In the 12th century, tapestries and tablecloths were woven in the Umbria area using the French “bird’s eye” motif technique.
These embroideries were created primarily on fabrics, often for use in a liturgical setting, and featured geometric shapes or stylised animals and people.
Over the following centuries, tablecloths from Perugia were used throughout Europe, with typical blue or red decorations featuring griffins, eagles or geometric patterns, and these are still produced in the area’s handicraft workshops.
After an interval of almost half a century, when weaving was confined to monasteries, the activity became popular once more in the early 1900s, thanks to the work of some aristocratic ladies committed to promoting weaving and embroidery workshops.
The bird’s eye embroidered tapestries and tablecloths were therefore “revived”, now also for domestic use.
This passion and the development of the machinery used led Umbria’s textile industry to achieve excellent standards, starting from small domestic workshops and developing, over the course of the 20th century, into factories and companies that are still operating.
From tablecloths and lace they turned to spinning authentic yarns, using wool combed from Angora rabbits, and then to the flourishing present-day production of cashmere garments.
Luisa Spagnoli had the bright idea of breeding Angora rabbits and then combing their hair to obtain wool for spinning.
This gave rise to “Angora Spagnoli”, which industrialised the manufacture of pullovers. The technical innovations that Spagnoli introduced to its weaving, as well as the gradual specialisation of the hundreds of knitters employed by the company, laid the foundation for Umbria’s textile business tradition.This factory started two revolutions: it created the training base for the future Umbrian firms and, from the 1970s, opened a series of workshops in which the machinery was loaned out to its old workers (rent-a-machine), sparing them from heavy investments.
Luisa Spagnoli also founded the Perugina confectionery company and invented special chocolate confectionary: Baci.
The combination of craft skills and industrialisation has been the winning formula for Umbria’s 500 present-day firms, which are often small boutiques, but are permeated by an old spirit in which work consists of heart and humanity.In the 1970s and ‘80s, Umbria experienced exceptional business development when, in addition to the knitwear factories, other textile and clothing enterprises were also established: Ellesse, Lafont, IGI, Umberto Ginocchietti, Yves-Saint-Laurent, Thierry Mugler and ICAP: the company that discovered Giorgio Armani and shared his successes for 24 years.
These companies helped develop designers and managers, and, above all, to internationalise the mindset: offices began to be opened in Paris, Dusseldorf, London, New York and Tokyo.
The interaction with these countries also created an exchange of personnel and, already in those years, many German designers came to Perugia and remained there.
Thanks to this connection, Germany became the target market: in 1975-80 Umberto Ginocchietti was the pullover in Germany.
Between 1985 and 1990, major international companies came to Umbria to make cashmere pullovers. This sector had been the monopoly of the British for 200 years, but the excessively conservative British companies had outdated collections and factories still using self-acting spinning mules.
In Italy, however, modern ring spinning machines in Biella were revolutionising the production system.The incentive to come to Perugia to make cashmere pullovers triggered many new ideas, both in packaging and in finishing and dyeing.
This led to the growth of numerous companies that created their own collections, conquering the world and placing made-in-Umbria cashmere pullovers at the top of the category, thanks to imagination, creativity, new fitting designs, new washing, new spinning techniques, a wide range of colours and rapid delivery.
Umbria is now an area where, in addition to its own brands, people are employed by companies like Dior, Gucci, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Hermes, Ralph Lauren, Armani, Jil Sanders, Van Laack and, above all, Giorgio Armani knitwear, which began in Perugia with the ICAP knitwear factory (as did “Emporio Armani” itself). Umbria was the launch pad for this designer’s style.
Cashmere wool comes from goats native to Kashmir, between India and Pakistan, which lives at high altitude. The low temperatures cause them to produce short, soft fibres beneath their long, silky coats, which are not clipped but combed by hand and then collected. All attempts to breed them in Europe have failed, due to the climatic conditions, and present-day production is located in northern China, Mongolia, Iran and Afghanistan.
Over the years, the companies began to add the term “cashmere” to their names, due to the fact that this precious material was gradually replacing the other types of yarn produced in Umbria.
The textile industry is one of the main components of Perugia’s economy.
The cluster of small and medium-sized enterprises involved in this activity around Perugia forms a genuine industrial district.In the past, the Ellesse factory was the spearhead of Perugia’s textile industry, whereas now the Luisa Spagnoli clothing label and Brunello Cucinelli, the king of Umbrian cashmere, are the most active producers.
The Umbrian cashmere hub has around 500 companies, with more than 2,000 highly skilled employees, creating an environment dedicated to testing and weaving the infinite stylistic possibilities of this valuable textile fibre.
At a national level, the textile/fashion industry is one of the outstanding Italian-made production sectors, as seen not only in the economic figures, but especially in the position it occupies internationally.
Umbria has companies in the industry with niche productions of the highest quality and the textile/clothing sector is of crucial importance in economic, social and employment terms.
Over the past twenty years, following the international success of some leading companies, a remarkable supply chain has developed, capable of covering all stages of production, from spinning to packaging.
Curator — Camera di Commercio di Perugia