The Bevilacqua family preserves and continues the ancient and refined tradition of weaving on hand-operated 18th-century looms, on which Emanuele, Mario’s son and Luigi’s descendent, creates beautiful and graceful fabrics.
The history of Bevilacqua is ancient and famous. Tell us about your origins and peculiarities.
The name of the Bevilacqua family has been connected with Venice’s weaving heritage for many centuries. A first reference can be found on an altarpiece painted in 1499 by Giovanni Mansueti for the Zen Chapel in the church of Santa Maria dei Crociferi: an inscription on the painting bears the names of the so-called “Zudezi di Provedadori”, the Venetian magistrates who supervised the quality of Venice’s silk factories, among which was “Ser Iacomo Bevilacqua”. Besides this first reference, our great fortune came when one of our ancestors managed to save some looms for weaving with gold and silver threads after Napoleon’s troops destroyed every textile industry in the city.
You are the last heir to this noble manufactory. When did you decide to dedicate your life to this craft?
When I was 24, after high school and a first experience in the Cad Cam design field, I started working in the family business both as a craftsman and as a textile trader in the shops originally founded by my grandfather Vittorio, which my father Mario later expanded, and in the family textile manufactory “Luigi Bevilacqua”. Here I came up through the ranks, first as warehouseman and then, after some years, as a craftsman, dedicating myself to the looms on which the “soprarizzi” velvets are woven.
What training did you get? And what would you suggest to a young person who wants to start this career?
I had the opportunity to learn the secrets of hand-operated looms from “Sior” Angelo Falomo, the last specialised master who had been in charge of the soprarizzi production control for all his life and had already retired at that time. His experience, together with the advice from our elderly weavers, allowed me to restore more and more of our antique looms and to bring forgotten techniques back to life. Since there was nothing on record, I often had to start by studying the individual fabrics in order to work out how the loom was set up. This craft leaves a lot of room for inventiveness and intuition, but it also demands a great deal of passion and patience, because it can take a long time before you achieve a good result.
What are your main products?
We produce both handmade fabrics and power looms fabrics such as brocatelle, damask, lampas, satin, velvet, soprarizzi. We also manufacture finished products such as pillows, table covers, tapestries, which we sell in our stores.
Who are your clients?
Thanks to their exquisite quality, our products can be found in the most exclusive residences and palaces. We are the last remaining producers of handwoven velvets and soprarizzi, which we export all over the world, supplying many important public institutions: from the White House in Washington D.C., to the Quirinale in Rome and the Royal Palace in Stockholm. I am particularly proud of the soprarizzo velvet that we made for the restoration of the Kremlin armchairs. For this production I had to set up a very special loom, because the fabric was decorated with a 60-centimetre grotesque motif, whereas the standard measure for designs on our hand-weaving looms is 30 centimetres. For this reason, I had to recover machinery that had not been used for many decades and recreate certain elements of the loom, like the creel, from scratch.
What have been your most unusual undertakings?
It is difficult to say which have been our most unusual orders. In my opinion, the collaboration with famous interior designers and artists is a very stimulating, because I learn something new every time.
Continuing my grandfather’s and father’s activity, over the years I have had the pleasure to meet Scalamandré, Apfel, Ann Getty, Molineaux, Shapiro, Marino, Pinto, Peregalli. Through these collaborations I have learnt how to add modern details to our vast archive of historical and traditional fabrics.
Besides interior design, Bevilacqua also works with well-known fashion brands. Tell us about these collaborations.
The world of fashion has always been fascinating and challenging, from our first collaborations with Roberta di Camerino in the 1950s to the contemporary brands with which we work today.
When dealing with fashion brands, the production timing is the most interesting aspect and at the same time the most difficult to handle. Our work is mainly in restoration, which is very time-consuming and our clients are used to wait for several months and sometimes more than a year. Clearly this timing is unacceptable for the fashion world: I often have to speed up my work and prepare samples only 30 days after the first sketches are made.