Eight Centuries of Embroidery

A glorious display of eye-popping needlework

Turin’s famous Palazzo Madama is showcasing an extraordinary exhibition of embroidery that traces its history from the Middle Ages through to today.
Palazzo Madame TurinOriginally a castle built during the Renaissance for the royal family of Savoy, the Palazzo is named for the two madamas (regents) who lived there during the 17th century. Today, it’s Turin’s famous museum of Medieval and Renaissance art—a glorious showcase for the region’s rich legacy of artistry. 

Time-honored, creative craftsmanship is the subject of its current exhibition: LINEN, WOOL, SILK, GOLD: Eight Centuries of Embroidery, which is on show through November 16. Beginning with pieces dating back to the late 13th century, the exhibition is an homage to some of the finest, as well as the oldest, examples of ‘haute’ craftwork in the world. 

Among the many swatches of masterful embroidery, possibly the standout piece is a gown intricately set with Swarovski crystals. It looks at once to the past and the future of couture: while its classic cut is timeless, its embroidery is innovative, cleverly incorporating crystal into the fabric. Borrowed from the Gianfranco Ferré Foundation, under the maison’s ready-to-wear label Ferré, it’s a dress from the Fall 2002 collection of tapered bayadere (stripes across the width, rather than the length, of the fabric) that falls to the ankle in striations of shimmering color. Crafted from silk georgette and embroidered with Swarovski crystals, its sparkle is representative of Swarovski’s history of collaboration with the world’s leading artists and designers. 

Beginning with founder Daniel Swarovski’s relationship with Charles Frederick Worth, who clothed Queen Victoria in Swarovski-embroidered gowns at the turn of the 20th century, Swarovski’s partnerships with the likes of Jean Patou, Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, among countless other designers, led to an embroidery revolutionary. It is thanks, in part, to Swarovski’s development of groundbreaking crystals and application techniques that, just like the Gianfranco Ferré dress on show at the Palazzo Madama, crystals can now be incorporated into designs in such revolutionary ways.

Photography Graziano Ferrari Gianfranco Ferré Foundation Archive