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Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Designer Behind The Designer And His Main Supplier - The Inaugural VBC Wool Awards In Sydney, Australia

I don't think I had ever actually read anything from the famed menswear writer G. Bruce Boyer. He was more referenced in content I read across the internet, or perhaps he was captured in a photo standing next to some elegantly dressed men, but to have read him - nope.

So for me, the greatest part of the splendid Vitale Barberis Canonico Inaugural Wool Awards in Sydney two nights ago was not the lovely canapes, not the delicious three course meal, nor the display cabinets with wool fibres, not even the passionate speeches or slide point presentations. The real enjoyment came from the luxury of having a free morning two days later to sit and read G. Bruce Boyer's piece on the people from VBC in the most exquisite book that was given to each of the guests titled "The Fabric - Vitale Barberis Canonico - 1663".

The piece was titled "The Designer Behind The Designer" and it could not have been more apt given that VBC is vertically integrated and basically takes wool from a bale and controls each and every process until it is a roll of trouser, jacket, suit or overcoat cloth - ready to be badged by a designer! That is something very unique and in fact there are, from my understanding, only a small handful of companies in Europe that still have similar control over their processes like VBC does. Coupled with that is the fact that the company is one of the oldest in Europe and is still family owned and still emphasises the use of human skills throughout the development stages of the wool from fibre to cloth.

The foundation for good writing, in my opinion, is intention. You must first want to express something which needs to be said. After that, comes craftsmanship. On that basis I believe that G. Bruce Boyer is a great writer for he begins by saying that despite the fact that we know of all the big names and brands in fashion, we know very little about those that most support their endeavours. He writes:

"But unknown to the public there is another creative force at work in the glittering world of the fashion labels, an expert designing force behind the celebrity designer without whom these superstars could not exist. There is an aesthetic force behind the celebrity designer without whom his very ideas could not come to fruition, a force thoroughly essential to what the fashion world produces. There is a presence renowned and venerated in the clothing world almost entirely unknown to the public.

In short, there is a designer behind the designer."

Boyer goes on to talk about the design and construction of wool fabric and the VBC culture. In the article Francesco Barberis Canonico explains that no matter how long he has been in the industry there is always new experiences to be had and that he feels that there is still so much romance and mystery to cloth production. He equates the weaving of cloth to that of poetry. That in the same manner that one word might drastically change the feel or tone of a poem, so too the slightest change in the design or hues of one line of cloth can drastically change the way the cloth appears as a suit.

Today VBC produces some 7 million metres of wool each year and although 80% of this wool is made for bread and butter customers who want to make suits in navy, grey and black in all the most classic weaves and designs - there is an increasingly experimental and directional element that is flourishing at VBC as the team experiments with new fibres and blending techniques and nurtures their relationship with Australian Merino wool which it sources directly in Australia through a buying group. 

Two nights ago VBC commenced an annual awards night with their inaugural Wool Awards being held at the Quay restaurant. The event which was somewhat low key wished to celebrate three exceptional wool growers annually. The event was hosted by both Vitale Barberis Canonico Raw Material Procurement Manager Davide Fontaneto and Head Of Communications Simone Ubertino Rosso. VBC has been collecting information on wool clips for over 20 years and this year's award was given based on exceptional production qualities plus other objectives which include sustainability. Although three awards were given, one was considered to be the winner. The Hawksford family of the New England region of NSW took out the first prize with their property Glenburnie consistently delivering great wool for the people at VBC.

What is to me rather amusing it that beyond the designer is the designer's designer and beyond the designer's designer is a number of family run businesses across New England in New South Wales who are particularly humble and genuine people who work very hard long hours in very harsh conditions to produce a top quality wool top. These producers of the finest Merino wool spend their lives in alternating cold damp rain in the winter or scorching heat in the summer to produce exceptionally fine wool which goes on to become the finest suits sold by the superstars of fashion across the major capital cities of the world. Seated next to one of these couples I enjoyed hearing their story and the amount of pride they had in their work from the breeding programmes they ran to the shearing of the wool which they oversaw every year before they themselves classed the wool. Talking to them made me feel a very big distance between the runways of Milan and Paris and all the vats of dye, carding, spinning, weaving and finishing that goes on in between.

The event the other night served to remind me that there is a designer behind the designer but there is also a hard-working set of predominantly Australian families that are his main supplier. And it was very much a beautiful thing to hear Davide and Simone speak so softly and passionately in support of those wool growers that provide the foundation blocks of a suit made by designers like Brioni, Ralph Lauren or Tom Ford.

The Designer Behind The Designer  - A great piece by menswear writer G. Bruce Boyer

The Vitale Barberis Canonico team are responsible for a great deal of wool you see in designer suits across the globe

Part of the inspirational images inside the VBC book The Fabric

An example of VBC Houndstooth wool

An example of window pane check wool by VBC is used as a picnic blanket in this shot.

The winners of the inaugural award for wool excellence in Australia by VBC. This award went to the Hawksford family of Glenburnie in New England, NSW. 

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