Digerolamo: an interview with Clara Soto

Leather artistry made to wow

Sara Principi
January 5, 2017 - 15:24

It takes the careful collaboration of high quality design and craftsmanship to create a piece that is simply timeless. This is definitely the case for Italian leather artisans, Digerolamo, seen through their small but incredibly stunning line of simple silhouette handbags such as bucket and saddlebags. Each piece is made completely by hand, this expertise adding to the “wow” factor of their beauty. The exquisite leather craftsmanship can be easily appreciated through their refined but simple designs. I had the pleasure of interviewing the designer behind it all, Clara Soto, who shared with me the brilliance behind the brand.

 

Sara Principi: Clara, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your brand?
Clara Soto: I was born in Ecuador and my family is from Argentina but our origins are Italian because my great grandfather was from Southern Italy. As you can imagine most of the work back in that time was very artisan so I decided to pay homage to my family's roots and heritage by using my great grandfather’s last name—Digerolamo—for my own accessory brand.

My brand started with me discovering what I really wanted to do in my life. I tried many different things like jewelry design, photography and graphic design but bags were always something that I had in mind. It was actually a constant dream of mine. Then one day I found a (bag? Leather?) school here in Florence and I was instantly hooked. Once I finished I decided to work with leather so I opened my own little studio and it brought me to where I am today.

 

SP: Where does your inspiration come from?
CS: I’ve travelled a lot and lived in different places. As you travel, you see different shapes, images and colors that stick with you. Even if you don’t do anything right away with these aspects, they stay with you and then one day they’re ready to come out in a product. For example, most of my bags have little holes that remind me of mosaics. You can find mosaics in Africa, Egypt and the Islamic culture, but also in Salamanca, Spain. The intertwining as well, which is very architectural, is so easy to find in buildings, paintings and geometry.

In reality my inspiration doesn't come from one place, it is all about different places that have the same little structures. I’m very inspired by anything that catches my attention.

 

SP: You come from Ecuador, what made you want to stay in Florence?
CS: I’ve been all over the world: Paris, Spain, Portugal, Ecuador and Miami. I guess I was looking for somewhere I could {put down roots}.When I came to Florence there was something about the city that was very warm and even though it’s small it’s still big enough to have everything. It felt a little bit like being home and there wasn’t too big a cultural shock. You know when something feels like it’s meant to be because it’s so easy? That’s what I experienced here. It was meant to be.

 

SP: What was it like at first opening your own business here in Florence?
CS: It was a very healthy endeavor because it made me grow up. You start taking things as they are rather than as they seem. We do everything, so there’s a humbleness that comes with it. Everybody who helps you, you are so indebted to them, because they’re helping you build your dream. You really have to do things from the heart otherwise it just doesn’t work.

 

SP: What do you think about the current fashion trends in Florence and Italy?
CS: They feel tired and lacking in motivation. It feels like we don’t know what else to do. We’re reinventing the wheel, we’re not making anything new. I make bags but the thing that makes them different from other designers’ comes through my own inspiration. If you don’t allow that inspiration to come out because you’re comparing yourself to other people then you’re just reinventing what others have already made. It’s like a circle.

 

SP: When you design a handbag is there a specific feel or mood that you strive for?
CS: I like the balance between elegance and sophistication. In general, I’m very simple. I have a lot of things to do so I don’t like wearing anything too complicated. For this reason, I’m always looking for a practical bag that is able to be worn in different ways. For example, you can wear my bags as a pouch, a clutch, or use them with the handle.

When you combine elegance and sophistication you have the perfect balance between something that’s classical and nice that you can wear all the time but also something that’s fun and playful. When the design edges too much into sophistication I go in the other direction towards elegance and vice versa. I like the fact that they’re flexible and can be both {classic and boho} at the same time because I think that’s how many women are.

 

SP: Is there anyone in the fashion world who inspires you?
CS: Right now I’m very interested in anything that’s sustainable and I like brands that are trying to bring soul into the fashion world. I think to do that you need to value the people who work for you and value the ecosystem as well. The moment that broke fashion was when people stopped caring about these things; they stopped caring about telling a story because they were only thinking about money. I value and appreciate so many of the brands that give work to people in an ethical way. These are the people that move me. I respect a brand more when they realize that you don’t have to hurt anything or anybody to make a product.

 

SP: Where do you hope to take the brand in the future?
CS: I love teaching. Even if it’s not me personally, I love creating the opportunity to bring back craftsmanship because too many people get stuck in office jobs. In my studio we work with music, we laugh, we love what we do but of course we work really hard. I would love to have another studio where students can come and learn how to create the bags and reproduce the models. It should not be about big chains and selling, it should be about artisans and teaching... I’d love to give a voice to the artisans again.

 

About Fashion in Florence
In May-June 2017 ISI (International Studies Institute of Florence) will offer for the third time an innovative class in Fashion Communication for non-specialized students in design. Emphasis will be on analysis of leading fashion media critics, commentators, bloggers and influencers. During the last edition of the course students had the opportunity to visit Pitti Uomo fashion trade-fair and write their reports and blogs including one-on-one interviews with leading young figures in Fashion in Florence. Professor Emeritus Mark Bernheim headed the team, which included fashion commentator Alessandro Masetti.

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