|Everybody buys a shawl in Bellagio. Luckily, some are still made in Italy.|
Two summer's ago, I stopped in Prato, anticipating that I would still be able to hear the hum of the textile weaving machines and perhaps visit the textile museum. I had romantic visions of The Merchant of Prato still jaunting down the streets with his pockets stuffed full of sales orders. My cab ride to the hotel near the train station should have been a tip-off. The driver nearly wept as he told me how the Prato Italian industry was no more and its wonderful craftspeople were out of work.
Later on arrival day, going out to find a restaurant for dinner in the neighborhood of the hotel, I realized that I didn't want to be there at all and quickly decided to move on the following afternoon. In the morning, I would visit Lorenzo de Medici's villa a couple of towns away and then leave Prato for the quiet of Fiesole.
By last summer, there were stories in the New York Times and on National Public Radio about "fast fashion" that could be legally labeled "made in Italy" because it was. Fabric was shipped into Prato from Asia and the workers were shipped into Prato as well. The resultant product neither represented Italian quality or soul. This past mid-March, there were reports that Italian critics who understood the textile industry finally spoke out about the government's decision to support the country's mechanical industry at the sacrifice of textiles.
Other than the touristy shawl merchants of Bellagio and the high-end Etros and friends, there are few textile finds for the shopper who doesn't want the global designer labels that can easily be found in U.S. boutiques. Later in the trip I would find some smashing scarves in a small Lucca boutique that all had French labels, one being hand-sewn and embroidered in India. In Bologna, I would find an Italian-woven silk with the label of a UK designer.
Dear Prato, I wish I could make things better for you. Even Detroit is sort of developing its fashion industry. JP