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The Salina Archive – Topicality of the past.

Antique instruments, rare books, showcases, precious volumes and period photos are the objects treasured in the textile archive that Umberto Salina has created at Castellanza, Varese, the passionate work of a lifetime. Over two hundred books and four hundred thousand fabric samples mostly from France, Russia, Great Britain and Italy, volumes which contain printed and decorated fabrics as well as shirt fabrics from 1896 to the 1970’s. The space where these volumes are stored is a neat, white, circular work of architecture, a neutral background against which books and other precious objects become unique works that stimulate our imagination as we consult and admire them.
The fabrics, with their patterns, colours and texture are like windows that look out on history and kindle the imagination of those who can observe and patiently wait to be captured by inspiration, to relive ancient truths. In Umberto Salina’s words: ”Far from being only beautiful things to watch, fabrics have always had the special power to stimulate our sense perceptions in many ways”. This archive of textures, patterns and colours documents the days when time went slowly by, and everything was handcrafted, designed by hand with vegetable dyes. Archives have a value only when, far from being simply displayed, they are actually used. I still feel excited when I look at fabrics that document somehow their historical background and tell you how difficult it was to realise something beautiful. I come from a small village where every family had a loom of their own, and people made a living by weaving and printing. I had to do with late 19th century fabrics and I was fascinated by the art they involved, and, thinking of the people who had realised them with those days’ technical means, I was stunned at their intellectual and manual skills. This is the reason why I started to collect samples and buy books and fabric samples at Parisian auctions, or take over historic firms’ archives. I did it out of passion, although I could later turn this passion of mine into a work instrument when I opened a textile advice office. My collection of European fabrics is today an endless source of inspiration to recreate updated patterns and colours”.
In a fast-evolving age like ours, endlessly searching to enhance an item with an added value, we move on a thin dividing line between technological research and emotions. To create and rediscover patterns, colours and matches is a hidden activity in the field of fashion, yet it is a basic one since today’s buyers are motivated by emotion rather than by reasoning. Certain ancient decorations are so complex and fascinating that one wonders what sense it makes to reproduce such complexity, a sort of patience exercise that people are no longer willing to do today. “ With the advent of textile CAD and the evolution of software, the art of textile decoration entered the domain of mass production; what could in the past be done by few talented artists who stuck to precise weaving and printing rules to achieve aesthetic results is today the outcome of a practical process. The evolution of weaving techniques and the advent of digital print have led to the reproduction of fabrics that were once made on the handloom and printed by hand.” Weavers’ and decorators’ artistic skills of a hundred years ago will never be equalled; those were the days when an unquestionable truth was passed down: “ a fabric is not only the result of crossing threads, but of crossing thoughts and emotions.
Besides powerfully triggering recollections and being used to manufacture clothing, these small fabric squares are means to convey different concepts, feelings and ideas which are romantic at times, but can be political or social, élite or caste emblems, different world views that change from country to country and from age to age. “ Today a fabric is expected to give the convenience and comfort required by the environment and working conditions. Period fabrics are like chapters of history, from the late XIX century to the advent of the Free Style, Futurism, the after war period, the Sixties and Seventies. Different conceptions that coexist and integrate with one another. In modernity, drawing on the past.”
People say that collecting beautiful objects is the mark of hedonistic egoism, yet to transform a collection into an archive means to put it at the disposal of those who can use it properly, to enable other people to relive emotions, by giving new life to the past and beauty to the future.