In the world of fashion each company, atelier and even country closely guards the trade secrets which give them the necessary edge to be the best in the market place. Taking into account the importance which high end fashion places on craftsmanship in general and particularly local craftsmanship it is surprising to go behind the scenes and see how many international brands have their fabric and accessories - particularly scarves and ties - printed in the province of Como, because, as Carly Simon sang; NOBODY does it better…
There are a number of very important companies in and around Como which, through research, innovation and absolute dedication to quality have made Como arguably the most important textile printing centre in the world for over a century. One such company is Mantero which was founded in 1902 and continues today to be one of the world leaders in the production of fashion fabrics. It is nothing short of astonishing how many of the world’s luxury brands have their scarves (and other fabrics) printed by Mantero; Ferragamo, Chanel, Pucci, Vivienne Westwood, Kenzo… the list goes on and on and bears witness to the company’s commitment to excellence.
We arrived bright and early for our visit to Mantero’s print factory just south of Como where we were greeted by the bubbly Francesca who accompanied us to visit the various areas of the factory, explaining the long, complex process of producing a luxury fabric. In this post I have included images of a selection of scarves which were printed by Mantero and are already available on the market as it was not possible to take photographs inside the factory as the products they were printing belong to collections which are yet to be released. Yes, we got a glimpse of some of the 2016/17 Autumn Winter collections!
Our tour began in the colour kitchen where the company’s expert colour chefs carefully create and test the recipes for each and every colour they use, this is important not only to have continuity of colour within each print run but also within each collection as different fibres and weaves absorb colour and reflect light differently meaning that the colours have to be adjusted for each type of fabric used within each collection. Mantero’s staff work closely with their clients to create just the right tones.
We then went to see where the screen printing stakes place. There was a long conveyor belt which has the fabric (in this case a series of squares which would become scarves) glued down to keep it from moving during the printing process, after each print the fabric passed through a sort of oven to be dried before adding the next colour to the design. Each colour within the design is printed with a different screen, meaning that patterns with many colours or with complex shading can require as many as 16 screens to obtain the desired effect. While the arrival of digital printing has removed the need for such labour intensive printing, many luxury brands continue to request it as the process does lend an undeniable sense of exclusivity to both the production and the finished product. We were lucky enough to see the birth of a new Chanel scarf, which passed before our eyes as each layer was added.
Moving on to the next section we were able to see some of Mantero’s avant-garde digital printing machines at work. While digital printing is much less expensive that traditional screen printing, Mantero certainly don’t skimp on quality; the same rigorous colour testing and sampling is applied to all of their digitally printed textiles and at this point Francesca explained that they even produce their own fabrics to be printed, from the actual silk cocoons to the spinning of the thread and weaving of the final fabric. This guarantees the highest possible level of quality control from the very beginning of the manufacturing process.
The final part of our tour took us to the area where the printed fabrics are fixed and washed. All of the fabric is steamed to fix the colours into the fibres and then carefully washed to remove any residue, this ensures that the colours will not run when the fabric is washed in the future. During this final phase special finishing chemicals are also applied to create effects such as peach skin. Francesca then explained that the final part of their work is to check ALL of the fabric for flaws and then send them on for the next phase which might be directly to the client or in the case of scarves, the printed pieces are sent to be hemmed by hand (they have this done in Eastern Europe) before being sent to the client. Interestingly, the fate of flawed fabrics and scarves depends on the contract which Mantero has with the client; in some cases, they are sold as seconds in factory outlets however with many of the high end brands any faulty pieces are destroyed (yelp!) to maintain the impeccable quality standards of the brand.
Our visit to the Mantero factory was a truly fascinating peek inside the special relationship between artistry and industry that has made them one of the leading manufacturers of fashion fabrics in the world. Many thanks to Francesca for her engaging explanation of their production process, and to the Mantero company for kindly allowing us to visit. You can visit their websites via the links below.
Would you like to join us in May 2017 for a visit to Mantero and many other amazing Italian textile companies? Next year’s tour is nearly full, to reserve a place click here.