An Interview with Giorgio Vannini

Its good to change and take risks

Helen Glave
March 20, 2008

Open Fodor's selective travel guide to Florence at the shopping section and you will find an entry urging you to visit Giorgio Vannini's showroom and take home a custom-made dress or suit. But the award-winning stylist needs no advertising. A graduate of the famed Marangoni Institute for fashion design, he has been catering for a loyal international clientele for over 20 years. He has now turned his talents to a new project, designing the costumes for the Florence International Theatre Company's forthcoming production of Betrayal, by Harold Pinter. The Florentine's Helen Glave spoke to him in his shop and showroom in Borgo SS. Apostoli.


What do your customers look for?


All my customers are women who distinguish between fashion and elegance. Women who want to find a trendy item go elsewhere. Those who come to me are looking for something classic, with a beautiful cut and gorgeous material but nothing too flashy. They want to look good without being spotted a mile off. Some customers see one of my prêt-a-porter items and want to adapt it to personal taste. But there are others with whom I work to create something special.


What gives you the most satisfaction in what you do?


I love working with clients who normally have difficulty finding something to wear. Maybe they're overweight, with a less-than-perfect figure. When they're happy with what I make for them and they receive compliments for their outfit, that is definitely more satisfying than dressing someone with an average figure who can wear virtually anything. I want to make those women who are more ‘difficult' physical types look like a million dollars.


How has demand changed over the last 20 years?


It has changed in the sense that women used to keep a few elegant items for one or two occasions. Now women want to get a lot of wear out of a single outfit. They want something more versatile, like an elegant jacket that can be worn with jeans. Maybe it's because they just don't have the money to spend on something they'll wear only once.


On a scale from 1 to 10 for elegance, where would you place Florentines?


I'd give them 5. Women from Milan are smarter in a fashion-conscious way. Women from Rome are just plain elegant. And a well-dressed Neapolitan beats them all.


Do you think there's a future for the kind of work you do?


There is no shortage of stylists, but the problem is that there's nobody to do the sewing. If I were starting out today, I'd want to learn to cut a pattern and sew-what can be more satisfying than to create an outfit from scratch, just exactly as you want it? That's what the young people in the business should be doing now. Instead, they all want to be stylists.


There is still demand for what I do, even, increasingly, among younger women, those in their forties. If they pay a lot of money for an outfit, they don't want to turn up at a function and find someone else wearing the same thing.


I think there will be a return to the sartoria. Prêt-a-porter's had its day, and I think Florence will go back to the way it was in the 50s and 60s, when tailors and dressmakers made their own collections.  


Tell us about your new venture with the Florence International Theatre Company.


I  accepted the invitation to design the costumes for this play because I found the idea stimulating. It's good to change and take risks. I read the script and it seemed like something I could do. I am not, I hasten to add, a costume designer. If someone had asked me to design for Elizabeth, I'd have said no. That requires quite a different experience. But this play is set in the 70s; it's a period I know and can design for. And then there are other skills to learn, like what works on stage and what doesn't.


Will you be seeking to enhance the actors or the characters in the play?


My costumes will be designed with the characters in mind. The actors have to forget who they are and bring out the persona of the characters, and I have to do the same. Theatre is not a fashion runway. This is a play about everyday problems, with dialogue that everyone can relate to. The magical element will be provided by the acting, the costumes and the sets.


I will be creating the costumes and Florence International Theatre Company's Creative Campus student, Meredith Wilcox, will be attending to the technical side of things: what colours are OK under the lights, making sure there are not too many buttons for quick changes, that sort of thing.


And other plans for the future?


Well, who knows? Following this play I may do another. And I do have a dream. I'd really like to be the personal stylist of someone famous and important, helping her with the events in her diary, deciding what she should wear, choosing the right accessories. That's my dream for the future!



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