Everyone knows that Italy is all about the Family. What in America gets divided among federal, state, and local government, VFW and PTA meetings and high school and college reunions, in Italy all takes place in a single house among related individuals. So you won't be surprised to learn that Barbera style begins and ends with a family called.
Here's out thumbnail history. I thought you'd like to know it. There will be no test later --
In 1950, Carlo Barbera, my father, took over a fabric mill near the town of Biella. The hilly town, part of the Piedmonte region, is cold and damp but that's unfortunately why it was--and is--the home of the finest fabric mills in Italy. All the same, upon his arrival, my Dad threw out half of the looms he found on site. Rip, thump, crash! The trash-haulers of Biella groaned under the burden of his rejects. Was he mad? Remember, he was already inheriting the best machinery in Italy. No, he just wanted better. His targets were royalty: English Lords, Dukes, titans of industry, this at a time when war-ravaged Italy had a GDP roughly the size of Madagascar's.
Carlo Barbera in front of his beloved mill.
Now while Papa was turning the mill into the Rolls-Royce of the fabric world, I had my own idea of what to do. I was happy to have my Dad working so hard, so I could be off riding horses, perfecting the tilt of my tweed cap, practicing the gavotte. Oh, and also learning the family trade, not in Italy but at the famed fabric mills in Leeds and Stratfordshire, the Biellas of England. Although Leeds never was the Football powerhouse it believes and dreams itself to be, its fabrics were things of legend and the perfect place for me to do his apprenticeship. Not to mention, I could hop down to London for some relaxation. (By the way - Italy WILL win the World Cup this summer in South Africa! Editor to Luciano: off the point? Stet!--Luciano)
Let me break up the story for a minute. Up above these words is one of my favorite pictures, taken by the brilliant Ugo Mulas for Vogue. It's me with my prized horse, name Czar, the winner of the 1961 Italian Amateur Championships. I did love that horse. Its coat was the most luxurious surface I've ever touched, a mix of silk, pepper and fairy dust. Now back to my story. As I'm learning the intricacies and intimacies of fabric design, I'm also--how do I say this?--well, making a mark as one of the more stylish men in Italy. And when Italy returns to its place as a center of art and commerce, I have a chance to carry the Barbera brand to the United States, leading us to here, now, to you reading this magazine a quarter of a century later. In the years since inheriting the mill from my beloved father, I've made thousands of fabrics I'm proud of, but that coat, no we'll never equal that. Still we go on trying.
PS: I would like to add that I would never refer to myself as "stylish." But my children wanted me to write it so I did. What I would have said is I simply had on the right clothes for the right occassions and didn't leave them in a crumpled ball at the foot of my bed. If that is style, alright I own to it.