From cork to couture
A designer obtains beautiful non-woven fabrics from an unlikely source.
THERE was plenty of cork-popping at the wedding of Anna Grindi’s daughter in Tempio Pausania, in northern Sardinia, Italy, 10 years ago. In fact, the cork stole the show from the wine. Not only because Cork oaks abound in the surrounding Gallura region, their brownish-orange midriffs a sign of the regular harvesting still essential to the local economy. But also because Rossana, the bride, wore a wedding gown made of cork.
Anna Grindi had put her all into that dress. First, in her role as a skilled couturière with many customers among the international elite who vacation on the Costa Smeralda. But, more importantly, because she had long believed it should be possible to obtain beautiful non-woven fabrics from cork. And this was a chance to go public with what she’d discovered after more than a decade of testing and experimentation.
“Cork is an amazing natural material, impermeable to liquids and gas, and with great thermal qualities,” Grindi said. “But it has one drawback: small quantities of reddish sand which make the surface rough and discontinuous.” Her quest, she said, had been to find “a simple, non-invasive way of eliminating those impurities.”
She started experimenting with cork in the late 90s and her approach was hands-on and empirical; her laboratory, the kitchen. At night, when her husband and daughter had gone to bed, she tested various ingredients of natural origins, adding them to the cork in a pressure cooker. (She would not reveal the exact components she used.)
“My paradigm was my own experience trying to smooth out an unruly head of curly hair,” she said. “That set me thinking about what might work with cork. In the end I got it right. It was 2am, and I woke up my husband to tell him.”
Grindi made her discovery in 2000, at a time when Italians had to register with the Italian patent office before applying for an inter- national patent. After registering a false recipe locally (Grindi said she didn’t trust the regional system to protect her formula) she registered the true version with the European patent office in Munich.
With the patent in place, she decided it was time to transform her dressmakers atelier in central Tempio Pausania into the flagship store for her new venture: Suberis, named for the Latin term for Cork oaks, Quercus suber.
The store opened in 2007, and now displays not only garments made with cork, but also bags, shoes, upholstery fabrics, delicate