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Etro was founded in 1968 by Gerolamo "Gimmo" Etro as a textile design company. The main stylistic driver for Etro over its first decades was the paisley pattern, and variations on this theme. The company's headquarters is located in Milan on Via Spartaco, and was refurbished in 1977. The headquarters includes textile art archived in their in-house library. Future textiles head Jacopo Etro later commented on this period, stating that he had started to visit the archive when he was a child, spending many hours copying the fabric designs and experimenting with his own creative style. After a trip to India made by Etro executives, the furnishing textiles line made its debut in 1981. The "swirling" paisley design found on this trip is now "synonymous" with the label according to Elle Magazine.
The company began producing leather goods in 1984, crafted from Paisley Jacquard fabrics. Etro then began its home collection in 1985. The Fragrances collection was launched in 1989, making its debut in the Milanese Fragrances flagship boutique, located on Via Verri. More recent additions of the line include Rajasthan and Jacquard. Etro's first fashion show at Milan Fashion Week was held in 1996. The company began sales by direct-mail through inserts in The New York Times starting in 1999, and Etro began selling its clothing online in addition to in retail stores in 2013. In 2014, a monograph on the company's history entitled Etro was published by Rizzoli publishing house.
Etro is identified primarily with Gimmo (born Gerolamo), the founder, however the company is managed by his four children. Kean Etro is the creative director of the Etro Man collections, sometimes inspired by his travels and antique book collection. He joined the family business in 1986 as a digital intern. In 1990 he designed his first menswear collection, and in 1996 he produced a fashion show focused on the concept of "New Tradition". Veronica Etro is the creative director of the Etro Woman collections. She unveiled her first womenswear collection in 2000. Jacopo Etro has been working for the family business since 1982, eventually becoming the Creative Director of the Etro Accessories, Leather, Home and Textile collections, as well as Head of Communication. In 2010, he was also invited to sit on the board of the Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italiana as the delegate for the Italian textile industry. Ippolito Etro joined the company in 1991, overseeing the Administration Department before his promotion to General Director. He was quoted by The New York Times stating: "My father always told us that we could do what we wanted in life. But he said, 'If you work here, you have to start from scratch'".
The menswear collection has been presented through conceptual catwalk shows, including the 2003 Autumn/Winter collection that had guests ride on a 1937 steam train through urban Milan, with the models walking through the cabins. Other pieces have included "cooked" shirts, where the pieces are dyed with berries or other food-stuffs in order to produce their intended designs.
The womenswear line was launched in 1991. For the 2016 Spring/Summer womenswear collection presented in Milan, Angelo Flaccavento wrote that it "show[ed] off the savoir-faire of her ateliers", using a ballerina-lingerie theme. He wrote further of the lighter direction the collection moved in from previous seasons that "Everything had a charming, undone quality that looked appealing and felt new". The New York Times called the collection an "ode to turn-of-the-century femininity", also mentioning the strong influence of dance throughout the show.
The company also has a line of fragrances, some using the theme of "ancient perfumery". Other collections include toiletries, leathergoods, travel accessories, eyewear, footwear, jewelry, and home furnishings. In 2014, the company opened its first Etro Home store in Milan during the Salone del Mobile.
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