Wardrobe: Gran Plans

<< Back to Robb Report, May 2003

A high-tech first loom resides in Gran Sasso’s massive industrial factory in the central Italian town of Sant’Egidio alla Vibrata. Once the yarns are set in place, this state-of-the-art machine can knit an entire sweater without the help of human hands. Most knitwear requires a variety of machines to create individual parts—sleeves, body, collar, cuffs—which are later joined, either by hand or another machine, to create a finished garment. But the First is, well, the first mechanized loom capable of knitting and conjoining all of the parts into a single sweater. "Soon they will come out with a machine that you put a sheep inside and a sweater comes out," jokes Pierluigi Tinelli, the company’s export manager.

Gran Sasso has embraced technology like few other knitwear makers. The 50-year-old brand, whose mantra is "quality is always fashionable," utilizes mechanized looms in nearly 95 percent of its production. In fact, the company claims its production process is so efficient that it can offer unbeatable value. "The cashmere and merino knits have incomparable styling and quality for the money," agrees Susan Berg, senior vice president of merchandising at the Richard Bennett store in Haddonfield, N.J.

What distinguishes Gran Sasso is the finishing, says Sandra Greaves, the company’s sales manager for the United States and Canada. "The yarns are processed in a way that gives them a softer, silkier hand," she explains. "So they are able to take a blend with only 10 percent cashmere and make it appear like 50 percent cashmere because of the way it is finished." While reducing the amount of cashmere in a knit ultimately lowers the cost, the addition of other plush yarns such as silk, fine-gauge Tasmanian wool, and alpaca maintains opulence. It also serves an important long-term benefit, adds Greaves. "By blending the yarns instead of using pure cashmere, the sweaters pill less and maintain their color and shape over multiple washings."

Utilizing the latest technology to position its knitwear among the world’s most sought-after brands is only one part of Gran Sasso’s master plan. This spring, to honor its 50th anniversary, the family-owned company unveiled its first full-scale sportswear line, launched exclusively in 22 Saks Fifth Avenue stores. The collection—which ranges in price from $145 to $1,300 and consists of woven sport shirts, trousers, leather, and performance outerwear—was designed by Gary Wasserman, who once created sportswear for Sulka.

"What distinguishes our sportswear is the way we’ve tried to pick up the texture and colors of our knits," says Greaves, who notes that the jackets feature a knitted inside collar band made of the company’s popular wool, silk, and cashmere blend or pure merino, while pants are made from oxford cloth with the same tweedy look as the combed wool knits. "The sweater is king," adds Greaves, "and everything else is coordinated to serve the sweaters."

Greaves adds that the company seeks to meet a growing demand for luxury sportswear that is currently being addressed by only a few brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna and Burberry. The Saks launch is only the initial phase of a much grander expansion that aims to place Gran Sasso sportswear in upscale specialty stores throughout North America over the course of the next year.

Gran Sasso, which means "big rock" in Italian, is named for central Italy’s highest peaks, snow-capped mountains through which you drive to reach the lush Abruzzo region where the four Di Stefano brothers—Nello, Eraldo, Alceo, and Francesco—founded the company in 1952. Now that the Di Stefanos have conquered the knitwear realm, they have set their sights on an even bigger summit.

Gran Sasso, 212.969.9683, www.gransasso.it

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