The artisans throughout the world who create magic with their hands are few and far between. And the talented designers who know how to harness those rare gifts are equally unusual. Cathryn Collins, the designer behind I PEZZI DIPINTI, is one of those designers. Her line of cashmere knitwear and textiles (scarves and throws) is a testament to the deft handiwork of artisans from Italy to India. And her designs define understated luxury in the finest sense. I PEZZI DIPINTI is not available in stores. Because of that, the line has a strong following of women who prefer under-the-radar finds. Some of Collin’s work is available online, but the best way to experience the collection is to be privy to one of her trunk shows. She currently has one in New York through this Saturday, September 24th. (See the bottom for contact details.) TFI caught up with Collins pre-trunk show frenzy.
When did you start I Pezzi Dipinti and why?
I started in I PEZZI DIPINTI in 1988. I Pezzi diPinti means painted pieces and its first iteration was actually painted pieces of furniture. Before I had worked for Knoll furniture on marketing and product development and became obsessed with furniture production–especially the artisanal production of Knoll’s finer pieces of furniture. I met a family in Italy that had been restoring painted 15th ,16th and 17th century furniture, and I started my own business working with these artisans, creating pieces using techniques that went back hundreds of years. A lot of the patterns applied to the furniture were based on antique textile designs. The next path was making textiles in Nepal. I was on the board of the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust, so I started the textile part of IPDP to help fund this trust. That part of business mushroomed incredibly, and in 1999 I added cashmere knitwear that is made in Umbria, Italy.
Where you produce your collection is important. Please explain.
I built this business around my love of traveling and my specific love of the places my business is oriented around.
The textiles are now made all over India–from Kashmir down to Bangladesh, West to East. There are dozens of individuals, mostly cottage industry, who are spinning, weaving, embroidering, tie-dyeing, other kinds of painting, you name it. In Italy, the way we are making knitwear is kind of radical and very similar to what we are doing in India. We are taking traditional techniques and completely revolutionizing the way these techniques are joined.
Ten years ago I added made-to-order furs that are produced in New York with linings that are hand tie-dyed in India. We also take the knitwear made in Italy and send it to India to be hand-painted or hand tie-dyed. The artisanal work that happens in India imbues everything we are doing.
Why trunk shows versus retail? What cities do you travel to for trunks?
We do trunks twice a year in New York, London, and a suburb of Detroit. In the fall we go to San Francisco and in the summer Jackson Hole and Aspen. Intermittently I go to LA.
The trunk shows are an excuse to present the collection in a curated manner in a setting that is more conducive to easily viewing everything all at once. The reality is people are shopping every day via email, phone, e-commerce or showroom appointments.
Travel is also an important part of your lifestyle. What’s the last place you visited? Where do you want to go next?
The last place I went (as an inspiration trip) was Tangier, Morocco. A couple times a year I try to pick a place that I have not been and that I imagine has some kind of depth of provocation for me. I take two types of trips. One is to go to a place and be able to just pause and let the place wash over me. It’s about wandering and letting my mind become so quiet that information and colors, whatever it is, take hold in my head. The other form of travel is a sort of more rabid and anxious travel. There are so many places in the world that I think will be lost to us because of politics, war and environmental degradation or they will become overrun with tourists as they become accessible. For over the last five years I’ve been going to places I thought were fragile, I went to Iran a year ago, I went to Syria five years ago before the war, I spent a long time in Egypt in a moment between the instabilities. My travels all end up, not in a deliberate way, influencing my designs. I didn’t go to Tangier because I want to design a collection around my trip. I’ve been using Berber embroidery stitches in my work for about five years, and I hadn’t been to Morocco in about 15 so there was this pent up demand. And Tangier was of interest to me, because there is a specific culture that has to do with the sea and these neutral palettes with pops of blue that is unlike anywhere else in Morocco.
Next? I want to go to Peru because I’ve never been. And I want to go back to Mexico City where I was last February. I just want to go spend a month wondering around Mexico. The other place I want to go back to is the desert in Utah. There is something right now about these very pure, unspoiled places that’s calling me. It’s sort of unsophisticated natural simplicity but nature simplicity not cultivated simplicity.
What is the inspiration for the fall collection? Any favorite pieces?
The theme is nature: nests, bark, moss, owl feathers, chicken feathers, and this beautiful, rich but very narrow palette. It’s a brown that’s not brown–it’s black, it’s gray, it’s stone, it’s like a piece of bark. It’s chalk, and this crazy range and elevation of texture. So cashmere lace but chunky cashmere lace, and a cashmere knit that looks like a bird’s nest. Everything is very elemental and tactile. Very very very simple and very very very luxurious–all at once.
My favorite pieces are a new shawl and throw called a Mali Diamonds and Stripes. It’s based on a hand-dyed textile from Mali that I saw in Tangier being used as a tablecloth. I saw it indigo, but had it made in this blackish-brown and ivory. It’s constructed from hand-loomed cashmere made in these extremely narrow panels, then dyed and hand whip-stitched together, and it is amazing. The amazing part of it is not what I did in conceiving it, it’s what the artisans who took something that they’ve never seen except for the photo I sent them, for which they have no frame of reference in their culture, and that they realized in this incredibly idealized, much richer way.
Give us a hint of what’s to come for spring.
I don’t know what’s coming for Spring. We are spoiled or kamikaze, I don’t know how to characterize it, but because we aren’t selling to stores or in the big cycle of commercial fashion, I design very much on the season. The irony to me is the trend that is happening now because of Instragram and online shopping–the idea that designers are trying to produce and sell closer to the season—is something we’ve been doing all along.
Spring to me is a dream, which I don’t have the luxury of thinking about until December.
For trunk show information please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
photographs by Annelise Phillips courtesy of Ipezzi diPinti