When Ida Corti was a little girl, her mother – the founder of the eponymous Milanese Home Textiles and Fashion Emporium Lisa Corti – dressed her in her own kaftans with clean lines and kaleidoscopic prints. These hand-printed Indian cotton creations were a far cry from her ruffled and embroidered confections. toddler contemporaries. “I remember being at a birthday party when I was six and everyone was wearing these huge flower dresses,” says Ida, now 59. “I knew I was standing out, but I quickly realized that was an advantage.”
Today, the two friendly but formidable women sit side by side in the serene Porta Venezia apartment that Lisa, 82, has called home since 2018. Throughout there are hints of the boldly graphic textiles that she and his team have continued to conjure up for nearly 60 years, with Ida as general manager for 14 years.
Splitting the business equally between interiors and fashion from the start, Lisa was instrumental in developing the concept of the lifestyle brand that has become the norm. Today, the offer is available in table linen, cushions, fabrics and summer clothing for women and men. “There is no separation between home and wardrobe,” says Ida. “The same pattern is applied to a caftan, a chair, a curtain.”
In keeping with the growing intersection between fashion and interiors, over the past five years Corti linens have aligned with the table decor trend that sees dinner tables transformed into canvases. Her best-selling 180 x 270 cm floral tablecloths are available from €190 and adorn all tables, from Inès de la Fressange to Anna Wintour, who has made Lisa Corti’s Via Lecco boutique her favorite Milanese shopping spot.
Along with having the power to uplift, Lisa’s designs have a wonderfully liberal, anything goes philosophy. Textiles also serve as stylish bedspreads, tablecloths, wall hangings or covers for unsightly chairs and sofas, making them a decorative foil for renters and renovators. Perhaps its greatest strength was staying true to its aesthetic, even throughout what Ida calls “the beige and gray years” of the 1990s.
“She has created her own visual language that communicates in any context – from an old villa to a modernist interior,” says Ida. “She never tried to please everyone.” For Lisa, color has always been instinctive, emotive – and the key to a happy home.
Lisa’s personal story is as rich as the table textiles that have become a stealth fashion staple. Born in Eritrea, East Africa, to working-class Italian parents, Corti enjoyed a happy childhood in freedom. However, that all changed when she was sent, at the age of nine, to a strict convent school, open seven days a week, where students were only allowed 30 minutes a day to chat and talk. one outing per month.
This did not prevent 16-year-old Lisa from meeting Neno Corti di Santo Stefano Belbo, the youngest son of an Italian aristocratic family, whose passion for collecting ceramics and antiques led him to travel on cargo ships to China, India and, on the way home, to Eritrea. The couple married and moved to Milan, where Lisa, now 18, locked up in the convent for nearly a decade, found herself alienated and estranged. “It was a complete shock for her,” her daughter says.
But she had her great beauty. “She was the original influencer,” Ida explains. “All the workshops wanted her to be seen in their clothes.” Italian photographer Ugo Mulas photographed her as Valentino reclining on a sculpture by Henry Moore in the gardens of Villar Perosa, west of Turin, for Vogue, her long hair cascading as she directed her feline gaze to the ‘camera. Legendary modeling agent Eileen Ford tried, but failed, to sign her.
Drawing on the creativity of his childhood became a way of forging his own identity in this conservative Milanese society. Lisa’s first memory is of seeing the huge rolls of shiny cotton voile fabrics piled up in the local Eritrean market. These iridescent Indian fabrics, known as “mezzero” (linen), then formed the basis of his very first piece – a vibrant tapestry-style bedspread with a concentric design within a solid frame. Soon after, Lisa spotted hand-blocked imported fabrics from India in a Milan department store and made kaftans out of them. The response was instantaneous. The Italian fashion press got hold of her first collection, and the Milanese socialite demanded to wear his creations.
“People were curious about this beautiful underdog who didn’t play bridge or go to parties like the other ladies,” Ida says. Instead, Lisa spent her days sitting down with the local seamstress to bring her unconventional designs to life. Although in her own secluded world, she was in tune with the new wave of 1960s fashion. When Elio Fiorucci opened his first store in 1967, he commissioned Corti to create a rainbow collection. sky of caftans that adorned the windows, thus becoming its first retailer; director Michelangelo Antonioni was also in love, throwing a party where everyone was dressed in Corti’s clothes.
Growing up, Ida was proud of her young mother, but she was a rebellious teenager. At 20, she swapped Milan for a university in Wales before moving to New York, then Rome, to immerse herself in the film industry, working on titles with the likes of Jane Campion. After starting a family, she dabbled in the world of commercials, but as her mother grew older, the time seemed right for her to officially join the company and become CEO in 2008. Today, her film life past and his study of 15th century Italian art at La Sapienza University in Rome, informs the collections, bringing depth and breadth to the founding vision.
“My mother is always the creative soul,” says Ida, who is also a painter. “She is the source of inspiration that we all feed on.” Corti senior continues to sketch out designs and ideas from his home studio every day, while thankfully being free from the pressure of deadlines and production schedules with Ida at the helm.
Taking visual cues from anything from film to tapestry to friends’ homes, Lisa always draws her designs by hand, cutting and gluing, layering patterns and playing with shapes and scales on the photocopier to form a collage. The finished shape is often reminiscent of a mandala. “She couldn’t not create,” says her daughter. Even today, Lisa has a slim, neatly dressed figure with coral-colored nails.
As the brand nears its 60th anniversary next year, there are collaborations — and more menswear — to look forward to. It’s also an emotional moment: Lisa will leave her position as artistic director, leaving her daughter to take her place.
Ida inherits a healthy business. After slow and steady progress since the brand was founded in 1963, over the past five years the company has seen an explosion in sales. Since 2017, turnover has more than doubled. In 2018, the company opened up to two investors, Elena Accornero and Lisa Guittard, who act operationally as CFO and CMO. Together they expanded the wholesale offering by 30% to 110 retailers, including Matches Fashion and Liberty.
“People suddenly rediscovered the importance of having color and pattern in their homes,” Ida says of growing up. When the world shut down in the spring of 2020, the Cortis were ready, having focused on streamlining their digital offering in previous years. Although the company works with influencers on an occasional basis, most relationships start organically with so-called brand friends who start as customers.
Whether embellished with painterly florals, leopard prints, graphic stripes or, as is often the case, a combination of all three, these textiles have a harmony that continues to capture the contemporary mood. This very particular and eternally positive aesthetic seems to say: whatever happens outside, when you are at home with Lisa Corti, the future is bright.
Check out our latest stories first – follow @financialtimesfashion on Instagram