Evolving Traditions

At Etro, creative experimentation is perfectly balanced by centuries-old inspiration.

Etro Spring/Summer 2014

As a fashion and lifestyle brand, Etro wasn’t so much founded as grown organically. In 1968, Gimmo Etro began producing high-quality fabrics embellished with original designs and innovative colors. In 1981 the furnishing textiles line made its debut, featuring a paisley print that would quickly become Etro’s leitmotif.

The addition of leather goods and travel bags (1984), home accessories (1986) and fragrances (late 1980s) consolidated the brand’s standing as a lifestyle powerhouse, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the now-iconic men’s and women’s prêt-à-porter collections were introduced.

From its headquarters on Milan’s Via Spartaco, Etro is now helmed by Gimmo’s four children. Jacopo, the eldest, oversees textiles, home and leather goods collections. Next is Kean, the “creative spirit” of the brand and director of men’s collections. Ippolito is CFO and COO, while baby of the family (and only daughter) Veronica designs women’s wear.

Almost as deep as Etro’s family roots are its roots in textile culture. Inspired by history, the textiles interpret signs whose origins have been lost in time. Using only the finest fibers and finishings, the paisley motif is constantly reinterpreted in what Etro calls “a game of suggestive elegance.”

Etro Spring/Summer 2014

For the spring/summer 2014 men’s collection, even everyday pieces were designed to surprise. Inspired by the Mexican riding tradition of charreria, the highly researched and elaborately patchworked materials highlight Etro’s unparalleled expertise in fabric combination. Intricate leather tooling, for example, is informed by age-old saddlery techniques and used abundantly across clothing and accessories. Traditional English fabrications, from sharp pinstripes to cotton-linen twills, cut into the mix, offering a classic balance to Aztec-inspired embroidery.

Sculpted and cut close to the body, the season’s silhouettes are resolutely masculine and exalt a man’s natural shape. Jackets feature a powerful shoulder, while suits are cut in three pieces, plastered with intarsias, piped in suede or leather saddle stitching, lined in georgette silk, and layered over un-done striped shirts.

Orange, the signature hue of traditional saddle-makers, takes center stage. New shades of white were invented by blending linen and cotton or by appliquéing suede onto twill. Ice cream shades of strawberry, lemon, lime and bubblegum blue create tone-on-tone patterns used on jacquard shirts. Etro’s signature prints possess an unstudied, arte-naïf quality, as if drawn by hand. A horse print, on shirts and jackets, bears the unfinished semblance of a rough illustration. The paisley is also treated in a new way: as a blurry, black-and-white pattern that seems to emerge from a mirage.

Etro Spring/Summer 2014

On the women’s side, Veronica Etro presents her vision of deconstructed elegance, where the simplicity of dressing contrasts with the detail of handcraft. A rich array of influences includes her grandmother’s patterned bookshelf, the exotic blooms of Indo-China, and the precious metal work of the Ottoman Empire. The paisley motif is hand-sewn into complex collages along with tie-fabric patterns, exotic florals and the season’s new figurative drawings, resulting in a new “print” that’s actually a splintered patchwork pattern. Purposefully asymmetrical in their placement, the prints have an air of imperfection and are trimmed in metal fringe or enameled metal mesh that blends into the design.

“I observe everything,” explains Veronica Etro, “storing sensations and inspirations to share with my creative team. I keep a notebook in which to record things that strike me. Then I work by subtraction, gradually cleaning out the notebook and throwing away most of the notes until it is time to get up the courage to close the circle. What is left forms the heart of the collection.”

Etro Spring/Summer 2014

Bright, bold colors—lemon, coral, mint, lavender—mix effortlessly with neutrals like sage, khaki and ivory. The new ease of the season can be felt in Etro’s simple shapes, many of which wrap around the body with a casual, comfortable air. Shawl-front halter gowns fall gently in a column to the ankle. Skirts, cut below the knee, look like draped sarongs but are in fact constructed. Details like scarf necks, flap panels and pockets on the front of evening gowns or backs of jackets, fracture the sense of formality and allow summer’s optimism to shine through.

DID YOU KNOW? Paisley is an ancient decoration rich in history and meaning. The droplet-shaped motif was born in Mesopotamia, where it symbolized the seed of the tree of life. The design migrated from east to west, and has been found on objects from Indian prints to Celtic embroideries. In Kashmir, shawls printed with this pattern were offered as gifts to the Great Mogul, then passed down through the generations. Etro’s collection of 150 of these shawls, dating from 1810 to 1880, has inspired the use of paisley as the common thread that runs through its collections. Over the years the design has been illuminated with pop hues, fossilized, pulverized, corroded, overlapped, paired with flowers and stripes, enlarged, and reduced to its original essence. This special talent with prints is what puts Etro in a class of its own.