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Few fashion accessories appeal to minimalists and lovers of ornament alike. But Dianora Salviati's scarves convey status with a subtle whisper. Even folded on a boutique shelf, these diaphanous, generously sized rectangles of handloomed cashmere, silk, or linen are compelling enough to lure the diehards who ordinarily shun accessories.
"That's what happened to me," reports Linda Dresner, whose streamlined stores in New York and Michigan are stringently edited along the lines of Dresner's own no-frills personal style. "Frankly, I detest what we think of as scarves," she adds. "I've always thought of them as quite . . . Madame. But I wear Dianora's shawls because they feel and look young and have a modern sensibility."
They're also so lightweight as to make pashmina wraps seem oppressive. Cover your eyes with one of Salviati's loosely woven marvels and you can see right through it; yet these scarves are functional and versatile. In the cold they ward off chills; in the tropics they double as exquisite pareos. The same shawl can look equally right with blue jeans or black tie. Little wonder customers at such upscale stores as Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys, Neiman Marcus, and Wilkes Bashford collect them in multiples: One, Salviati says, "buys ten or fifteen every season."
This is no boast but an expression of surprise spoken with unusual modesty for an in-demand fashion designer. Perhaps that's because the woman who creates these stylish must-haves didn't train for her vocation. A sportif nomad who enjoys scuba diving and was once on Italy's national swim team, Salviati studied law and political science. "Later, I became a journalist writing about style and interior design," she says. "But I've always had a passion for fabric, pattern, and color."
That passion came early in life, as did her love of plants and flowers: Salviati names her scarves after the flora that thrive outside Rome in the magnificent gardens of her ancestral home, created by legendary landscape designer Russell Page.
Salviati's other love, travel, allows her to indulge in color and pattern from all over the globe. "I've been to India many times," she says. "It's an incredible world of fabric and hue." Inspired by traditional and beautifully crafted materials, Salviati opted to create her own, launching her business four years ago.
The super-saturated colors of India and Morocco inform Salviati's solid-color scarves, in dazzling jewel tones such as orange, emerald, and red. These have obvious appeal for minimalists like Salviati herself, who looks devastating in a white shirt, khakis, and no makeup. Her signature items are sheer neutral glamour: a solid silk-canvas mélange with the no-nonsense air of menswear (Salviati also produces a men's collection) and a linen-silk muffler that's half black, half brown-and-gray striped, "to give the impression you're wearing two scarves," she says, "without the cumbersome weight."
Those who delight in adornment gravitate to Salviati's more decorative designs: enhanced with silken embroidery, delicately fringed with seashells or glass beads, dusted with paillettes describing flowers and dragonflies, or patterned with batik and tie-dye. All manage to capture the essence of Bohemian chic without the remotest whiff of hippie-dippyness.
The scarves' extraordinary weightlessness is achieved by practitioners of a dying art: weavers shuttling wooden looms at a workshop outside Milan that has been in business for more than four centuries. It takes, Salviati explains, five or six hours to weave just one scarf.
Obviously, these artisanal scarves are vital wearable links with history. "Maybe," Salviati says, dismissing that notion with the same elegant understatement embodied by her designs. "It's just wonderful to make things that people can enjoy wearing every day."
Women's scarves: $130-$900; men's, $140-$400. For information: 212-249-7514.