Lambswool coat makers / Valle d'Aosta
Raising the baa
Based in the Italian Alps, Valgrisa shows an alternative to mass-production by using locally sourced lambswool and centuries-old techniques.
When Italian label Valgrisa unveiled its first handcrafted jackets to the public in 2005, the company decided against a flashy presentation on Milan’s catwalks. Instead, the owners made their debut in a medieval castle in Valle d’Aosta, a remote region of Alpine valleys in northwest Italy that the company calls home. “Unlike the big multinational firms where there’s this ambiguity about where the product comes from, we wanted to celebrate the fact that we are very much a local business,” explains Alessandra Fulginiti, Valgrisa’s managing director.
Wool used in the label’s classic outerwear is sourced from the surrounding valleys, where Rosset sheep graze in pastures as high as 3,000m. Valgrisa works closely with dozens of shepherds to protect this local breed as its numbers have fallen to below 2,000. Fulginiti values the Rosset’s off-white coat as it provides a sturdy, hardwearing and warm wool. Once cut, the lambswool is cleaned and then sent to a cooperative to be woven on manually operated wooden looms, replicas of those villagers have used since the 17th century.
For her part, Fulginiti hopes to keep this tradition alive for future generations. “It’s a craft that’s unique to the area,” she says. After weaving, the cloth is given a water-repellent finish and then sent to the tailor who begins assembling the garment.
Design-wise, Valgrisa stays close to home, looking through historical archives in Valle d’Aosta for inspiration. Its signature Lodra’ jacket takes its cues from 19th-century attire worn by the Alpine guides of Courmayeur, an elite group of mountaineers. The coat features rounded pockets and stag-horn buttons.
Another jacket, the Chasse Royale, references the uniforms of the guards who patrolled the royal hunting reserve once owned by the House of Savoy. “Everything we do is related to provenance,” says Fulginiti. “Our jackets are numbered, as are the sheep, so we can trace the wool right back to its source.”
On the wool path
The sheep are sheared twice a year, once in the autumn when the wool tends to be cleaner and once in spring. Each sheep provides 3kg of wool a year.
Using a foot-treadle floor loom, an artisan from the Les Tisserands Cooperative weaves the wool into a heavy, coarse cloth that protects from rain and cold.
With a piece of tailors’ chalk, the clothes maker marks the outline of a jacket onto a swathe of fabric and begins cutting the necessary pieces.
A seamstress sews the jacket’s interior lining and then sews buttons, made from stags’ horn, on to cuffs and collar.
A tailor checks the sleeve length. The finished jacket is then placed on a hanger carved from cherry wood by Valle d’Aostan craftsmen.