Italians do it better. And not just pasta and tomato sauce—we’re talking fashion. Perhaps that’s why it was such a natural partnership when, earlier this year, the Council of Fashion Designers of America announced that it was partnering with the world-renowned textiles tradeshow Milano Unica to create The Fabric Program, a program organized to give designers first-hand experience working with Italian mills and help raise awareness for “Made In Italy” fabrics and techniques.

For this inaugural installment of the program, three designers were selected to tour the iconic Milanese textile mills. Cult-favorite knitwear brand Orley was selected as the menswear representative, the ultra-feminine Ryan Roche was chosen as the womenswear participant, and accessories designer Gigi Burris rounded out the group. The designers not only got to see the mills in person and view the fabrics that are made there, but also got to work directly with mills to create their own fabrics to use in their Spring 2017 collections. In addition to walking the runways during New York Fashion Week, the fabrics created will also be displayed at Milano Unica in a dedicated installation.

“We already produce almost the entirety of the collection in Italy and work almost exclusively with Italian mills, so this really allows us to expand on the vocabulary of the brand as it already exists,”said Alex Orley, who runs Orley along with his brother Matthew and sister-in-law Samantha. “There wasn’t a single mill that we met with that didn’t have something unique to offer in terms of the look and development of the collection.”

The fabrics on display wowed all the designers, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise. “The tour we organized here in Italy represented a unique opportunity to show the designers the best of Italian craftsmanship,” said Ercole Botto Poala, president of Milano Unica. “For the mills, the visit represented the chance to share their incredible heritage and technical knowledge, and the designers experienced the excellence of the fabrics and touched first-hand the innovations developed inside the mills.”

Orley invited Barneys along by documenting the trip and the variety of the mills and fabrics they experienced for our latest Travel Diary. Read on for Alex’s take on the adventure, and keep your eyes peeled for the results of their efforts hitting the catwalk come September.

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“The number of yarn dyes at the Remmert factory was astounding.”

“This is a grosgrain loom being threaded at the Remmert mill. Setting this up can take hours, as each of the yarns is threaded by hand.”

Samantha Orley, Alex’s sister-in-law and another one-third of the founding design team, takes it all in at one of Milan’s heritage fabric mills.

“A jacquard loom at Colombo weaving a detailed geometric jacquard. You can see the finished pattern in the fabric at the bottom.”

“The beautiful Larusmiani Mill in the center of Milan.”

“As we continued the tour, we paused for a quick stop at the top of the Biella tram and enjoyed lunch overlooking the city.”

“Spools of thread in Yves Klein Blue [named for the French artist who pioneered this particular shade and used it extensively throughout his career] ready to be woven into shirting at Albini.”

Individual threads being prepared for a warp at Albini.

“Here, utility-weight stripes are being loomed.  The red yarn guide is moving so fast that you can’t see it beyond a red blur.”

“For a sense of the process, the first photo shows yarns being loomed for the warp of a plaid, and the second is the actual plaid as it comes out of the loom and gets trimmed.”

“From the Canclini shirting archive, books of madras swatches ranging from 1908 to 1912.”

“A quick stop at Bar Luce at the Prada Foundation—the most incredible museum in Milan, and definitely the best place for people watching.”

“This was taken at the flower market during our last evening in Milan. A great way to end an incredible trip.”

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