• 9 February 2023 12:33

75 years of Tessilarte, an archetype of soft art

Italiano (Italian)

I met Paola Martinetti in the early seventies, when we were both under thirty; she was an architect and I had given up pursuing a career in engineering. We had landed almost by chance in the textile industry and, more precisely, in the home linen branch.

It was Luigi Cesari who introduced us, a gruff genius, and owner, together with Porthault, of the most sophisticated home linen atelier in Paris.

In both our cases it was not about plain boutiques, but real ateliers, because both upstream own production and exclusive assortment were involved.

Cesari in Rome could boast of having a golden cup, won at an elegance competition in France, and delivered personally to the proud owner by Jean Cocteau.

Unfortunately, the Roman store no longer exists, but in the years of its greatest splendor, upon entering you would immediately be attracted to two shelves embedded in the walls: to the left was the one containing American terry towels, piled up so that more than thirty colors were coordinated according to the wind rose direction, that is no one color clashed either perpendicularly or diagonally with others next to it, a composition that brought to mind Mondrian or Vasarely.

Tablecloth in pure yarn-dyed linen as it comes out of the loom (above the yarn used)

To the right, on the smaller shelf, there was a beautiful display of the extraordinary yarndyed tablecolths woven in linen by Tessilarte, Paola’s small Florentine weaving mill.

You were instantly struck by the color combination, at that time innovative: blue and apple green, anthracite grey and coral red, turquoise and brown, and black and white.

Like Paola, I too managed product development in my family’s company, and feeling intrigued and full of admiration, I asked Mr. Cesari to introduce me to the author of such beauty and audacity.

It was the beginning of deep friendship, consolidated by a lasting mutual respect that has led to our working, and sometimes collaborating, together on shared projects or areas.

This year is the seventyfifth anniversary of Tessilarte’s founding, so I joined Paola in Florence at the historical site in Via Toselli, not far from Porta al Prato, with the intention of finding out just how that small industry was born, which has included the word “art” in its name and logo, placing tradition and culture at its very foundation.

Florence, as well as being the city where the Italian language was born, was the cradle of the Renaissance, the patronage of the families who held power, but also their inclination to finance and trade, gave birth to quality crafts, which over time became industries: ceramics, leather work, fabrics and much more.

Tessilarte Logo

Many neighboring districts were born from that Florentine nucleus, locations of excellent productions and famous all over the world, such as Prato, Pistoia, Empoli and Monte San Savino.

But Tessilarte has a different story, even if resulting from the same enviroment of the Florence’s small industry.

Two other cities besides Florence are involved: Venice and Milan.

Paola’s mother, Vittoria Camerino, was born in Venice into a Jewish family, far from the world of textiles, but Italian Jews have fabric into their DNA, because they had been allowed to only buy and sell rags and used cloths, during the centuries they were locked up in the ghettos.

Vittoria moved to Milan with her family, and as in a famous Italian song by Memmo Remigi, she met Doctor Martinetti in Milan’s famous shopping gallery, whom she married and followed to Florence, where he had to take on an assignment.

From the marriage two daughters were born, of which Paola is the elder.

Already resident in Florence, Vittoria casually was informed by a friend about the sale of a small weaving mill producing apparel fabric. In addition to the brand name and goods, there were included old vertical wooden looms and the building where the production was located.

No sooner said than done, she bought the small weaving mill, continuing with the already established production line, all in May 1947.

Only two years after the end of World War II, Vittoria, having escaped the risk of deportation as a Jew, took over the helm of the small company in the backdrop of postwar Italy in need of everything, where each and every productive activity was running at full speed.

In those very years, in Florence some office and firms were being established, mainly aimed at acquiring  products from the American market which, in turn , was starting to absorb like a sponge the luxurious items of Tuscany’s crafts and small industry, that were too expensive for the domestic market.

One day an important American converter showed up at Tessilarte, accompanied by an official of one of those buying offices, looking for someone willing to produce pure linen placemats and tablecloths, with the ability to guarantee production of large quantities with continuity.

From that meeting Tessilarte was born as we know it today, leaving behind the production of apparel fabrics and focusing on home linens.

Sadly, Vittoria passed away prematurely in 1969, and therefore the question of what to do with the company arose.

Paola had recently graduated from college and was working in academia, but she did not see much of a future ahead of her.

Against the advice of family and friends, she decided to care of it herself, albeit totally unfamiliar with weaving and business management.

But it was precisely because she was a neophyte that she was able to express herself stylisticallly in a way that was out of the ordinary, strengthened by the solid aesthetic culture acquired through her degree in architecture, but I would add, knowing her well, by an innate talent cultivated over time and grown more aware through experience.

By expanding the squares to the limits of the old looms and using high thread count yarns, she was able to create unusual designs, giving the products a rustic and yet very refined touch.

Those products marking Paola’s debut, dating back to the 1970s, rightfully figure in the history of home textiles, but over time, with the evolution of household habits and the need for manual maintenance, frustrated demand for them.

Paola Martinetti

So, in the 1980s, Paola, under the pressing request of her customers, decided to expand her range to offer to other products, mostly in the bedding, but not giving up her passionate research of designs and colors, aimed at proposing evolutionary and unusual ideas, and resorting to different textile technologies like printing, jacquard and embroidery.

I have shared years of work with Paola as a consultant for top companies, and participated in the main international fairs in our sector: Heimtextil in Frankfurt, Paritex in Paris and several marketweeks in New York, bringing Italian creativity around the world.

Speaking of creativity, the creations of Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent and Capucci’s dresses with thousands of tiny pleats are exhibited in museums as artworks, but even a simple tablecloth can express the ingenuity and imagination of the person who thought of it.

One way to confirm once and for all that industrial design is also akin to art in the strict sense of the word, is a visit to MoMa in New York where all the answers with respect to this subject are provided.

Jacquard cotton satin sheet with coordinated quilt