Rosa Palmira Feroldi’s cashmere is so special, so richly soft, that she once had a man get down on one knee and kiss her hand in gratitude. He was American, visiting the small community of Bowen Island, and stopped into Feroldi’s cashmere atelier, where the artisan still handmakes the fabric the same way she used to back home in Italy. So floored was this man by the luscious products at his fingertips that he felt compelled to bend before her.
That is the quiet beauty of Artigiani Milanesi.
This fabric story dates back to 1943, when Feroldi became an orphan of the Second World War and was sent to a convent in Cremona. She was soon drawn to the knitting machines on the top floor, and convinced the nuns in charge that she should be stationed there to learn the trade. Fabric creation grew into a deep love, and in 1959, Feroldi moved to Milan to set up her own cashmere design and manufacturing studio. After a brief stint travelling through India, Feroldi and her then-young son, Davide, returned to Milan and set up shop once again. Davide grew up in the business, and is in fact its current owner; when he met his British wife, Rebecca Bizzarri, she too became involved. The company expanded into markets in the United Kingdom and Switzerland, and developed collections for many brands. Life was good, it seemed, but Davide and his wife were ready to make a change—which is how, after packing their lives into a shipping container that would meet them on the other end, the trio found themselves settling, in 2014, on quiet little Bowen.
A strike at Port Metro Vancouver during their arrival meant a stressful delay in getting back their things—including the expensive, historic looms used to make the fabric. “That was our life in there,” Bizzarri recalls. Once they received everything, they had quite a time getting the heavy machines through the workshop’s narrow door. Still, when Bizzarri turns to her husband and asks if they would do it all again, he quickly answers in the affirmative.
“Italian artisanship is really appreciated in North America, so it’s really nice,” says Bizzarri. Davide, standing nearby, adds: “A lot of people come in here just to look at the shop and to learn.” So why Canada, and why Bowen? The couple say they were looking for a slower pace, less Italian drama, and more business freedom. As is the case for many who relocate here, it was the lifestyle that beckoned. And while all Artigiani Milanesi fabric is still made from Italian wool, it is used to produce some of the only—if not the only—Canadian cashmere. As such, visiting the small workshop, located in the aptly-named Artisan Square, is something truly unique to Bowen. The second you walk in, you are transported; there sits darling Feroldi, working away on her craft, looking up to utter a simple, singular “Buongiorno.”