Timeless fashion is often the simplest. A pair of humble clogs inspired by the colours of Mediterranean. A kaftan in a vibrant floral print one could wear both to the beach and aperitivo. A unisex nightshirt in the plushest cotton, to look sleek even in your sleep.
Even modest materials can turn into something you’d want to wear over and over again, making for garbs and items that eschew trends and fleeting fads. A case in point? Straw.
Be it on a hat or embroidered into a gown, showcased in a bangle, or weaved to make a tote or a belt, the unassuming product can create serious sartorial pieces and perfect accessories for any summer wardrobe, proving that straightforwardness really is the key to great style.
Italy knows a thing or two about it. The country has in fact long-embraced simple dressing, making effortless pieces part of its ethos.
That includes straw plaiting too. The craft goes back centuries in the Bel Paese, with nimble artisans from north to south transforming the rustic product into extraordinary bags, textiles, and accessories. Our ISSIMO straw clutch and braided belt are a perfect example of that. So are Gatti’s basket bags, Borsalino’s straw visor or Officina del Poggio’s panama. Each one the perfect encapsulation of warm-weather panache, these closet staples show how nature’s golden bounty can be elevated to ChicISSIMO heights.
Traversing the landscapes of the boot-shaped country, you will discover pockets of straw plaiting work everywhere you go, each with its own unique flair.
One such place synonymous with this artistic mastery is the city of Florence, where straw plaiting has thrived for generations. Here, the material shines brightest in the ‘cappello di paglia di Firenze’ – a straw hat whose origins date back to the mid-1400s, when peasants used to wear it to shelter from the scorching sun of the fields they worked in. The headgear was so popular that in the 1500s local authorities instituted a professional category of straw-hat makers wholly dedicated to it – with the tradition continuing to this day.
But the Tuscan capital is also home to straw-plaited delights like exquisite handbags and baskets, whose deceptively simple designs exude sophistication and a spirit of adventure.
While Florence may be the jewel in Italy’s straw-plaiting crown, the tradition has also taken root in other towns and regions, though with different characters and qualities. In Lucca, the plaiting technique embraces a more rustic aesthetic, capturing the essence of the surrounding countryside for a delightful twist to the art.
In Liguria, the art of straw pleating finds its expression in the creation of intricate designs adorning traditional Ligurian hats known as “càruggi.” Skilled artisans meticulously fold, twist, and weave straw strands into complex geometric patterns, reflecting the coastal region’s rich maritime heritage. The càruggi hats, worn during festive occasions, evoke a sense of elegance and charm, their elaborate motifs a testament to the dexterity and creativity of Ligurian craftsmen.
Straw braiding unveils a distinctive approach in Piedmont, too, where artisans intertwine slender, golden straw fibres into exquisite braids that adorn an array of objects, from furniture trimmings to ornamental accessories. The meticulous craftsmanship of Piedmontese artisans is evident in the precision of their braiding, producing visually striking patterns and textures, as well as delicate interplays of light and shadow reminiscent of the rolling hills and vineyards that grace the region’s landscape.
Also in the north, Lombard artisans deftly manipulate straw to fashion intricate, symmetrical patterns to create anything from traditional wedding crowns to ceremonial decorations, with a strong attention to detail and a profound sense of artistry imbued in each piece.
Straw magic continues further south.
In the sun-kissed region of Sicily, in particular, the art takes on a lively and vibrant persona, with artisans in Palermo and the village of Castelbuono infusing their creations with a spirited energy that mirrors the island’s zest for life. Here, straw creations feature bold colours, intricate patterns, and imaginative designs that turn straw into an expression of Sicilian exuberance.
A work of ingenuity and craftsmanship
Regardless of where in Italy you turn for inspiration, each artisan brings their unique touch to the age-old tradition of straw pleating, weaving their personality into every work to create pieces that seamlessly blend the old with the new.
To that end, Italian straw plaiting is not just an art form; it is a celebration of heritage and a testament to the allure of craftsmanship. By donning a braided clutch or a straw belt, you pay homage to the resourcefulness and ingenuity of Italian craftsmen – and we can’t think of a more timeless way to express style than that.