Pino Grasso is a master in the art of embroidery. For sixty years, his Milanese workshop has been a reference point for the most renowned haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion houses. A continuous research into new materials and designs enriches his prestigious archive and stimulates the creativity of his clients.

Mr. Grasso, when and how did you embark upon this line of business?

I developed a passion for embroidery when I was in high school. I often used to visit the house of a friend whose father was a master embroiderer. At the time, it was not a very common profession, so when I finished school I decided to enrol in the Faculty of Medicine. I soon realised that my true passion was embroidery - the beauty of embroidery. So I dropped out of university and served my mandatory military service before returning to my friend’s house, where I started learning the art of embroidery from the very bottom. I can still remember the day: it was the 1st of October 1958. That was sixty years ago.

So you didn't attend any training school? Did you learn on the job?

Exactly: I came up through the ranks, and it was hard. In those days there were no schools teaching this type of craft. As far as embroidery was concerned, in the Milanese hinterland and in the rest of the province there were several workshops employing artisans, but it wasn’t a structured industry. Mothers paid for their daughters’ apprenticeships in the workshop, but of course it was a completely different concept.

I started learning the art of embroidery from the very bottom.

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The possibilities are endless because manual skills are not services and commodities that can be bought in any country. In this sense, Italy's culture and tradition represent an enormous competitive advantage.

Do you think that the new technologies have brought any change to your field?

Embroidery techniques haven't changed much over the years: broadly speaking, the technique I learned in the late 1950s is the one still used today. The only difference I find is in the materials used and in the research, which must always be innovative. If you look at the embroideries we made in the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, they were much more romantic. Today, fashion houses pay more attention to new materials and how they can be combined creatively.

How has your clientele evolved since you started this business?

More than the clientele, I would say that the "tastes" have changed. Consumer tastes have flattened out, and they depend entirely on market trends, not on one’s personal discernment. You also have to consider that we never deal directly with the final customer, because our work is carried out with fashion designers. The input we receive is more complicated to interpret: we have to understand what the designer has in mind and absorb the designer’s taste, in order to create the embroideries that he or she is looking for.

What is the role of the institutions in managing, promoting and protecting the artistic crafts?

Promotion and protection do not exist in our sector. As master artisans, we are virtually invisible even in our own field. If you flick through any fashion magazine, you will never see my name or that of my colleagues, and yet we make many of the garments. In a situation like this, can you imagine the kind of help or protection that the institutions can give us? I have noticed some changes in the academic field, however. I have held lectures at the IULM in Milan to students attending specialised courses in the communication of fashion projects. They had never even heard of the art of embroidery. I showed them some of the works we do, because you have to know what you are talking about if you have to communicate it!

In our globalised society, what prospects do you see for artistic crafts?

The possibilities are endless because manual skills are not services and commodities that can be bought in any country. In this sense, Italy's culture and tradition represent an enormous competitive advantage. On the other side of the coin, we have to face the fierce competition from countries like India and China, which are unbeatable from the point of view of costs. However, we can defend our market if we invest and focus on our savoir-faire and experience.