A COMMUNITY OF QUALITY: Fedeli – FINAL DRAFT
Title: Knitting Ideas into Wearable Art
One of the joys I experience when writing is the unfurling of ideas; the act of exercising an idea on paper as one might exercise a thoroughbred on a track, or a dog off-leash in a park. When I write, I open the idea corral in my mind, and wild ideas run out, free to scamper and sprint on the page before me. If an idea shows promise, I’ll segregate it, and groom it, and nurture it until it’s a handsome and convincing idea—sure of its purpose and clear in its message.
This is exactly what happens in Monza Italy, between four designers with paper and colored pens before them, ideas in their heads, and access to the best quality yarns in the world, with which they’ll turn their ideas into wearable art. It happens in dusty-hued factory buildings owned and operated by the Fedeli family; the first family of industrially produced cashmere apparel in Italy.
For decades, and on mighty iron kitting machines in service to Fedeli for decades, some of which have seen thousands of kilometers of woolen yarn pass through their maw, Fedeli has produced artfully colored and intricately woven caps, capes, sweaters, coats, scarves, shawls, polo tops, tee shirts, trousers and jackets. Into one end of their surgically precise yarn processors are fed ideas made of aesthetic certainties and out of their other end come the renderings of those ideas: luxurious and luxuriously designed woolen apparel made from the rarest, most delicate fibers known to man.
The wearable ideas created by Fedeli are made from costly Peruvian Vicuna wool, and the wondrously resilient and luxurious cotton of Giza, Egypt. Yaks and Merino sheep also contribute their fleece to the idea machines of Fedeli. But it is cashmere, “the gold of textiles,” as Fedeli refers to the downy soft fleece combed from Mongolian and Chinese goats and spun into yarn by the most renowned English and Scottish mills, for which this family-owned company is best known. When this golden textile meets the Fedeli aesthetic, what is produced is perhaps the purest garment of its classification in the world, equal to the tailored clothing product of Cesare Attolini, or the mechanical mastery of the Maranello engine works of Ferrari.
There are other luxury cashmere families in Italy, and the products produced by them are unimpeachable in their quality, to be sure. But there is, for me, in Fedeli, a spiritual aesthetic which makes Fedeli a deserving member of what I call The Community of Quality. It is found in the concept of less representing the concept of more.
Although cashmere is the core business of Fedeli and its core identity, the company is not as firmly entrenched in the consumer consciousness as other Italian makers of luxury cashmere product. Even with 250 clients in twenty-five countries, Fedeli is dwarfed by the marketing muscle of these larger brands, and the revenue they reap from it. With only sixty people comprising the entire Fedeli organization in Monza, Fedeli is small, but because they are, they are nimble. They are not entangled in the production of multiple lines and classifications which so often bloat a luxury brand, bringing with it the inevitable redundancy of design, and slow degradation of quality that tarnishes a brand’s patina.
Fedeli was founded in 1934 by Luigi Fedeli as a maker of men’s hats. Success came quickly for Luigi Fedeli’s new company, but World War II interrupted his company’s nascent success, and, for a few terrible years, iron helmets, or whatever else was at hand to cover heads from falling shells, flying bullets and crumbling buildings stood in for Luigi’s hats. In 1945, with the war over, it was back to work, and Luigi brought his eighteen year old son, Nino, “to the office” to learn what his father did all day at work. Within a year, Nino traveled to Neuchatel, Switzerland for a four month internship at Dubied & Sons, the world-leader in the manufacture of knitwear machinery. In late 1945, and back in Italy after his Swiss internship, Nino was charged with revamping his father’s company. He decided to switch its production from hats to knitwear – the apparel classification he saw as a blossom, ready to burst forth in Europe as a new style of dress for a discerning clientele. Knitwear, Nino believed, would be the company’s future.
Through the late 1940’s and into the 1950’s, the Fedeli company designed and created winter woolen sweaters and hats, as well as printed summer cotton tops and knitted polo jerseys. These were the luxurious apparel pieces of the La Dolce Vita and Hollywood and early Las Vegas era for the jet-setting, yachting and race car-driving glamour crowds who basked in Portofino, gambled in Monte Carlo, skied in Cortina and had their tailored clothing custom made in Naples on their way to summer holiday in Capri.
By 1968, cashmere had become the primary focus of the Fedeli family’s production, and Nino traveled to London and Edinburgh to visit the top producers of cashmere yarn. There, he further matured his education in the manufacture of style ideas by studying the processes of dyeing, spinning and weaving. And he solidified business alliances. By the middle 1970’s, Fedeli was recognized as one of the top makers of industrially produced cashmere apparel in world, but also for its bespoke work – exquisite sweaters constructed in eight, ten and twelve ply cashmere yarns knitted entirely by human hands and two knitting needles wielded with the surgical mastery of Neapolitan tailors using needles, thimbles and shears to make their wearable art.
In 1979 Nino’s son, Luigi, nicknamed Gigi, came to his father’s office, as his father had before him, to learn the business of Fedeli. Gigi, like his father, soon traveled to Switzerland as his father had, to meet the world leaders in knitting machinery, Dubied & Sons, and then, followed this working visit to the major cities of Germany, to gain a broader world view towards evolving the company’s vision and brand. When he returned, Nino tasked Gigi with the same mission his father has tasked him with: Mature and grow the family’s product offerings, quality and brand.
Gigi Fedeli: “For more than eighty years our business has been style and creativity: producing objects with a soul. Garments have to express the personality of the wearer…Some companies are absolute masters of their field, for example producing cars or watches that are classics from the start. We’re making clothing, but with the same objectives. We want our beautiful cashmere sweaters to be handed on from father to son, becoming ever more beautiful and precious, enriched by the personality of the owners. We’re a famous industrial brand but also a haute-couture tailor; we produce for the whole world but we also make unique items [by hand, in limited quantity]. For a company like ours, the product is our obsession. Whoever buys one of our creations is sharing an idea.
When a cashmere goat is combed for its fleece, the animal surrenders its fibers in their natural colors: White, brown and an almond hue. These fibers are cleaned, washed, sorted and sometimes dyed before being woven into yarn. Fedeli offers a color palette of these yarns so broad one might reasonably wonder why they’ve never seen such colors in nature – although they surely exist – in coral atolls, canyons, forests, meadows, sunsets and even in the cement and iron infrastructure of a metropolis. However, even with all these colors at hand, the Fedeli aesthetic calls for garments made primarily from just three foundation colors: Gray, navy and what Fedeli calls ‘natural’, a symphonic mélange of peat, sand, moss, grass, soil, slate and sand. One might wonder, with so many colors at hand, why do they work from a base of only three?
Here’s a possible answer: When is the last time you heard someone complain about the color of a sun-filled sky? Never. You know why? Because the sky is the color it’s supposed to be, and everyone knows it, from the Australian bush wrangler to the Wall Street banksman. Fedeli apparel, and the colors it is made in, is “right” because the Fedeli designers and the Fedeli spirit understand where the Fedeli aesthetic must be staked. To make something the “right” way means to stand firmly rooted in what “right” is. Fedeli is Fedeli because Fedeli is pure.
“For us,” says Gigi Fedeli, “a product is the synthesis of aesthetic choices, principles that we keep constantly in mind.”
Fedeli is, then, perhaps not so much a knitting company, but rather, a knitter of wonderful, and proper ideas.