Italy is a great country of fashion and embroidered traditions. Presentation of the Pino Grasso workshop, in Milan.
Photos – © pino_grasso – photos protected by copyright – thank you
Text by Raffaella Grasso on questions from Claire de Pourtalès
The roots – Pino Grasso
My father was studying medicine but soon he decided that it was not what he wanted for his future. His best friend’s father owned an embroidery company and my father wanted to know more about it. He felt in love with it and decided to work there.
The owner of the company sent him to Paris to learn the skills from the most important embroidery houses like Lesage, Vermont, and many others. He learned about the embroidery material, the feathers, the sequins, the threads, etc. After that, he came back, and he worked for the company of his friend’s father. They dealt with the most important tailors of the time. He worked for almost 10 years, but some promises were not kept, and he decided to quit and start his own company in 1967. He opened his first office in Milan, working alone and doing everything by himself: purchasing the material, visiting the clients, stitching.
The next generation – Raffaella Grasso
I used to go to this magical world when I was not in school and I’d love to spend time with all the embroidery materials, watching my father doing the artwork and punching the paper and powdering it on the fabrics. I thought it was really wonderful, but I never thought I would follow my father’s steps. I did love the creative part though, but not the whole business. Back then, my dream was to become a veterinarian and go to Africa to help with the wild animals.
Growing up I changed my mind and I wanted to work with disabled children and horses’ therapy.
I started as a social worker, but things were tough and after a year my company had to close and at that time my father asked me if I wanted to work with him for a couple of months because he needed a bit of help. I went there and as it often happens in family companies, once you start working with them it is very difficult to leave. So, I started at the bottom, learning every ropes and skills of this world. I would look for materials, or deliver our products, etc. All the very easy things.
I started to learn the creative skills step by step with my father. It was not in my project to stay, but I loved following my father, discovering everything with him. Then after a couple of years it was obvious that I was not going anywhere else, and I knew that I was going to remain there because everything that I was learning was just too precious to leave.
After some years I started to decide things all by myself and it was easy because my father trusted me, he gave me a lot of space, he never stopped me. His trust was a very great support: I knew he was always behind me, supporting me and protecting me. He gave me the opportunity to try, fail, and discover my own capabilities to understand what would work and if I wanted to pursue with this job. I decided it was OK and after 25 years I think I can say that I have acquired a good knowledge of this profession even if I learn something new every day from my embroiderers, from my clients, from my research. Events keep changing and you need to find new solutions. Doing this, you actually learn new skills.
Now that I am alone everything is different. It is difficult not to have someone who can understand immediately and share my problems, decisions, or doubts. But I can still hear my father’s voice, I can see his face when I work in the office because we spent so much time together! We took all the decisions together, so now when I’m facing a problem, I know what he will tell me to do.
At the moment everything is very difficult, but I know that he would have told me to go on, to fight. That there is always a solution, always a way to come out from the dark. So, I try to go on every day doing my job with my workers.
I am not an embroider myself. I know how to stitch, I know the techniques, but I’m not very good at it as I don’t have the time to practice every day. I’m better with a needle than with a hook, but still…
I know what things should look like, how to put our clients wishes into embroidery and I can provide a different point of view to my embroiderers, who know their work better than me! I know how to get the results that are required.
We work with the Lunéville hook, but we can also provide other techniques like Japanese embroidery. I have many books, I regularly do research, I ask my workers to be open and curious, to learn new things. It is very important in a creative business!
Do you have a collection or archives?
We don’t have a private collection of dresses or other things because we work for big fashion companies. We don’t sell product ourselves: we receive pieces of fabric from the client, along with the paper pattern and the placement on these papers, then we stitch, and we give them back to the clients who will sew them together. We never see the dresses or the final product.
What we have is an archive of more than 10,000 of samplers that are the history of our company since 1967. Unfortunately, we lost a lot of them, some of them were robbed or sometimes the clients forget to send them back. But we still have a lot of them. And as we progress, we keep on adding new ones.
Our clients use them for their inspiration, taking the colours from one, the fabric from another or the material from a third. They create their own idea, and we stitch them.
Can you tell us a bit more about the school?
We started it because we had a lot of requests. Every day, we received phone calls or emails from people who wanted to learn the Lunéville technique, which is our specialty. The teachers are our highly specialized embroiderers in this technique because most of them have been practicing this profession for more than 25 years. But they also work for me, so part of their work is dedicated to the school while most of it is still dedicated to working for our clients.
The school is not yet a real school, but we want it to become a professional one in the future. At the moment, due to the pandemic, I had to spread my embroiderers in different rooms, so that they don’t stay too close to each other. So the classroom is busy and we don’t have enough space to let other people in. We may be able to restart in May, depending on the situation, but as things are getting better and better, I am hopeful.
How are you different from other embroidery worshops?
Embroidery is an activity developed all over the world, in a thousand different ways and with very different techniques. In Italy and France we have a very similar background, because fashion was born here and it grew here, also putting in place everything that allowed its growth. Embroidery for fashion is particular because it is not made following an embroidery artist’s desire but as the development of a project created by others. The designer tells us about their collection and we think about the embroideries based on their project.
We create and develop embroidery with materials, colors and techniques that can adhere to the project. We have our own style, we have a creativity that is quite recognizable. Our mark is given by the rich and refined style, by an innate elegance acquired from years of collaboration with the great masters of fashion such as Emilio Schubert, Galitzine, Veneziani, Marucelli Mila Schon, Raffaella Curiel, Valentino, Armani, Versace, Ferrè, Dolce & Gabbana , and many others. Our most important skill is to correctly interpret the designer’s thinking. When the mood board is presented to us (this is the leitmotif of the collection), we are able to go in tune with this thought and create embroideries that perfectly interpret the designer’s desire. This ability is partly learned and partly innate, you have to be empathetic, let the images speak and perceive what emotion the designer wants to convey. Interpreting emotion is fundamental but knowing how to interpret it in the right way is equally important. Each designer has their own style, their favorite colors, materials they love and others they absolutely don’t want. If we have to make a rose for Armani, it will never be the same rose as we do for Dolce & Gabbana.
We don’t have a specific color as we must relate to the designer’s collection colors ; we don’t use only a few specific techniques, but we try to use new ones every day, to satisfy all the requests of our clients.
For us the research is aimed at materials, we work to find alternatives to classic embroidery materials to offer different and competitive solutions to our customers. We have long ago included the crinoline, not as a base but as an embroidery element, Plexiglas, silicone, etc. At the moment we are focused on materials born from recycling. We do research on the internet and through universities, we also experience a lot because everything we use must be washable and must not contain toxic substances. We must respect the rules of clothing.
I have no reference artists, I prefer to have a very broad overview and then mix and elaborate from those references. But there are many that I really admire, such as Lisa Smirnova, Cayce Zavaglia, Sophia Narrett, and others.
Website – https://pinograsso-ricami.com/