Creative Director of VBC, Francesco Barberis and his team met us at our hotel not long after we arrived that evening and we were soon taken to the Santuario di Oropa for dinner. According to legend, a black wooden statue of the Virgin Mary carved by Saint Luke was found in Jerusalem by Saint Eusebius of Vercelli and carried to Oropa in the 4th century AD, where it was placed into a crevice in a rock. A small church was built to house it, which was replaced in the early 17th century by what is now known as the Ancient Basilica. We drank great wines and ate numerous courses of fantastic foods including traditional polenta- a dish that the region is famed for.
I have just returned from Biella, Italy. This beautiful town lies in the foothills of the Biellese Alps and is home to Vitale Barberis Canonico (VBC), a fine Italian Woollen Mill established in 1663. I was lucky enough to be invited by Mark Dunsford (Lear Browne & Dunsford), alongside Patrick Osborne (Harrisons of Edinburgh), Tristan Thorne (Dege and Skinner), Tom Bradbury (Dege and Skinner) and Thomas Carr (Richard Anderson).
From left: Patrick Osborne, Tom Bradbury, Thomas Carr, Francesco Barberis, Tristan Thorne, Joe Holsgrove and Mark Dunsford at the entrance to the Sanctuary of Oropa.
After a brief encounter with a lint-roller the next morning we were off to the mill, to learn and understand how VBC take the highest quality raw wool and turn it into the most beautiful fine fabrics. Led by Simone Ubertino Rosso (Communication Manager at VBC) we embarked on a knowledgable tour of the premises, seeing everything from VBC’s very own state-of-the-art water purification centre to the unique noise-reducing covers of the looms. Below you can see a few images from the tour, including various stages of the weaving process.
Raw wool arrives at the factory and is stored in bails awaiting dying.
Wool destined for textured finishes (flannels etc.) is first printed with a unique dye pattern to aid depth of colour.
Plain dyed wool awaiting carding and spinning.
Yarn dyed wool awaiting further spinning.
Further spinning the yarns to reduce their thickness.
Dyed yarns in storage, awaiting weaving.
Super 120′s shadow stripe being woven.
Inspection room. Despite state-of-the-art machinery at every stage, the cloth is still inspected a yard at a time by women sitting at special light boards to ensure a perfect and undamaged finish.
Washing the cloth.
The cloth is then folded from full width, ready to be marked out and cut by tailors the world over.
The finished cloth is then shrink wrapped to prevent any moth damage and stored in a purpose-built storage facility.
Water from the mills is purified and recycled in this purpose built on-site facility, the most advanced of any woollen mill in the world. Notice the colour of the water as it still contains some of the dye.
Having seen the remarkable processes involved in creating the cloth, it was time for lunch. Francesco took us to a local favourite restaurant of his, where we had more outstanding wines and local dishes. A particular favourite of all of ours was the Toma, a local cheese served with honey. We were then lucky to be invited to visit Giovanni Barberis Organista, personal tailor to Francesco. Together we enjoyed discussing tailoring techniques in ways only tailors can and understood the minor differences between Savile Row and Italian bespoke.
From left: Tristan Thorne, Thomas Carr, Tom Bradbury, Joe Holsgrove, Francesco Barberis, Mark Dunsford and Patrick Osborne prepare for official photographs to be taken.
Discussing tailoring alongside Giovanni Barberis, Francesco Barberis and Tristan Thorne.
Inside Giovanni Barberis Organista’s workshop.
From left: Tom Bradbury, Tristan Thorne, Thomas Carr, Francesco Barberis, Giovanni Barberis, Joe Holsgrove, Patrick Osborne and Mark Dunsford.
It was then time to head back to VBC HQ and look through the archives. VBC pride themselves on continuously looking back to their rich heritage for inspiration towards future collections. The purpose built archive room houses rows and rows of leather bound ledgers containing a record and sample of every cloth woven in house since the 1800s. Remarkable.
Simone Ubertino Rosso and Joe Holsgrove in the VBC offices. Notice that they are both wearing the same VBC-woven cloth, with Simone proudly sporting his new Denman and Goddard House Tie.
I’d like to thank Francesco, Simone and everybody else at Vitale Barberis Canonico for a truly amazing visit to their fine mill and for their kindness and generosity throughout our time in Italy. I’d also like to thank Mark Dunsford for his kind invitation on this once in a lifetime trip. Sono stati fatti buoni amici per la vita.