Forgive us, music lovers: Prince may have owned Paisley Park Recordings, but Gimmo Etro was undoubtedly the symbol’s creative king in a fashion-sense.
Having founded his eponymous label Etro in the late 1960s, the Italian textile expert, avid traveller and father of four looked to other cultures for print inspiration. And while he didn’t invent the paisley – it has been used decoratively for centuries – he did reinterpret it in a luxury sense on indulgent fabrics like cashmere and silk. Before too long, it became the unofficial crest of the Etro family and brand.
Cover image (top): Backstage at Etro SS17 (Getty Images)
Credit: Instagram @etro
Fast forward to 2016, and his children still know the symbol’s power. His daughter Veronica, who is now head of womenswear design (his son Kean heads up menswear, while son Jacopo leads leather and homewares) makes sure she carries on her father’s tradition of re-interpreting the paisley motif in some way for every collection – no small feat considering how many there have been in the brand’s history.
So ingrained in the brand’s persona is the paisley that when Etro agreed recently to support the world’s biggest fashion-centric charity, Fashion for Development, which supports developing nations through fashion initiatives, its unofficial crest motif did the job.
Credit: Getty Images
How, exactly? For the past three years, Italian liquor brand Disaronno has engaged top Italian designers or houses to “dress” a limited edition bottle, with all proceeds from its sale going direct to the United Nations-backed F4D charity. Roberto Cavalli, Versace and Moschino have rallied their support over years past. This year ETRO boldly stamped a rainbow-hued version of its signature on the 2016 Disaronno flask – pretty enough to be considered an ornament, whether you intended to consume the contents or not. In truth, what else would have said “Made by Etro” so elegantly?
GRAZIA spoke to the design matriarch of the much-loved luxury fashion house, Veronica, about her family, their brand and of course, the symbol at the heart of it all.
IN 2018, ETRO CELEBRATES ITS 50TH ANNIVERSARY. HOW HAve the DIFFERENT ELEMENTS OF IT (MENSWEAR, WOMENSWEAR, TEXTILES, INTERIORS, FRAGRANCE AND MORE) EVOLVED over half a century? My father started the company in 1968 as a producer of textiles. He travelled a lot around the world, and these exotic travels greatly influenced the original designs, bold color and rich embellishments of the Etro fabrics. At the heart of the brand is our family’s tradition with high-end fabrics and highly researched patterns. An artisan approach and a focus on handcraft always heightens the sense of luxury in our collections. We define this approach as New Tradition, as synonymous of evolution not revolution.
“I can say that in all those years we had fun with pattern and colours.”
WHERE DID YOUR SIGNATURE PAISLEY MOTIF COME FROM? Though we have invented thousands of prints, the paisley is by far the most famous and well known of our family’s patterns. The noble roots of this sinuous, stylised palm frond can be traced back thousands of years ago to Mesopotamia. Since then, the design has been used on ancient Indian shawls, on Celtic embroideries and on 19th century Parisian shawls. My father began using the pattern in the 1980s and it quickly become the symbol of the Etro brand. Its journey, over the course of thousands of years, is very inspirational to me because I love symbols that are rich in history.
DO YOU HAVE A CURRENT DESIGN/MODEL MUSE? IF NOT, WHO MIGHT IT BE? Women around the world that have great taste, eclectic and not afraid of colour.
Etro is a classic family business in every sense. What’s the secret to making family and work mix so well? We are a very tight family and we share a common appreciation of our heritage, respect for our history and love for what our father started. Everyone has own individual taste, but we have a very similar philosophy of the brand and what it stands for. We all share the same goals and the same vision, we work together in the same space and in the same atmosphere comparing our vision and ideas.
“Often we take decisions all together during our lunch in the company kitchen.”
YOU’VE SAID YOU TRY TO RE-INTERPRET THE SIGNATURE ETRO PAISLEY SOMEHOW EVERY SEASON. DOES THAT GET EASIER OR HARDER AS THE YEARS GO BY? For me it’s always an exciting personal challenge to come up with new interesting paisley patterns each season; taking a brand new voyage with every collection is what makes my job very exciting and satisfying… Each season we push new techniques, new boundaries to create innovative materials and prints. The result is a bohemian, eclectic and dandy mood linked to our DNA. The good or easy task is that the paisley design can greatly be mixed with florals, geometrics, stripes, tartans, as it is very decorative. Each season it can change technique: be more blurred, thick, delicate… it depends. It is quite interesting to see how many different approaches we had with it. I think we should do an exhibition in the future about this.
Credit: Instagram @etro
Fabric is the starting point of all of your design. How do you keep them fresh every season and where do you go for print inspiration? A collection is a six-month work and sometimes it is an autobiographical approach… for example, a memory from a trip or a special exhibition. You obviously put some of your experience to the collection. I tend to leave it instinctive… to let things flow rather than to give a specific theme at the beginning of the process. Then I start with an intensive research period. I spend many months gathering images, swatches of fabric, and taking notes of things that inspire me. The inspiration comes from many different sources and it changes with each collection, once the theme starts to emerge, I dive more deeply into the research. We always start with the fabrics, as this is the most important part of our brand’s DNA… Obviously, I already have in mind the idea of silhouettes, so once I have established this stimulating visual playground, then I begin to design the shape of the clothes.
WHAT IS THE GREATEST MISCONCEPTION THAT YOU THINK PEOPLE HAVE OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY? People think fashion is frivolous because it is linked to dresses, but they do not know there is so much different stuff behind it: think about the research, arts and craft, textiles, colouring, visual merchandising, photography, graphic design, film, storytelling, set design. You have to think about a dress in a box and that box contains a whole world.
WHAT DO YOU WEAR TO WORK ON A TYPICAL DAY IN THE DESIGN ATELIER? I have to be very “casual” to start the day with my kids, then go to office for all day long moving up and down for the building to follow all the work activities. So usually, I wear pants rather than skirts to be more practical as sometimes we work even on the floor.
GRAZIA CELEBRATES THE IDEA OF HIGH/LOW DRESSING (BLENDING LUXURY AND HIGH STREET). WHAT’S YOUR BEST ADVICE APPROACHING THIS STYLE OF DRESSING? The clothes are our second skin. I think it is very important to feel good and to feel free to personaliSe the look or to play with the outfit, to have fun and to be happy. So why not mixing basics from the high street and sophisticated silk printed blouses.
You’ve said your passions outside work are travel, art and photography. How has that changed over the years? Creativity and art in general fascinate me and I always wanted to do something strictly creative. I grew up surrounded by beauty, art, antiques and this has developed and led my curiosity and approach. I always loved to be manual and creative and I really love my work because it is very versatile and different every day. Travel, art and photography are a sort of fil rouge [a common thread] in my personal and professional path. But first of all I am a mother too so my children are my great passion – to spend time and have fun with them.