You won’t have heard of it, but there exists an arcane and highly exclusive organisation named The Henokiens. Its less than 50 member companies each meet the exacting criteria of having operated without interruption for more than 200 years, remaining going concerns today under the stewardship of members of the founding family. The most ancient among them is the Japanese onsen ryokan Hoshi. Founded in 717 AD, it is the oldest inn in the world and incredibly, has endured for well in excess of a millennium in the same clan’s hands.
The association’s name was inspired by a character from the Bible, Henok, who walked the earth for 365 years before ascending to heaven without dying, or so the good book says. One member company, Vitale Barberis Canonico, has nearly reached the same age as The Henokiens’ namesake, with 357 years having elapsed since the firm’s establishment in 1663. This storied purveyor of the finest cloth, known to sartorial aficionados by the shorthand of ‘VBC’, is not merely the oldest wool mill in existence. It’s also one of the oldest family-run companies in operation today.
The 13th generation of descendants of the founding family now lead VBC. Creative director Francesco Barberis Canonico guides a small team of seven designers to create more than 5,000 cloth patterns and colours per year. In collaboration with fellow family members Alessandro Barberis Canonico and Lucia Bianchi Maiocchi, Francesco proudly carries on almost four centuries’ tradition at Vitale Barberis Canonico’s mill in Pratrivero, near Biella, an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Milan (a touch less by Maserati). Here, high-tech looms disgorge some 8 million metres of fabric per year — enough to make about 2.5 million suits, to put that figure in perspective.