An American in Milan: Loro Piana invites textile artist Sheila Hicks to the city’s MiArt fair

Following the 2015 collaboration with Los Angeles based artist Pae White, storied Italian luxury house Loro Piana triumphantly returned to modern and contemporary art fair MiArt last week. Joining 153 international galleries, the 1924 founded company displayed another imaginative use of their prized raw materials. For the twenty-first edition of the annual event, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Loro Piana’s interiors division, fibre artist Sheila Hicks turned her hand to colourful linen yarns. The material was spun in Loro Piana’s expert mills in the alpine North of Italy; Hick’s stone-like fibre sculptures and waterfalls of cascading yarns brought some of that area’s terrain to the elegant ‘Cashmere Life Salon’ installed at the fair. Additional artworks will also be on display at the city central Loro Piana Via Montenapoleone store and the interior showroom until the 15th of April.

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“All of these materials – mohair, cashmere- have existed since time began, with men wandering about on the planet, trying to find something to eat, trying to find something to cover himself with”, Sheila Hicks told us during the installation’s opening last Thursday. “I am trying to make something with this material that is as ancient as any material in the world.” Born in Nebraska, the Yale Univeristy graduate ambitiously set out to work with textiles upon winning a Fulbright scholarship. Following decades saw Hicks open and run workshops around the world, taking her from Mexico and Chile to South Africa, Morocco and lastly India. Today, she splits her time between Paris and New York; Hicks’ intricate textile works can be found in the museum collections of both cities. There are tapestries at the Louis Vuitton Foundation and Centre George Pompidou; New York’s MoMa owns over a dozen of her pieces, some dated as early as 1959. “It’s a very classic technique, artists still use it and international artists use it more and more”, explained the fair’s Creative Director, Vincenzo de Bellis. While art made of fibres is gaining in popularity, Hicks is one of the leaders in her field.

Wherever they are made, Hicks’ finished creations celebrate natural raw materials and the many ways to work them. As such, collaborating with longstanding high-end textile expert Loro Piana seems to have been a long time coming. “All fashion brands are very interested in art as a way of communicating. People like Loro Piana do it with their materials, more than the idea of branding. It’s not about brand communication; it’s about material communication. That’s what the artists like about it,” said de Bellis of the fruitful relationship between brand and artist. “An artist is a lonely person, they need somebody to come into their studio and say, “Come, I’ll build you a bridge. See what’s on the other side!” said Hicks on the day, sat next to Loro Piana Vice-chairman, the venerable Pier Luigi Loro Piana.

Since it’s founding in 1924 in Valesia, northeast Piedmont, Loro Piana has championed ‘Made in Italy’, turning precious raw materials into yarns and fabrics finished to the highest standards of quality. Research into fashion history reveals Loro Piana’s materials being used by leading designers of decades past; there’s a 1968 Louis Ferraud mini dress in combed wool, glorious 1980s Claude Montana power suiting and several wardrobes’ worth of Giorgio Armani creations. Now in its sixth generation, the Loro Piana family also introduced their own, eponymous collection of Jet set approved ready-to-wear designs, following the popularity of Loro Piana jackets donned by the Italian equestrian team during the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Eschewing trends and fashion’s fast cycle, Loro Piana collections give centre stage to the finest natural raw materials. These include the softest Chinese and Mongolian Baby Cashmere, obtained only once in a goat’s life, and Peruvian vicuña, which the company exclusively reintroduced in 1994. The company has long combined tradition with innovation; since 2000 it annually searches for the finest bale of natural wool farmed in Australia and New Zealand, modern innovations such as the patented Storm System protects cashmeres against water and wind.

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For her MiArt debut, Hicks chose to work with linen. Once spun by Loro Piana, the delicate yarns arrived in the artist’s Paris studio ready to be wound, threaded and knotted into original artworks. ‘Soft Stone Fibre Sculptures’, of which there are five in total, wraps deep blue, orange and pale yellow threads to package round parcels of chunky, fuzzy fibres and dyed textured leathers. Another creation extends yards of flat woven chains (‘lianes chainette’) made of glossy yarns high up from the ceiling to gently cascade and finally end in a pool of fabric. Installed at the Milan fair and the Loro Piana boutique, these rocky formations (two are suspended inside the boutique’s glass elevator, swaying lightly with each passing floor) and waterfalls transport us from busy Milan to the calm beauty of Loro Piana’s rural birthplace. Hicks, dressed in flowing linens herself, explained: “I want to create an oasis, a quiet place. An oasis to think, “How can art live? Can you have a personal relationship with art?”. For other artworks, Hicks used the yarns like paint, with framed tapestries showing coloured yarns aligned flat and in parallel.

Inside the company’s genteel ‘Cashmere Life Salon’, the works dazzle in vibrant hues; in ‘Reine des Abeilles Queen Bee’ red and fuchsia clash with blush pink and acid yellow. Hicks explains her choice of colours to be dependent on moods and her personal surroundings. “It depends on whether it’s raining or it’s sunny in Paris. Colour is emotional, colour is not intellectual.” So what colour would the artist choose to mark today’s grand unveiling? “Probably a honey colour; something sweet, golden and warm”.

WORDS: Felix Bischof

IMAGES: Alessandra Fuccillo & Lisa Camus

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