By  on September 13, 2005

MILAN — Most Italian mills follow the same story line: A family member starts the business and 80 years later, the third generation is still at the company helm.

But Ultra's history is a little different. The six-year-old mill began as a collaboration between friends and ex-co-workers Stefano Rigotti and Sandro Ciardi. The object was to create the type of dynamic textiles all of Ultra's 40 young employees would wear and that designers would seek out.

"From the beginning, we wanted to work hand-in-hand with designers, get inspiration from them and create trends together with them," Rigotti, 45, said in an interview from Ultra's Prato-based headquarters.

The friends' energetic approach to creating cleaner, more versatile fabrics woven from vegetable and animal fiber mixes with experimental finishes garnered a designer-heavy client base, including Miu Miu, Emporio Armani, Sonia Rykiel and Roberto Cavalli.

Each season, Ultra's design team of four creates 400 new fabrics that the mill presents at Première Vision and other key textile fairs. At next week's Première Vision show, the fall-winter 2006-2007 collection will include velvet, moleskin, ultrafine corduroy and winter cottons including sateen and canvas, as well as new hemp and wool, and cotton and wool mixes.

"The collection is more sober and without a lot of tweedy bulk and heavy vintage washes of seasons past," Rigotti said. "Our designer clients want fabrics not to be flat, but washed with a little volume and ultrasoft."

Ultra's new fabrics also are subdued in color and design, which Rigotti said was concentrated on the gamma of dark blues and microchecks, Prince of Wales check and windowpane check, using boiled and felted wools.

Ultra also has explored fashion's new look in textiles produced by its sister mill, Dynamo, although that collection won't be shown at PV. Barely a year old, Dynamo was created by Rigotti and Ciardi with the intention of filling a luxury gap in the textile market. By starting Dynamo, it was also clear the company had chosen not to compete or diversify with Chinese competition, Rigotti said.

"We wanted to create something desirable and sophisticated, something that designers would use for their main line collections," Rigotti said.Dynamo's regal-like, expensive silk, cotton, wool and linen fabrics already have been sourced by Versace, Prada, Dries Van Noten and Giorgio Armani's main lines.

Rigotti said it was too soon to take the young mill's collection to Paris, but it would be shown on request to interested clients in its headquarters in Montemurlo, outside of Prato.

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