Ceramica, Cashmere, Cioccolato..Umbrian Treasures
Where to Shop in Umbria for these treasures: Ceramica, Cashmere, Cioccolato…
Perhaps the most recognizable of Umbrian products is its traditional majolica ceramics, primarily from the tiny town of Deruta. Though the local production can trace its roots back to the early Middle Ages, the characteristic hand-painted patterns that still adorn the lion’s share of Deruta’s majolica work today date from the 1600s. The most common traditional motifs are the “Raffaelesco”, with floral, dragon, and rooster designs rendered in a delicate grotesque-style inspired by Raphael, and the “Bella Donna”, in which elaborate decorative borders encircle profiles of period ladies (whose virtues are extolled in painted banderoles) in the center of round plates. One of the most historic and famed of Deruta’s majolica workshops is Ubaldo Grazia, Via Tiberina 181.
Stoically Medieval Gubbio in the north of Umbria specializes in a lusterware technique first developed by Mastro Giorgio Andreoli in the 15th century, using a metalic glaze which renders the final colors—specifically gold and ruby—iridescent. Though Mastro Giorgio took the secret of his “lustro” to the grave, modern majolica artisans have been able to reproduce the effect. The most famous is the now-retired Leo Grilli, whose workshop continues under his daughter Claudia at Largo del Bargella 1.
Where Umbrian ceramics have a history that stretches over 500 years back in time, Umbria’s world class cashmere production dates back a mere generation or two. That said, in less than a century more than 500 cashmere manufactureres (concentrated in an area between Lake Trasimeno and Perugia known as “cashmere valley”) sprung up in the region, which now produces almost half of all of Italy’s cashmere wares and certainly all of its highest quality knitwear. Umbria has a strong textile tradition (see below), so the evolution from weaving intricate altarcloths to feather-light runway fashions was an easy one. The quality of Umbria’s cashmere comes at a hefty price—flagship producer Brunello Cucinelli’s collections are among the most costly in the world—but there are both outlets and smaller designers and manufacterers which offer excellent quality at a more affordable price. Cucinelli’s outlet is in the tiny town of Solomeo (Piazza Alberto della Chiesa, 6), which has been completely restored by Cucinelli, himself. Other well-known cashmere names are Maria di Ripabianca (Via dei Mille, 8 Deruta) and Lomberto Losani (Villa Case Sparse, 48/G Magione). Smaller producers are Tasselli Cashmere in Bevagna (Corso Amendola, 8) and PaolaMela (Via San Lorenzo, 22 Bastia Umbra).
From cashmere to chocolate…the road seems tortuous, but there is actually a direct connection. Umbria’s cashmere industry was spurred on by one of the region’s most famous (female) entrepeneurs, Luisa Spagnoli, founder of the both the eponymous fashion brand and the Perugina chocolate and candy company. Perugina began in 1907, but it was in 1922 that the famously enterprising Spagnoli proposed the now-famous chocolate Bacio (meaning “kiss”, originally dubbed “il cazzotto”, or “the punch”) primarily as a way to use the left-over ground hazelnut from Perugina’s other products. By far Perugina’s most popular product, the Bacio is recognized world-wide for it’s silver foil wrapper containing both a chocolate and a love note.
The Perugina factory is outside of Perugia in San Sisto, and open to the public for both a tour of the small museum, the factory, and factory store. For more information, see the Perugina web site. For real chocolate lovers, Perugina Chocolate School (web site in Italian only) offers classes on chocolate making for children and adults, including a special course to learn how to make your own Bacio at home. For more information or to book, call (+39) 800 800 907.
Traditional and Handmade Textiles
From the more modern cashmere and chocolate, we go back again in time to Umbria’s rich history in textile production. The local art of hand-woven silk and linen jacquard featuring stylized animals—griffins, eagles, and lions—and floral motifs reached its height in the Renaissance, though the craft can be traced back to the 11th century, and was used both for altar cloths and religious vestments and domestically in the wealthiest households. Production declined gradually until the early 1900s, when Giuditta Brozzetti of Perugia founded her atelier. Now housed in the 13th century Church of San Francesco delle Donne ( Via Tiberio Berardi, 5/6) visitors can still see the antique looms (still working!) and meet Giuditta’s granddaughter who carries on the tradition with passion and scholarly care. See Where to Shop in Perugia for photo and details.
Though not hand-woven, the luxury Umbrian linens produced by Pardi draw on the local textile tradition both in the historical geometrical patterns inspired by motifs spanning from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, and in the family-run small business ethos of quality and pride. There are a number of Pardi shops across Umbria, but the factory is located just outside of the hilltop town of Montefalco, where there largest showroom is located at Corso Mameli, 10.