Pop Goes the Cork Couture
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because trees can make fashion statements too.
By Silvia Marchetti
Ever thought of … wait. We are nearly positive it’s never occurred to you to don a layer of tree as a dress — and one that perfectly sticks to your body as a second skin, no less. But “Forest Queen” is, in fact, a look, and one that any fashion-conscious woman would be proud to rock.
Archimedes once said something grandiose about lifting up the world. Well, Italian stylist Anna Grindi is on her own Superwoman trip. If she had a motto, it might be: “Gimme a tree trunk and I’ll make you a wedding dress.”
Tempio Pausania, in the heart of Sardinia, is a cozy town where cork trees flourish and local firms have made a fortune extracting this precious material from bark. Grindi is an innovator whose big idea has proved profitable and has generated no small love among fashionistas. So if you think cork is good only for stopping up bottles or, at the most, as soles for comfy platform sandals, think again. Try one of Grindi’s creations and you might just consider a wardrobe makeover.
The designer took her land’s premium natural fiber and transformed it into a superlight, superthin soft textile to make haute couture dresses, bags — and, yes, even wedding dresses. She invented a unique (patented) technique to make the cork wearable. You can now find cork on catwalks.
The blouses and ballroom skirts drape in a wonderful way … All of it has a delicate, slightly woody scent.
And it’s not cheap. Prepare to spend a small fortune as soon as you walk into her boutique, right in the center of Tempio Pausania. You can find stylish embroidered cocktail dresses with tiny holes in them, pumps, sandals, jackets, shirts, boleros, long- and short-sleeve blouses, scarfs and even bikinis that are worn underneath suits. Hats, belts, kimonos and nightgowns made of cork are also on display. Prices range from about $65 for a hat and $85 for a belt, all the way to $1,275 for a cocktail dress and in the $1,800 range for a wedding gown. The material’s natural beige hue lends itself to endless occasions: Never too classy or dressy, it strikes a beautiful note of casual and chic. And that’s what real Italian style is all about.
Cloth made from cork looks a little bit like deer leather. But it’s not, and once you feel it, it will be love at first sight. Especially since nothing cute has to die for these garments (even the trees — they regenerate new layers of cork after it’s harvested). Cork fabric is silkier than silk and softer than baby rabbit skin. The blouses and ballroom skirts drape in a wonderful way, clinging to the body and accentuating curves. All of it has a delicate, slightly woody scent.
Grindi has always had a knack for stitching and sewing. Ever since she was a teenager, she just couldn’t keep away from a mannequin, pins, needles and paper-cut models. “I used to skip school to go work at the atelier of this little town seamstress near my house. My mom once called the police to look for me!” she says.
It was a tough job at the beginning, trying to come up with a special wearable cork material. She spent sleepless nights working at her atelier, carrying out an infinite number of experiments until she got what she wanted: a thin, impermeable and ultralight sheet of paper cloth. “Imagine how I felt when fashion designers were all of a sudden telling me: ‘Lady, this material rocks!’” says Grindi. She has sold her cork dresses to major designers and at haute couture events across the world. There is just the one boutique, in Tempio Pausania, which is Grindi’s hometown; she is working to create an online shop.
My own name derives from the Latin word silva, meaning “woods,” so maybe I’m biased here. But if you don’t like it, that just means more comfortable, lightweight gorgeousness all for me.
- Silvia Marchetti, OZY Author Contact Silvia Marchetti