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Avant Toi | "Subversion of Norms and Classics"

Avant Toi | "Subversion of Norms and Classics"

Avant Toi has stood for avant-garde since the 1990s and surprises every season with a new variation on its DNA - brightly coloured, innovative cashmere. Behind the brand is the family business Liapull Cashmere from Genoa, which has ambitious plans for 2022. A conversation with Fiorella and Mirko Ghignone.  

Interview: Janaina Engelmann-Brothánek. Photos: Avant Toi 

Avant Toi has always been considered a brand with great innovation and a unique vision for the future. How do you experience this moment of great change in the fashion world and what does it mean for Avant Toi?  

Fiorella Ghignone, Managing Director of Liapull Cashmere and Avant Toi: Our cashmere label Avant Toi has been around since 1994, but our story starts back in the late 1950s when our mother, Lia Gambetta, founded Liapull in Genoa. With a knitting machine given to her as a gift, she started very small, producing a few jumpers. She was one of the few women who ran a company alone and was way ahead of her time. We were able to experience her entrepreneurship and her attitude, and that has certainly rubbed off. Today, we still produce our collections here and thus offer Made-in-Italy products. But the Avant Toi label is now responsible for 80 per cent of our sales and, yes, I'm sure that our success certainly has to do with our very innovative approach. But Mirko, my brother and creative director, can say more about that. 

Mirko Ghignone, Creative Director Avant Toi: As Fiorella has just explained beautifully, we grew up in this business with a lot of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit and that shapes us. I made my first scarf on the knitting machine when I was eight. Our mother always gave us the freedom to try things out, to bring in our ideas. And that's how Avant Toi came into being. I had started experimenting with action painting on cashmere and silk. This, of course, broke all the traditional aesthetic and stylistic rules usually associated with precious yarns like cashmere (laughs). Painting on this precious yarn with a brush and experimenting with really strong shades! But that's how you create something unique. I love this upheaval of norm and classic and I am happy to say today that my gut feeling was right. End consumers are looking for one-of-a-kind pieces now more than ever, they want to feel special. This change suits our way of thinking and we have benefited from the pandemic. I finally had time again to paint in a completely decelerated way, to indulge in new inspirations. The collections that emerged during this time have once again increased our esteem in the market.  

How does one maintain the status of visionary for so long today?

Mirko: We never stop researching and tinkering, that's our secret. For me, development never has an end, it is infinite. We accept no limits and we never stop experimenting. That's my motto in life: every experience at work or in everyday life can be inspiration and I have this urge to transform every fabric and every piece I see, to make it more beautiful with colour or new treatments. Our colours and techniques are definitely one of Avant Toi's great strengths. We experiment a lot in our own dyeing facilities, which are like a laboratory from which new shades and innovative colour palettes spring every season. We also stress our materials and yarns with our own methods and processes, such as the Casentino pilling, to name just one. We invest a lot in research, which is the only way to turn visions into reality. And of course, the handmade, the Made in Italy, is an incredibly important factor. Innovation only works in combination with craftsmanship and real know-how, and we have been able to demonstrate both for 60 years. 

Avant Toi is closely connected with art. How important is art for fashion? 

Mirko: Avant Toi wouldn't exist without art. And creating fashion is also a form of art, isn't it? When I started to get interested in show painting, I never thought that art would shape the family business so much and be our key to international success. Again, my mother was great because she just let me do it and believed in the concept. Today we are often copied, but the uniqueness of our hand-mixed colours and how we apply them to fabrics remains unparalleled. We often hear: your pieces, are the real art pieces, the original, everything else is copies. We are very happy about that! 

How do you manage to outdo yourself every season and surprise the audience? 

Mirko: There is a trick, of course, but I can't reveal it (laughs). And not all beginnings in a creative process are easy. But we have perseverance and passion and yes, a lot comes naturally. 

Fiorella, Avant Toi is growing and growing. What are the next projects?  

Firorella: As my brother just said, we never pause, we always reinvent ourselves. We are constantly working on the product lines, expanding them to total looks. We have launched a sneaker collection, for example, and since 2018 we have also been developing a home collection. We are also very excited about the opening of our new shop in Milan, which shows the sneakers, the accessories and also the home line, in addition to the men's and women's collection. So we have fulfilled our dream of a concept store. In January, we will return to Pitti Uomo after a long time and are looking forward to finally meeting our customers live again. The news that makes me personally very happy: my daughter Giulia Marini is joining us. After graduating from university, she has now spent six years working for a major corporation and we are looking forward to the fresh wind she will bring with her. That means Liapull and Avant Toi are welcoming the third generation.  

Real works of art: The colour formulas are Avant Toi's greatest secret, as is the method. Only this much can be revealed: It is an artistic and artisanal process.   
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