hurry up. Voices overlap.

The designer arrives, calm and impeccable. He checks one of the dresses, he nods. The seamstress binds off the last stitch; she has just a moment to say, “This is how we do things here,” before the girl returns to the catwalk. She sighs, then looks up at the spires of the cathedral, thinking of purple-red draperies and the great Renaissance painters, thinking of how, as the designer always says, past and future, history and innovation, intertwine and speak to each other in a dress. If only her gaze could wander down the street, through the late afternoon traffic, turn at a couple of crossroads, take a quiet alley paved with cobblestones behind the cathedral, and enter a quiet shop with a small sign. Then she would see an old man bent over a counter, the same measuring tape around his neck, intent on cutting a scrap of silk. The first step that will turn it into one of his ties.

Soft architectures, strictly handmade. The sign says Since 1898, meaning one generation after the other. The man's movements are not just accurate - they are the very idea of accuracy. He says to his grandson, a young boy standing next to him, “If they ever ask you what style is, you have to answer: it's time and patience. Style can never be improvised, it's what I've learned and what I'm teaching you now. Past and future, do you understand? We keep them together, even in a tie. That's how we do things.” The grandson nods. The man's fingers brush the purple-red silk as a flight of swallows crosses the sky. That ancient and ever-changing sky over the spires of the cathedral and over the glass and steel buildings, over the wide avenues lined with trees, over the shaded alleys and hills of an Italian city.