MILAN — A return to fancy fabrics has been a boon to Federico Aspesi.

This story first appeared in the September 9, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The more-than-century-old weaver, based north of Milan, specializes in gussying up its fabrics with embroidery, flounces, needle punching and applications. Such fancy cloths have been sidelined by the fashion industry for several seasons, while sleek tech textiles ruled the runways. But the fashion world is always ready to usher back a trend, explained Antonio Aspesi, the mill’s product manager and export director.

“At some point in rough times, people turn to creativity again, and we have seen the signs that there is a return to folk and ethnic type of designs, heavy jacquards and rich embroideries,” said Aspesi.

With his tousled blonde locks and ripped jeans, Aspesi looks more like a rock star than a fourth-generation member of one of Italy’s most influential mill owners. The 42-year-old, along with his two brothers and father, operate an open-door policy for the mill’s staff when it comes to dreaming up new ideas for fabrics.

“The mill may be old, but we are not traditional,” he said. “We have more machines than employees, but everyone is family. We produce things that have the beauty of appearing made by hand, but the quality of being produced by a machine, and we are only interested in doing what we specialize in. That’s the problem with other mills — they try to do everything.”

Transforming ideas into fabrics can take months. Aspesi said once he traveled to a remote town in Greece to source the right kind of pliable, silky calf leather, to later embroider it with a delicate cutout eyelet design. After showing the finished product to customers, orders poured in for 25,000 meters of the leather.

As winter 2009 is expected to turn the spotlight on the type of fabrics Federico Aspesi does, the mill is ready to unleash some of its most intricate work. Tartan black wool is needle-punched with white chiffon silk in a floral design, while fragments of another floral embroidery give the appearance of being erased and a gauzy chiffon is embellished with a tape of wool jersey.

“It’s an elaboration on our previous work, taking some of our developments like needle punching to new levels,” Aspesi added. “These type of fabrics are back, but of course they are different this time around. A lot more subtle and intricate.”

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