A bounty of Italian fabric to inspire RISD students

If the Italian Trade Commission’s goal is to promote trade between Italy and other countries, what better way to do so than to expose student designers to Italy’s fine fabrics and yarns while they’re still in school?

It’s a winning situation for the commission, said Liz Collins, assistant professor in the textiles department at Rhode Island School of Design.

“[The students] get to know the materials intimately,” she said. “They get to know the vendors’ names … they understand the value of the materials and the quality.”

The exposure could translate into lifelong clients for the 17 Italian fabric and yarn mills, which donated hundreds of meters of fabric and kilos of yarn worth thousands of euros to a collaborative textile and apparel design studio at RISD this semester.

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For the textile and apparel departments, the studio offers an opportunity to pair 10 textile students with 10 apparel students, who will work collaboratively in teams to create 10 garment collections.

It’s an invaluable experience, Collins said, because it puts the students in a situation they will experience when working in design studios post-graduation. It’s important specifically for textile students because it will give some of them insight into how garments are designed and constructed, which will inform them as they conceive new textiles.

But it’s a similar experience for apparel students, because it exposes them to textiles that sometimes dictate designs. It also exposes them to a hundred different kinds of Italian fabrics and yarns that are an industry standard in high-end fashion.

“It is the opportunity to work with magnificent fabrics, also to work in collaboration, which is a new creative process for them,” said Donna Gustavsen, head of the apparel design department at RISD and co-teacher of the studio with Collins.

The benefit for RISD is the opportunity to provide an expanded level of collaboration by incorporating the ITC as an outside partner, Gustavsen said. Partnering with ITC allows the two departments to collaborate in a way they never have before.

“There’s a really rich back-and-forth dialogue that’s developed in these teams,” Collins added. “Some of the teams are functioning with less clear-cut roles because some of the teams have people who have skills in both [textile and apparel] areas.”

Students will have the freedom to incorporate techniques such as dyeing, embroidery, embellishment, fabric manipulation, knitting and weaving, to silk screening and digitally printing on the fabrics, when developing the garment collections.

The garment collections, which must include one coat, two accompanying pieces and one knitted piece with a “global travel” theme, will be viewed as an evening fashion show at the RISD Museum of Art early next spring.

The collections also will be displayed in New York City, where they will be viewed by industry leaders, thus providing more exposure for the Italian fabrics and yarns, as well as for the student designers.

Collins said she made contact with the ITC in 2004 when she attended a fashion show that had incorporated a whole segment with Italian fabrics. At the time she was teaching a RISD studio sponsored by DKNY and decided to collaborate with ITC on the project. “Italian fabrics and yarns are the best,” she said. “I really wanted my students to have access to those materials.”

And Collins expects the collaboration will continue into the future.

“This is a long-term relationship we have with ITC,” she said. •