As part of our series “The Creatives,” we talk with Susan Gravely, the creative director and founder of Vietri.
Growing up, were you creative?
My favorite childhood memory was going with Momma to the Singer sewing store and picking out a pattern to make a yarn octopus, an apron or a potholder for my best 30 friends in Rocky Mount. Then choosing colors and materials. This then evolved into setting our family table. We always had an array of choices depending upon the season and occasion.
Tell us about the trip that inspired the founding of Vietri.
In 1983, my mother invited my sister Frances and I to go to Italy on the trip she and Daddy were to take. Sadly, my father had a heart attack soon after he sold his company and their trip had been postponed. Upon discovering our first dinnerware patterns, negotiating the possibility of importing, and so on, we decided to launch this adventure called Vietri.
How has Vietri’s style changed over the years?
When we began, homes were filled with color and patterns. There was more of a country or Provençale influence. Our first collection, Campagna, was a colorful array of mix-and-match animals: fish, cows, birds, flowers, sheep, chickens and horses in red, blue, yellow, green, turquoise and orange backgrounds. In the early- to mid-1990s, we saw that homes were trending towards earth colors. In the early 2000s, creams turned to whites … and around 2010, home and fashion design became simpler and cleaner. Vietri continues to follow trends but with Italian influence. And always a story!
Do you do the sketching?
I cannot draw a straight line! We work from inspirational pictures or adapt ideas from old product lines that proved successful. I try to clearly explain my ideas so the maestro at a factory can comprehend and sketch while I explain.
What’s the creative process like?
First, we decide the trend ideas and which factories [in Italy] we think will be involved. Then we work on inspiration boards, color boards and a long and ever-changing product list which includes images. Once we begin working with a factory, we work there physically. We take [a lot] of photos and work with adjustments online. We then receive samples by boat or air, make adjustments online and then tweak again.
Right now, your inspiration is?
Looking out of my bedroom window at La Casetta, a hidden treasure in the Tuscan countryside.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Brainstorming a new idea and seeing the result with the team of artisans. Laughing, smiling and high-fiving the results. Being at a retail store in the United States and having them tell me about their trips to Italy and how it changed their lives. Having them describe what [Vietri] pieces they own and what it has meant to them or their family. Oh my, it makes me teary at times.
This spring, we are introducing an unusually large assortment as well as our first sub-brand titled viva by Vietri which targets a larger mass market. In addition, we are introducing an exciting home fragrance and body care line called Erbario Toscano. It is all-natural and comes from an incredibly chic Tuscan family with a great story.