F.FRI, Fashion Research Italy Foundation, the organization founded in 2015 with very clear ideas: be a meeting and sharing space between entrepreneurs, professionals, and young talents of the fashion industry, with the aim of initiating a virtuous cycle in support of the sector. Fruit of the passion and effort of Knight (of Labour) Alberto Masotti, F.FRI goes even further, providing consultancy and training courses on topics such as heritage, sustainability, and digital innovation, aimed at protecting and promoting Italian business culture. Its beating heart is the textile design archive, made up of over 30,000 textile designs, which, handmade on paper and fabric between the end of the 70s and 2013, were destined for the collections of the largest fashion houses that are ambassadors of Made in Italy. ‘What brings us closer to the Fashion Research Italy Foundation is not only the value we recognize in heritage, expressed by our mutual Archives, but also the desire to contribute to promoting Italian stylistic excellence which has turned “Made in Italy” into much more than a brand,’ Tollegno 1900 explained. Claudia D’Angelo – Head of the Archive and of the Sustainability Point of the Foundation – has a similar vision: ‘The name and fame of Tollegno 1900, thanks to the indirect knowledge of its historical archive, reached me well before starting the Sustainability Point project. Dealing with fashion heritage, I had already ideally “mapped” the historical Italian companies attentive to the conservation and celebration of their heritage, and Tollegno 1900 is among these. I then learned more about them during the “Fashion Archives” lessons, the FRI Foundation course dedicated precisely to these topics, which, since 2017, aims to train the professionals responsible for managing the sector’s archives. Last but not least, during the lessons, featuring professionals, consultants, and companies specialized in the archival treatment of textiles and fashion, the historical archive of Tollegno 1900 is often mentioned for its richness and depth. A reference that is also linked to the restoration campaigns of its sample books by the team of conservators of La Venaria Reale.’But the affinity between the two companies can also be seen in the common sensitivity toward the sustainability factor. ‘When in 2020,’ confirmed D’Angelo, ‘the Foundation decided to invest in this asset with the aim of supporting companies in their paths toward the green revolution, I had the opportunity to delve deeper into what Tollegno 1900 was already doing in this direction, discovering an astonishing catalogue.’
Your Sustainability Point project was born indeed in the name of sustainability: what is it about?
In recent years we have thought about how we can continue our mission of supporting small and medium-sized businesses in the fashion sector. We became convinced of the need for a project that met their renewed and pressing needs, among which the primary one was the approach to a more sustainable fashion. We have thus created the Sustainability Point hub, a project based on the creation of an archive of textile materials with green characteristics, designed to satisfy even designers, creatives, garment makers, and brands. All these products, brought together in a single physical and digital place, have the merit of offering an eco-oriented overview of what is on the market that can be used for the creation of new collections.
What were your concrete steps in creating the archive?
To make this service immediately useful, we selected only materials ready for industrialized garment-making, thanks to the collaboration of the main and most committed Italian textile companies, who promptly joined with great enthusiasm. Among these, Tollegno 1900, which supported us by sending us some of its most innovative products, for example, virgin wool certified for the protection of animal rights (RWS) and in possession of the Nativa certification, which rewards companies committed to generating a positive impact for the environment and the community, or also compliant with Oeko Tex standards. To date, we have collected more than 2500 pieces, including textiles, accessories, and packaging from around 120 large and medium-sized companies distributed in the large Italian textile districts of central-northern Italy.
How is all this material presented?
The material, in constant evolution, has been digitized, catalogued, and accompanied by all the product information, sustainability characteristics, and certifications in clear text, so that it can be browsed in person and remotely by those looking for an overall vision. We think that the creation of an archive of this nature could constitute an important contribution to supporting the enormous efforts that companies will have to make in the coming years to adapt to the European textile strategy, which provides for conscious planning from the very beginning, starting with the materials. For the same reason, we engage in events and talks throughout the year to delve deeper into these topics and update the professionals in our network.
Sustainability Point is part of a more structured project: your Archive. What does this space, which has made heritage its centre, hold?
The archive was acquired in 2016 by a large Milanese converter in business from 1978 to 2013, which dealt with the decoration of fabrics for the biggest names on the international scene of that period, giving life to a current archive of the highest quality handmade materials with approximately 30,000 pieces, on paper and fabric. There are also documents and repertoires of extraordinary value that make it an exception in the Italian scene, preserving from sample books to colour charts, from variants and test papers to engraving notebooks and artefacts that accurately tell the life path of the many modern designs and ancient materials dating from the mid-19th century to the 1930s.
There are true masterpieces of textile art that reflect infinite influences…
There is no doubt that unexpected influences coexist here, speaking the language of African kikois, Indian saris from Rajasthan, but also Kashmiri designs, Chinese ikats, Japanese kasuri and kimonos. There are also examples inspired by shibori dyes, Indonesian yarn-dyes, or Afghan and Uzbek embroidered fabrics, as well as some sarongs made with the Bali batik technique. A triumph of visual cultures which, together with the Western one, have over time influenced the hand of the most renowned Italian and foreign textile designers. Completing this archive is also a library of 5000 volumes, full of out-of-catalogue or rare works, which tell the story of textiles and the world’s visual culture through images.
A creative heritage of immense artistic, cultural, and design value that has a clear goal…
The Foundation has catalogued and digitized all this material to make it available again for browsing by professionals in the sector and new generations. It is unique in the scene of archives open to the public, because it serves as inspiration for luxury brands as well as young students of fashion, architecture, illustration, and design: this makes it an ideal place to refine ideas and projects. We have worked universally with brands and creatives, developing together collaborations that range from fashion to interior design, even at an international level. During 2023, for example, we created F.FRI Design Attitude in collaboration with YAC and with a series of architecture studios such as Michele De Lucchi’s AMDL Circle, UNS studio, Francesco Paszkowski Studio, and companies such as Polimoda and Baglietto, which have seen the drawings from the archive take on new life as interior coverings and fashion collections.
All that remains is to come and visit you, who can do that?
Visiting the archive always takes place upon reservation and is aimed at companies and professionals in the sector that are eager to find surprising and extremely varied sources of inspiration, but above all that are aware of drawing from a heritage that awaits to be reinvented with respect and innovative spirit. But the Foundation also periodically opens its doors to fashion students and simply curious people, through training courses, workshops, exhibitions, and seminars. Anyone wishing to take part simply has to sign up to our newsletter to be informed in advance about every FFRI event.