Italy's Etro: Paisley print & fabric inspiration from the Silk Road



Benjamin Fitzgerald

Over the past 46 years, Etro has weaved its luxurious thread to become what it is today – a highly regarded fashion house. Built on traditional quality, intricate textile patterns and daring colors, Etro remains steadfast in European tailoring and precise Milan silhouettes. However, Etro’s head of textiles, Jacopo Etro, reveals another side of the Italian brand - one with intrinsic links to the exotic east and the fabrics sourced from the dusty Silk Road.



A Family Affair

It was in 1968 that Gerolamo "Gimmo" Etro, a well-traveled economics graduate, returned home to his beloved Italy. He had been overcome by exotic beauty during his explorations, prompting him to launch his very own prêt-a-porter and haute couture company. And Etro, as we know it today, was born.


Fast-forward 50 years and Etro has grossly evolved. The luxury house now shows two ready-to-wear women’s and menswear collections a year and an illustrious line of haute couture gowns annually. Etro boasts a 24-piece fragrance division for both men and women, an extensive home and interiors collection and continues on with its initial fabrics establishment formed in the late sixties - creating and wholesaling textiles to fellow designers across the globe. 

What hasn’t changed, however, is Gimmo’s insistence on making the Etro brand a family affair. Head on over to the official Etro website, click on ‘Family Portraits’ and you can meet them all. There’s Veronica - Gimmo’s daughter. A Central St Martins College of Art and Design graduate, Veronica designed her first line for Etro in 2000 and now works alongside her brother, Kean as the creative director of womenswear. 


Kean studied Medieval History before joining his father’s atelier in the late eighties.  He launched Etro’s perfume segment in 1989 and designed his premier menswear range in 2000, before co-helming Etro’s womenswear with his sister. 

The discreet closet child of Etro is Ippito. He is the business head behind Etro and was responsible for its American market entry into New York back in 1991.

But the man behind Etro’s fine thread, is Jacopo – creative director of accessories and leather, and home and textile collections. And it is the same adventurous spirit that possessed Gimmo decades ago, which leads Jacopo to exotic lands and onto the Silk Road. 

Textile Inspiration: Silk Road and The East


“I would describe myself as a researcher,” Jacopo told the South China Morning Post during an interview in January. “Research and experimentation are the grass roots of textiles, but you need to be consistent, to never ever stop, even though for me the quest for the new cannot be separated from the strong attachment to the values stemming from one’s personal experiences.”

As head of textiles for Etro, Jacopo gathers textile ideas from visits to India and Myanmar. Having done the Silk Road four times, the designer typically collects textiles and returns to Italy with oriental fabric themes. Working closely with Kean, Veronica and a solid graphics team, Jacopo compiles and deciphers textile ideas and aesthetics that may be a starting point for a collection.


 “I bought some beautiful Tibetan and 1930s-style Chinese carpets in Hollywood Road,” said Jacopo, when describing his textile finds.

 “I have traveled through Yunnan province, where you can find a lot of minority tribes living near each other, wearing an array of beautiful embroideries and striped fabrics,” he added.

 “I like to see the people that still wear a certain kind of clothes. The custom is disappearing, and in 50 years' time we won't see those people wearing traditional clothes.”

 But Etro is more than just a fabricator of cultural textiles and traditions made elsewhere.

“The textiles are an inspiration to me,” Jacopo continued. “We change the colors, and maybe play with the patterns on the computer, and the textures, to customize them,” added Jacopo.

The Etro Collections


Etro’s fall/winter 2014 season is an example of such fine-tuning. Mimicking traditional clothing witnessed on the silk route, Etro’s latest womenswear collection carried elements of Tartar garments and Marrakech culture.


Carpet prints and weaves walked the runway in Milan, while kaftans were trimmed with braid details, and woolen blankets came worn wrapped around the body of models like capes. Jacopo and his siblings at Etro had successfully mixed rich, gold fabrics with heavy tweeds and wools in a northern oriental way.


Meanwhile, Etro’s spring/summer 2015 collection was Navajo themed, boasting a Native American Indian influence within its choice of textiles. Luxurious and naturally rustic, the bohemian and 70s feeling collection was full of ikat motois and paisley print – a collection that felt very Etro.

Referring to the paisley, Jacopo gives a little hint toward the future.

“We've been doing that for a long time, although it may be a little softer for next summer,” said Jacopo.

The Future of Etro


It was in 1984 that Etro introduced a furnishing textiles line, sporting paisley to enrich Etro’s first interiors collection. It was this patterned symbol, however, that would quickly become part of Etro’s design ethos. Come 2015, paisley continues to leave it marks on Etro, with an accessories collaboration with Japanese photographer, Mika Ninogawa, recently debuted.


“She has taken two of our paisley patterns and turned them into something wild and surreal with her signature saturated colour palette,” revealed Jacopo.

For now, Jacopo is happy with his direction at Etro. Adding to his love for the east, Jacopo is proud to be Italian. He continues to sit on the board of the Camera Nazionale della Moda  - Italy’s version of a fashion council – spurred on by a passion for textile innovation in the nation.

“Textile research is what I love and what I do to relax,” Jacopo added. “It may be work but it doesn't seem like it, because it is what I love doing." 

Etro: A History


1968 - Gerolamo "Gimmo" Etro establishes Etro

1977 - The Milanese Etro Headquarters, located on Via Spartaco, are renovated to expand the design team. The in-house library begins archiving rare books and textile art

1984 - The Etro Paisley jacquard coated fabric becomes the signature of the brand

1985 - The Home Collection is launched, featuring everything from quilts to photo frames

1988 - The Etro Man and Woman prêt-a-porter ranges expand, and the Milanese flagship store on Via Montenapoleone is launched

1989 - The Fragrances Collection is launched

1990 - The Paris boutique is opened on Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré

1996 - The recent US expansion takes full form with a new boutique on 720 Madison Avenue, New York

2000 - The Ginza neighbourhood in Tokyo becomes the location for the first Japanese flagship store

2010 - A new boutique opens in the New York quarter of SoHo

2011 - The UK sees a new boutique opening in Old Bond Street, London

2013 - The Vienna boutique launches in the Golden Quarter