The buildings of the city of Prato and the surrounding area only partially reveal the complexity of their interiors.
Long series of warehouse buildings, inherited from a past focused on heavy industry, host a textile business which still survives in a new, reinvigorated Chinese-driven version. The articulated reality which lies behind apparently run-down facades, closed doors, and infrequent, darkened signs can be perceived only by an attentive passerby. These seemingly somnolent buildings reveal themselves as reverberant the moment one approaches them.
The repetitive, constant sound of sewing machines echoes, night and day, as the large Chinese community in Prato plays its role in a globalized market of clothes design, production, and sale from these modest local units. Yet, there is one day when the sewing machines stop, the community takes a break from the incessant production process, and the world-famous Chinese dragon runs through the streets of the historic city center, and then through the surrounding industrial towns. A red carpet is placed outside each warehouse, and a small altar with offerings of food is set up inside.
Finally, millions of clothing items, only partially hidden by large tarpaulins, pop-up. The noise is overwhelming when long lines of firecrackers and fireworks explode in the daytime sky.
Following the path of the dragon, you can actually get a sense of the dimensions of the productive area, which starts in the city center and extends to its periphery and to the small towns surrounding Prato: Cantagallo, Carmignano, Montemurlo, and Poggio a Caiano, among others. During the Chinese New Year, a completely closed territory is suddenly revealed and accessible, offering a landscape of fireworks, festivities, and one million clothing items open to the city and its surroundings. The celebration signals a break in the tensions that result from the still extremely problematic process of integration between the Chinese and Italian communities.
All the actors and institutions are there to collaborate: mayors, monks, businessmen, and workers.
Each of them has a clear role in the organization, and the feast is, ostensibly for a moment, part of the Pratese calendar at large. Rather than peaceful, the atmosphere
is powerful and explosive.
The crisis of the Italian textile market has found the perfect opportunity for continuity with the new Chinese “pronto-moda” method of production. In a delicate stasis, the Chinese presence holds the future of the textile past.
Prato offers the basic infrastructure needed to operate within the logics of the empire: a bunch of run-down factories, the proximity of traditional local manufacturing skills, and a cheap labor force. Together with these, the cultural network revealed by the Chinese New Year makes possible the comforting “Made in Italy” tag on clothes: a paradoxical manifestation of identity.