TESSILCLUB: A PASSION FOR FABRICS
Byline: Alessandra Ilari
PRATO, Italy — Mario Traversi, a man whose profile is as low as his ideals are high, has made life easier and more comfortable for the designer customer.
For 25 years, the owner of the high-end mill Tessilclub, has worked on the quiet side, bringing classic fabrics to new heights with unusual finishes and blends — all in the name of practicality.
In a rare interview, Traversi conceded, “I feel I changed the way of making fabrics and the way people dress.
“Practicality is vital for the survival of fashion, and every time I do something to better the quality and modernity of a fabric, I’m happy,” he said, perched on a chair in his workshop and surrounded by mounds of pinstripes, checks and flannels.
Washed silk, a feather-light cotton gauze and versions of stretch and felted cashmere are just a few results of this fashion philosophy.
Versatility is also a consideration.
“I never limit a fabric to one use only,” said Traversi who started Tessilclub with his brother, Riccardo. “For example, who said silk is strictly formal or that cotton is only used in summer? It’s important never to take anything for granted.”
Traversi’s top assets — a fertile imagination, the techniques of an artisan and dedication to quality — are the key reasons designers are drawn to him. He has woven solid relationships with a growing list of top-tier clients, including Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Jil Sander, Ralph Lauren and Valentino.
It also doesn’t hurt that he works with each designer individually, exclusively reworking his basic collection for their divergent tastes.
Donna Karan, for example, describes her relationship with Traversi as “a marriage.”
“He is a brilliant man, a total inspiration. His designs and fabrics talk and inspire me. You can travel the world, but you haven’t seen anything until you see his designs. I always come back to him. When I touch his fabrics they truly come alive. They have shape, movement…he understands design and fabric,” said Karan, who buys Traversi’s creations for some of her men’s and women’s lines.
Giorgio Armani is also a longtime fan.
“I’ve been working with Mario Traversi for years,” he said. “In fact, I was one of the first to believe in his work. What I particularly like about him is the fact that he really loves what he does — he’s a true artist, with a great sensibility that is sometimes too much for a world like today’s that unfortunately doesn’t often appreciate certain subtleties and refinements.”
Traversi makes no secret of his deep feeling for his work.
“What I really think helped me is my immense passion for textiles. Fabrics are fundamental for fashion, and all my clients are fixated with them,” said Traversi, rustling a wool and viscose crepe blend that was ordered by Armani.
In 1991, Solbiati, a mill that specializes in linen, bought a 50 percent stake in Tessilclub. But Traversi remains concentrated on his work. He spends hours on end buried under reels of yarns and yards of fabrics, researching new looks, or poring over books of antique swatches and costumes, which he picks out at flea markets during his frequent travels.
“The most fun part of research is that you develop your idea as you go. You start out thinking one thing and you end up with something completely different,” said Traversi. “But what’s important is to understand when you have something special in your hands, to be aware of it.”
His keen eye rarely misses.
“Ten years ago, after long and in-depth research, we came up with washed silk. It was soft, with a peachlike hand that changed the classic concept of silk — usually quite stiff and worn only at night or in a classic way,” explained Traversi, clad himself in a white Ralph Lauren polo shirt, a navy cashmere crewneck and faded jeans.
His next step was to disrupt the noble fiber cashmere by creating a stretch version and a felted one.
“People demand comfortable clothing. Oftentimes, I look back at archives from 20 years ago and I see some beautiful clothes that were impossible to wear — jackets, for example, were rigid and unproportioned. Today, weights have changed completely,” noted Traversi, peering through his wire-rimmed spectacles.
While some people may cringe at the idea of elasticized cashmere, German designer Jil Sander, queen of luxurious minimalism, snapped it up immediately, said Traversi, at a cost of $125 per meter.
“I think we were the first to blend a tiny percentage of Lycra spandex with cashmere, about four years ago. It makes a jacket more comfortable and when you pull it out of your closet the next morning, it’s perfectly ironed,” he said.
Currently, Traversi is putting his energies into further refining cotton to make it an even more elegant fabric by using high-quality, fine-gauge yarns.
“In general, people consider cotton a fabric for sportswear so I’m trying to change that concept, thanks to special finishes that make it light, silky and soft,” he said. “This way it can be worn from day into night and year-round.”
Projects such as these interest Traversi more than pushing to expand his company.
“We haven’t tried to bolster our sales because we want to maintain our exclusivity and not sell to everyone,” he asserted. For that reason, Tessilclub doesn’t show at trade fairs and maintains a limited annual production of 700,000 meters.
These are qualities his savvy clients appreciate.
“I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but I have a very nice relationship with my clients,” said Traversi. He appears to have a knack for keeping each designer happy, which could explain why they regularly come to work in his workshop, share hearty Tuscan meals with him and insist he go to their shows. All in all, they treat him as a trusted counselor, whether it’s picking a special weave or buying an Italian Lamborghini race car.
While Traversi could be a Pandora’s box of designer anecdotes, his professionalism tells him to keep them locked away.
This reserve is reflected at the front gate of his workshop. Located in the industrial area of Prato, Tessilclub is surrounded by dozens of companies with bold signs indicating who they are. At Tessilclub, there is only a faded label on the buzzer.
Inside, Traversi spends six hours a day amid clanking looms that spit out a variety of patterns, attentively surveying each sample, imparting advice and making changes. “Too often people forget the work and the history behind a piece of material — what it’s like to sow, grow and harvest a cotton crop, for example,” he said. “Few people realize the unbearable conditions of humidity you need to weave linen because it’s so stiff.”
Cotton, he said, is his favorite fiber: “I wear it year-round and today there are cottons that are more expensive than silk.”
Traversi, however, is well aware that his is a two-way relationship with the designers.
“The stimuli I get from working with such top-notch designers is fundamental,” he said. “They push me to give them an unusual product and to exploit our technology.”
Every year, Traversi invests 15-20 percent of his $25 million (40 billion lire) volume in updating his machinery and buying new equipment.
“I think I’m totally geared up with the best machinery on the market,” he said. “Sometimes we fish from old techniques, but it’s also important to have modern looms especially modified for us for personalized finishes.”
Tapping into short-lived trends is not a priority at Tessilclub.
“Producing a classic product, I work in a limited space, but when I create a piece of material I conceive it to last in time. I have a problem with clothes that are uncomfortable, only related to a season or that you only wear one evening,” said Traversi.
And while some might fantasize flying saucers and space-age suits for the future, utter comfort is in Traversi’s vision.
“I see a banker going to work with a sweatshirt,” he said with a smile. “Maybe a cashmere one, but always a cushy and functional sweatshirt.”