We are all familiar with the names of great Italian fashion designers, we see their names in magazines, on shop windows and on the labels of fashionable clothes and accessories, but behind the scenes there are many other less-known names who are responsible for turning designers’ dreams into reality, the artisans who combine traditional skills with research and innovation, and who are the backbone of the Italian fashion industry. The other week we went to visit one such master, Pino Grasso, to learn about his art.
For over fifty years Pino Grasso has been one of the leading figures in high fashion embroidery. He has produced embroidered masterpieces for many of Italy’s leading fashion houses including; Armani, Versace, Valentino, Bottega Veneta, Prada and Dolce & Gabanna just to name a few. During our visit we had the opportunity not only to see photos of some of the creations the studio has produced over the years, but we were also able to see and touch (!) some of the samples prepared for these projects which now make up Pino Grasso’s extensive sample archive. Being up to our elbows in such beautiful pieces was like Christmas had come early and a wonderful journey of discovery.
While looking through the endless samples we had the pleasure of hearing Pino Grasso tell us stories about his lively career; from his beginnings as a medical student who decided to switch to a profession in which he would be surrounded by beautiful women (said with a cheeky smile), to working with some of the greatest fashion designers of the half a century, it was a real treat to have him share so much of his time and memories with us. There were so many beautiful, innovative, exciting embroideries that it would be impossible to cover them all in one blog post, so I will share some highlights.
One of the designers with which Pino Grasso has collaborated extensively during his career is Valentino, indeed, some of the pieces which have come out of these collaborations are truly iconic such as the Chinoiserie skirt and jacket from his 1990-91 couture collection.
Mr Grasso explained to us that Valentino had requested an embroidery which would give the effect of Chinese lacquer work and here we could see how the magic of an artisan such as Pino Grasso is not only in the physical creation of the embroideries (even if that, bead by bead and sequin by sequin, is extraordinary) but the real genius is in the ability to take the brief and transform the designer’s concept into a physical object.
We were fortunate to see many examples of this where the embroidery went beyond being only decorative to become a truly artistic expression of the designer’s ideas. Another example are the sophisticated coral embroideries done for Valentino’s 2004 couture collection which were inspired by the novel “Il Gattopardo” set in 19th century Sicily.
Here Mr Grasso began to explain the process of interpreting the designers brief and the meticulous process of sourcing the right materials for the job and even adjusting them – one tiny piece at a time – to make them perfect. Many of the pieces of coral used in this collection had been carefully coloured by hand to get the tone just right.
Then he pulled out a very long sample which was completely covered in Swarovski crystals and told us the story behind it; it was done for a full length gown by Gianfranco Ferré which was worked with a series of horizontal stripes in muted shades of green, blue/grey, amethyst, black and bordeaux, an embroidery which was deceptively simple, that is until we heard its story…
Mr Grasso explained that for this piece from his 2002 collection Ferré had requested that the embroidery have a muted, worn feeling and that in order to obtain this they had coloured all of the crystals by hand, and even worked on them with abrasives to give them a vintage look. This process was long and very labour intensive and Ferré, having a clear vision of the effect he wanted, requested several rounds of samples before they found the right balance. This gown is a tribute the level of professionalism which has made Pino Grasso a true master in his field.
We also saw samples from creations which graced red carpets and best-dressed lists such as this gown by Atelier Versace, worn by Eva Longoria in Cannes in 2009.
The stunning combination of traditional couture embroidery with raised bands of crinoline gave both pattern and volume to this striking gown.
We were so lucky to have heard so many stories during our visit, far too many to share today, but I wanted to close with one which relates to the cinema. Considering how precious these garments are one would assume that they are always worn with great care and then cleaned and stored in a way that reflects their value, indeed many become part of museum collections, but sometimes they have another function which is more ephemeral as happened with a collection of costumes which they embroidered for Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film The Great Gatsby.
The costumes came out of a collaboration between Catherine Martin and Miuccia Prada, and a series which were embroidered with large paillettes resembling fish scales were made for the famous pool scene. The problem arose when a number of the dancers had to jump into the pool, and the chemicals in the water destroyed the paillettes…the result was that a number of dresses had to be remade in record time in order to be able to continue filming!
Our visit to Pino Grasso’s Atelier was nothing short of inspiring. I would like to thank Mr Grasso for being so generous with his time and his Daughter Raffaella for kindly helping me to organise the visit.
The atelier also runs courses on couture embroidery, you can read more about them here: www.scuoladiricamopinograsso.it
The atelier’s official website is: www.pinograsso-ricami.it
If you would like to join us for our next visit you can see more information here.