Dianora Salviati

What starts as a fashion story, hinged on the launch of a line of sophisticated caftans, turns into a fascinating deep dive into history. As Dianora Salviati illustrates her first collection of caftans at the stunning Villa Salviati, dating back to 1860 in Migliarino Pisano, Italy, the designer’s personal story unfurls, woven in with that of her family tree, whose roots extend to the 12th century and the Medici and Borghese families.

This story first appeared in the September 21, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The Salviatis bought the land located between Florence and Rome in the 16th century, but at the time, it was only “a swamp,” she explained.

“My family in the 1800s called architects from Belgium and the Netherlands, who created an innovative web of channels and irrigation, and built the house in the style of a French château, including its own chapel — unique in this area,” said Salviati, whose grandmother was French.

While Salviati is as understated and unpretentious as can be, the family’s coat of arms, with three crenellated orange bands, stands as her brand’s logo and is re-created on some of the prints in her scarves and foulards, as well as on her caftans. These are all in different shades of blue, reflecting Salviati’s passion for the color and for the sea; the land surrounding Villa Salviati extends to the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. A former swimmer on Italy’s national team and a scuba diver, the designer relishes time at her house on the water in the Greek Sporades islands.

On a hot summer day, the breezy caftans are on display in one of the high-vaulted, frescoed salons of the Villa. She launched the caftans as a capsule in June and July, and is offering a fuller collection with a broader color range for spring.

“I thought I would re-elaborate some of the vintage prints from the foulards I did a few years back, and spin them into the caftans,” said Salviati.

In 2013, she reworked vintage carré silk scarves in a limited-edition collection with hand-painted details, which included repurposed Hermès, Gucci and Céline designs from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, as well as several she discovered that had the Salviati family coat of arms.

The designer’s passion for travel is reflected in the caftans, reproducing an ethnic print, reminiscent of an Inca pattern, on one look, and small Indian elephants on another. A Japanese-inspired pattern adorns one style and a graphic, geometric motif decorates another. Everything is made in Italy. The scarves are mainly woven on antique hand looms and hand painted, while the dyes are produced with seasonal seeds, so they’re eco-friendly.

Salviati works with silk, linen and cotton, and the caftans are available in long or short versions, wholesaling at between 150 and 200 euros, or $166 and $221 at current exchange. The caftans can also be made to order. Capacity is between 5,000 and 7,000 pieces a year.

Salviati — who studied law and political science with professor Giuliano Amato, who served two terms as Italy’s prime minister — combines an artistic streak with business savvy. She launched her first collection of hand-loomed scarves in 2000, which was an immediate success with the likes of Bergdorf Goodman and Linda Dresner.

For her scarves, Salviati employs natural materials including cashmere, wool, linen, cotton, hemp, silk and wool, always with a superlight feel. It must have been in her genes — one of her ancestors, Jacopo Salviati, founded the Arte di Lana (or “Art of Wool”) company in the 14th century.

“I’ve always been passionate about yarns and scarves,” said Salviati, remembering how finding an artisan who worked with a handloom had her hitched on traditional weaving. “She would create fabrics for handbags, but I thought of adding sequins, fur or threads of Lurex, and launched my first collection.”

Salviati has great respect for craftsmanship and a keen eye for quality, colors and prints, and this is reflected in her caftans, too. She has also worked with Tomas Maier on his scarf and pareu collections.

Salviati’s scarf designs are available at around 300 multibrand stores, and at her web site. “We sell very well online, too, reaching locations such as Indonesia or the former Soviet Union countries.”

The designer is mulling the idea of creating ponchos for winter and admitted she has been thinking of opening her own store. “I would have to offer a wider product range,” she said. Caftans and ponchos may very well be the answer.