What can happen when a very ancient and fascinating Asian tradition meets the sensitivity of a Western professional? Borders are broken, priority dance the desire to deepen, create, spread, give beauty. This is what art has always done, in the broadest sense of the term. Milan and Shanghai have merged into MISHA, the union of the initials of these two apparently distant but in reality increasingly closer cities. The pandemic led us to associate these two geographical places for a great evil but then we know that it is the value, the ability of the human being to reveal the luminous peculiarities that each place has, to be able to win over everything. Meeting Chiara and deepening the history of MISHA was like realizing a small dream. I have been following this brand for years and it has always fascinated me for the delicacy, elegance and at the same time the force of narration that its works emanate. I won’t hold you back for a moment. I leave you to Chiara and her wonderful story that will catapult you into exotic journeys and discover a tradition of extraordinary beauty.
How did the idea of creating the MISHA brand come about?
In 2002 I practiced the profession of architect and for 5 years I lived and worked in Shanghai. During that period I discovered the excellence of the Chinese figurative pictorial tradition, a tradition unique in the world that dates back more than 200 years, when the Chinese painted for the English, American and niche markets, that is, for the mandarin houses and the Emperor. It was an unexpected encounter that fascinated me greatly. When I then returned to Italy, I kept an anchor in Shanghai and decided to change my business, not to be an architect anymore but to bring this beautiful tradition here. The name MISHA is in fact the union of the initials of Milan and Shanghai.
In Italy we are the only ones to re-propose this artistic silk processing techniques, although other countries have a tradition of trade and links with very ancient China and a tradition of wallpaper coating much more rooted than ours.
Are there traces of this tradition in Italy here?
There are historic buildings in Piedmont that still have coatings in Chinoiserie, which began to spread as an interpretation and copy of originals of Chinese artifacts that arrived in Europe with the first commercial exchanges; among these there were precious ceramics and silks. The cards in Chinoiserie represented imaginary natures, with birds, flowers and plants, creating real “rooms of wonders” also known as Wunderkammer.
So today we have a return to the dream room?
Yes. There you can have a dimension where you take nature or travel within the space. The manufacture is wonderful and the feeling you feel in being in a space where you are surrounded by floral elements is very reassuring. The natural fabric, with very rich and refined designs, gives a very pleasant feeling. Starting from this assumption, from this first love that I had towards this technique, then I started to create a collection with the support of some Italian and foreign artists.
In this ancient silk processing, the processes, pigments, glues are all natural. I liked the idea of returning to these ancient traditions with very long but natural processes.
What are your collections inspired by?
The first in the Chinoiserie, ancient drawings of China that represented imaginary natures, with birds, flowers and plants, as if to sanction man’s eternal need to live in relation to nature. Then we created the Asia collection, which always contains drawings of naturalistic inspiration but more modern, close to Japan, with asymmetrical compositions. In the third collection, on the other hand, we talk about nature and imaginary journeys, a return to the West through the ancient trade routes that linked it to the East. We have recreated compositions with panoramic views whose panels are never the same: they are like frescoes that together create a story: the Silk Road, which traces the ancient streets of Marco Polo from Venice to Xian; the Via delle Spezie, which resumes the Portuguese’s travels through Brazil and Africa to Indonesia to recover valuable spices such as cocoa and pepper; the Via del Tè, which pushed the English and Portuguese to go as far as Vietnam and China to find the best tea leaves; the Via dell’Ambra, which crossed the regions of the lakes and large forests up to Russia and the Via dell’Incenso, along the paths of the caravanserais, in the fertile region of Mesopotamia up to ancient Persia.
We created this collection to retrace the emotion of traveling in the domestic space, which at this moment seems very current to me. When you can’t travel, you can take it within the walls of your home thanks to these coatings depicting exotic worlds.
The latest collection was also created with a different technique, that of eighteenth-century landscape painting, a three-dimensional, more European technique. Each collection requires a long process. For each of them there are 30 designs all handmade and made for each order as unique pieces by the hands of skilled craftsmen.
How is this ancient craftsmanship done?
Silk is processed with natural processes and glues that give it a rigid surface suitable for receiving color.
Once painted, it is laminated to the paper and dried. The surface remains alive, elastic and being natural reveals a great beauty. We use many varieties of silk as supports for our paintings: pure silk, which is very smooth and thin; dupion silk, more material; we have a bright and streaked organza silk, very delicate, and we have double silks coupled with metal sheets, with a “shiny” effect, very sparkling. Then we work on metallic leaves with a reflective effect. Our handcrafted natural fiber wallpapers are also part of our solid colors collections.
Are there any projects you have recently carried out?
We worked with Cristina Celestino, a young designer, to set up the Caffè Concerto Cucchi, an ancient pastry shop in Corso Genova in Milan. Beyond our designs and our way of interpreting a tradition, it was important for us to work with the eye of a designer who looked at all this with her contemporary style. The first design he made was called Oasis and some subjects were embroidered with silk. The craftsmen have used thick threads, when instead usually for this type of technique they use very thin threads, with very full backgrounds that play on shades to give a three-dimensional effect.
How do you think people can sensitize the taste of wallpaper?
Membership or not is a cultural fact, which varies from country to country and also depends on climatic factors. In Mediterranean countries stucco and marmorino were often used to decorate the walls, while in northern Europe the culture of wallpapers has a great tradition, for example in Great Britain with the papers designed by William Morris.
After years of “white walls” and minimalism, the need to customize the walls and decorate them, enrich them, has returned.
Our designs remain “timeless”, they are a classic, which is thought to resist the change in fashions, with designs that are very different from each other and also veer towards many novelties.
How does Chinese craftsmanship stand out?
China has a deeply rooted artisan history which is not very evident. Fortunately, there are still small businesses that try to preserve local craftsmanship: the processing of silk, porcelain and embroidery.
It is said that the Chinese brought a wonderful hand-embroidered silk cape as a gift to Queen Victoria and that the great European porcelain manufactures, famous those of Sevres and Limoges, tried for years to reproduce the dough of the Chinese porcelain that were already praised by Marco Polo as the most beautiful ever seen.
I was lucky enough to get in touch with this artisan world in the process of extinction, underground but sophisticated, and to promote it through my eyes here in the West.
How is your relationship with the craftsmen?
We have been in daily relationship for 12 years, they are wonderful people. We trusted them and they reciprocated by giving us just as much, to create continuous new projects together: this is the strength of our company. With the knowledge of Chinese culture, personal relationships have also grown and have been a wonderful discovery. Today not only do we work with the Chinese but we are distributed in China by Harvest / Montigny, a company in great development in the world of Chinese design.