The Last of its Kind

A 300-year-old loom designed by Leonardo da Vinci

    “When you listen to these looms playing,
it’s like listening to a wonderful orchestra.”

When the world’s finest establishments such as Villa Medici in Rome, the Royal Palace of Denmark, the Royal Castle of Sweden, or the Kremlin Palace need restoration and special fabric to decorate their regal interiors, they call one of the last remaining artisanal workshops for silk manufacturing in the world — Antico Setificio Fiorentino.

Stepping foot inside Antico Setificio Fiorentino, a rhythmic clap and whirl gently ease the senses. “When you listen to these looms playing, it’s like listening to a wonderful orchestra,” says Filippo Ricci, creative director of Stefano Ricci S.p.A., the fashion house that recently acquired the historical Florentine atelier. Even “the silk sings,” he smiles, softly rubbing the fabric together.

The special silks are testimony to their preservation of an ancient craft. “We weave the dreams of the past into the present,” says Ricci. Starting with pure undamaged thread with absolutely no chemical treatments, it’s spun into specially prepared yarns that cannot be used on modern looms. Then they hand dye and weave on hand-operated, semi-mechanical 18th- and 19th-century looms, still even using the legendary warper designed by Leonardo da Vinci.Like true artists, these master weavers take patience and perfection to a new level. Producing only 40 centimeters of silk per day per loom, their weaving process is a discipline of endless repetition and skill that ensures its quality. “To be a client of this edifice, you need to appreciate the luxury of time, the luxury of waiting,” says Niccolo’ Ricci, CEO of Stefano Ricci S.p.A. As history unfolded, Antico Setificio Fiorentino’s promise to never sacrifice its meticulous methods is why it’s still the world’s most desired silk atelier.

Silk’s own legacy began in China and journeyed across the Silk Road to Europe over several centuries. Once in Italy, silk quickly wove its way into the fabric of Florentine culture at the beginning of the Renaissance in the 14th century. Often threaded with precious metals and adorned with family coat-of-arms, the period’s quintessential luxury textile was worn for secular and religious dress, as well as furnishing the interiors of palaces and aristocratic homes.

As competition increased and a demand for cheaper ways to produce the artisanal fabric arose, so too emerged a clan of Florentine noble families — led by the grand duke — firmly believing in the quality and authenticity of their traditional cloth and craft. Traditional silk-making did not simply signify a product, the process embodies the spirit of Italian culture — cultivating a material through passion, toil and time, fashioned into art as alive as the artists making it. In 1789, these noble families regrouped all of their looms into one premier workshop, Antico Setificio Fiorentino, with the vision to continue producing silk fabrics with authentic but time-consuming manufacturing techniques.

Today, the historical atelier further captivates the international elite with new ventures like their Royal Suite Collection home line, interiors for yachts, and bespoke requests with a team of architects and interior designers that travels throughout the world.

“Antico Setificio Fiorentino is the heir of a great tradition of Renaissance textile art and history,” says Filippo Ricci, “respecting the ancient echo of beauty that transcends the ages.”

Produced by Peggy Liu
Photo Courtesy of  Antico Setificio Fiorentino
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