Together with fine leather, handicraft expertise, and appreciation of quality for just about any consumable item (cheese, wine, jewels, bedsheets…), Italy is a special place for natural fibers like merino wool and cashmere, which have long been woven into “maglie” of the softest, most comfortable, and most durable variety. Solely by happenstance, I have discovered the superior knitwear of Italy during the normal course of second-hand shopping in Milan.
At my favorite vintage-resale boutique Bivio, which now has two locations in Milan, and from the occasional stop at Il Salvagente, a designer outlet store (not vintage-resale), I’ve collected a veritable mass of examples of the knitted excellence demonstrated by Italian manufacturing…
- Etro: fine, thinly-knit navy wool cardigan with paisley silk trim along placket and neck
- Dsquared2: chunky, frayed gray wool, viscose, cashmere, and polyamide cardigan with patch pockets on each side
- Unsigned: medium-knit black cotton v-neck pullover with trompe l’ail double-look neck; main tag removed but secondary tag says “made in Italy”
- Gazzarrini: jersey navy asymmetric-zip biker sweater with epaulets (no fabric details given)
- Moschino Cheap & Chic: loose-knit cream cardigan with pom-pom details and open front (no closure and no fabric details given)
- Giorgio Armani: gray cotton and viscose zip sweatshirt with buttoned tab neck closure
- Colombo: medium-knit cotton and cashmere gray crew-neck pullover
Bivio’s owner Hilary Walker once told me that working in resale/vintage/consignment makes her privy to the true quality of brands’ fabrics. Some disintegrate, while others endure for years against the wear of everyday life: washing, drying (which you should never do to anything you wish to preserve), snags, etc.
She sees how brands evolve over time, and how the apparel industry has changed. For example: a pristine vintage (1990s) wool Benetton sweater that is in better shape now than a hardly worn Malo cashmere sweater, the latter selling for hundreds of euros new.
Our conversations have rekindled my dormant love for vintage, which has always appealed to my frustration over how expensive clothing can be compared to how disappointing it can sometimes be, long term. It’s almost impossible to predict which items will be stars and which will be duds in the regular course of shopping.
Away from the centers of high-end consumption like Milan, Paris, London, New York and the like, vintage-resale-consignment is stodgy and can be more effort than reward. I fondly remember thumbing through racks at INA in Manhattan and Sui Generis in San Francisco, wowed by the gauzy Costume National and modish Dior Homme on hand, while those brands hardly make it to places like Tampa.
Like so many things produced here, Italian knitwear is undeniably well-made and offers an incredible second-hand value. In my Dsquared2 and Colombo knits, as little as 15% cashmere blended into wool, viscose, or cotton boosts the softness and warmth of an otherwise standard sweater. All of the pieces I listed above have proven excellent for layering, especially in transitional seasons like spring and fall.