As an avid second-hand shopper for more than 20 years, I have found my fair share of amazing pieces. Still, I have my favorites. This silk-cashmere, Hermés shawl is one of my greatest buys of all time.
I found it at a secondhand, warehouse sale, where everything was in chaos and the bins were overflowing. This particular warehouse (which is now unfortunately closed) was near my hometown in Oregon. I went there 2x a week during college, to wander and clear my brain and hunt for additions to my costume and vintage collection. I knew the in's and out's of this shop. I reached into the scarf section and knew to look underneath- because the heaviest and highest quality fabrics often sink to the bottom. I could feel the cashmere before I saw the Hermés symbol.
The Hermés Marine Naive scarf depicts the life of Henry F. Smith, an English sailor in 1880, was created in 1992 and never re-issued. Big ships sail an Impressionistic sea in lovely colors. Jet black border adds drama to these beautiful scenes.
It is 65% Cashmere and 35% silk, and an absolute pleasure to touch.
This shawl is 140 cm x 140 cm and is the perfect wrap to take on flights and road trips. A little research on the item revealed its $1,200 original price tag .This Marin Naive pattern was designed by Philippe Dumas and is mainly khaki and black in color with painterly depictions of ships to the center. It is marked, “Henry F. Smith Sailor” on a banner within the pattern, “Hermès” on the upper right and “PhD”as the designers signature. The edges are rolled and hand-stitched.
Recently, I have framed this massive piece, and it is now on display at Sala1
in Rome, Italy. From the floor of a warehouse, to the wall of an art gallery .... a fabulous find deserves to be celebrated.
Born in Peru, Renata was just a few months old, when Rosa, her Great-Aunt (and namesake) passed away. This woman was to be her ghost, her Fairy Godmother, her Muse. Rosa was a designer, tailor and seamstress who knew of her connection with Renata before anyone else. And so, bestowed an entire handmade wardrobe to Renata, with special instructions to change her clothes three times a day.
When Rosa died she left behind two sisters who invested enormous amount of time and energy in teaching Renata (and her two younger sisters) the mythologies and skills that had characterized her Aunt's creations. Renata grew up feeling her Great Aunt's presence as a source of strength and inspiration, giving her an extra armor in her daily life, and an eye for beauty.
The legend of her Aunt's life was a frequently told tale.
When Rosa was a young girl, her own Aunt, a shaman arrived spontaneously to there home, predicting 'challenging times ahead'. It seemed a move to the city of Lima would soon displace the family and the inquisitive Rosa wanted to know if she would be happy in their new city.
“Do not worry little Rosita, take this sewing needle, it will bring you luck”, her Aunt had said.
The family did in fact leave their home to relocate in Lima, and began all over again.
Despite the uprooting and the difficulties of immigration, by the 1960's Rosa had become a tailor and also proved herself quite useful in handling the families finances. So, after many years of building and rebuilding, the family was able to live out the dream of buying a home in the city center of Lima. The family home and Rosa's atelier would be located on the same street of Cornelio Borda. It was in her atelier where she sold her handmade crafts (including Peruvian sewing, cross stitching and embroidery) that Rosa would create beautiful things until her very last day.
This house on Cornelio Borda Street is where Renata would spend her childhood, and every detail of it permeates her memories: Northern Peruvian cooking in the kitchen, family stories and Moche and Inca Warrior legends were told within it's walls. Rosa's personal style was impossible to escape. Gold and silver detailing was imperative, which in Peruvian culture represents the sweat of the sun and the tears of the moon. The mythology of condors for their size, jaguars for their strength, and spiders for their cleverness were tightly woven into the tales and the tapestries. There were monograms on every textile, handmade carpets and colorful uniforms for every staff member. Each detail held meaning, every textile was of the utmost quality. The sharing of common threads had created a close knit sanctuary for the entire family.
While her hours at Cornelio Borda involved falling in love with her heritage, Renata's time at school and with her parents, exposed her to the world at large. Her Mother and Father were opposites in many ways, but their ultimate mindset was the same: they wanted their children to love their home country and also see the big world beyond it. When they traveled, her mother would dress her up and take her for tea and her father would take her to museums. This exposed Renata to culture and wanderlust. Further curiousness resulted from her schooling, which incorporated an exchange program with Germany, sending Renata abroad for 2-3 months each school year.
She carefully and patiently cultivated her skills and curiosity throughout her young life. All the while, imagining that her 18th birthday would be especially significant, her time of transformation. In fact she spent her 18th birthday on an airplane headed to Germany. The idea was to spend just 5 years, finishing her studies (economics and politics) and then return home. However, after her schooling, she began working as an International Banking Consultant throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. Sporadically, she would take the time to dip her toe into artistic classes she saw as merely a 'hobby'.
Fortuitously, a banking project brought Renata back to Lima just a few years ago. Knowing that her family intended to sell her Great Aunt's home on Cornelio Borda, she wanted to stay there, one last time. In her dreams that night, Renata was visited by Rosa, who was simply smiling at her from the patio. The next morning Rosa's sister gave Renata her Great-Aunt's diary with her lucky needle inside, her sewing machine and a piece of luggage filled with beautiful fabric and leather samples. It was if Rosa was saying, " Do not worry Renata, take this sewing needle. It will bring you luck". This auspicious coming home was the sign that Renata needed to take a leap of faith. It was time to dedicate herself fully to the craftsmanship that she had inherited, to design the accessories her muse had inspired.
Renata focused on perfecting her skills through a variety of courses in London and Hamburg and finally received her Masters Degree in Fashion Design in Rome. In 2016, 50 years after her great Aunt had opened her Atelier in Lima, Peru, Renata restarted the company in Rome, Italy under the same name: Cornelio Borda.
Renata's passion and patience have weaved a beautiful web. The magic of Peru and the glamour of Italy seem to be intertwining as the horizontal and vertical threads of a fascinating tapestry. Her shoes and bags are produced in the Marché region of Italy by some of the finest crafts people in the world. And Renata is there to manage each and every detail with the help of Rosa's eye for quality. The brand continues to grow and in 2018 will have additional projects with Latin American artisans.
Holding Renata's creations in my hand, the mythologies become indispensable. Decorated with the sweat of the sun and the tears of the moon, we see her heritage and hard work come to life. Furthermore, if you look closely there is often a common theme of a tiny spider added to many of her designs. The symbol of the spider seems perfectly fitting for Renata and her products. In the magic of Peruvian mythology the spider is a clever creature, knowing when to hide and when to appear, when to work and when to play. Coupled with persistence and impeccable timing this Spider Woman is finally living her purpose.
If you happen to be in Rome, Italy, come in and see some of Renata's beautiful work in person. My exhibition 'La Bella Figura' is open at Sala1 through November 8th (recently extended), Tuesday through Saturday 4:30-7:30 and features shoes from Cornelio Borda.
La Bella Figura: Unlocking Sustainable Fashion in the Eternal City
From september 14th to october 26th
Sala 1, piazza di Porta San Giovanni 10, Roma
This summer, the gallery will open its doors to the public for a sustainable fashion collection featuring designs by stylist Desiree Townley, tailored by The Sewing Cooperative.
This initiative builds on Sala 1’s previous exhibitions Ripensare la materia exploring the cycles of waste, and Pop-Up Lab with Refugee Tailors, while looking more closely at the relationship of Fashion to the environment and the society around us.
This collection of ethically sourced, handmade, and found object items, highlights the resources for maintaining La Bella Figura while limiting your environmental impact and supporting artisanal craftsmanship. Each piece, or scene, is inspired by Rome’s hidden narratives, and highlights unexpected details through clothing, accessories, and related objects. During their visit, the public will have the opportunity to discover the stories of artisans working in Rome, to touch and explore fibers and textures, and finally, to take away tools which they can use to repurpose, reshape, and source greener fashion in Rome.
Desiree Townley is an Eco-conscious Stylist and Personal Shopper specializing in vintage and antiques. She works with clients to streamline their wardrobe, dress for their lifestyle and source from local artisans.
The Sewing Cooperative is a social business founded in 2016 by Lydia Witt, a young dressmaker/designer from New York. Through artisanal products and made to measure clothing, The Sewing Cooperative seeks to promote the social and labor integration of refugees and immigrants by recognizing the tailoring skills they bring with them, and helping adapt them to their new context and home.
During this project, Sala 1 will host several interactive workshops and film screenings to accompany the overall theme of the initiative: embracing socially responsible, sustainable, and artisanal alternatives to fast fashion. One of a kind pieces, handmade clothing and accessories will be available to the public throughout the exhibition.
1,556 days ago (on May 2, 2014) I lost my fitted bedsheet to the playful winds of Rome.
- tried to wrestle the elastic edge from the metal torture chamber with a cornucopia of objects, including a broom
- watched various wildlife communities take temporary sanctuary within the delicate folds
- bubbled-over with anxiety during every thunderstorm that would inevitably transform my sheet into a weapon, threatening the lives of the elderly pedestrians , six levels below
Month by month, year by year no matter how hard the Roman winds blow, they merely tighten the grip of my defiant sheet.
I only wish I could remember where I purchased THE UNBREAKABLE BROWN BED SHEET, whose stubborn nature inspires.
I like ECCENTRICS, people who 'break the mold'. An individual earns bonus points in my mind for reinventing themselves and taking control of their image. A person who overcomes hardships and finds a way to be creative with their one short life earns my deepest respect. This woman, has it all....
The 'Notorious Mrs. Daisy Fellowes' was born in Paris in 1890. Fellowes' mother died from suicide when she was just six years old. She was then raised primarily by her aunt, Winnaretta Singer, Princess Edmond de Polignac. Fellowes always had a strained relationship with her father.. Throughout her childhood her father would cruelly tell her that it was unbelievable that he had such an unattractive daughter. In her early 20's she decided to reinvent herself. She had rhinoplasty, became interested in fashion and spent her time educating herself in the museums of Paris. Fellowes destroyed all old photos of herself. She is remembered as 'a 20th century society figure, acclaimed beauty, minor novelist and poet, editor in chief of French Harper's Bazaar, Fashion Icon and Heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune'.
My favorite fact about Daisy is that she was the inspiration for Dali's 'shoe hat'. This high heeled hat was sketched by Dali in 1937 and created by surrealist couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, only to reappear on the runways of Eric Tibusch in 2009 in Paris. Daisy Fellowes died in Paris in 1962.
Each time I host the event I think to myself ' I hope everyone else had as much fun as me'. Have you ever found an amazing treasure at a clothing swap? DO TELL!
I have never been able to find mugs, toothbrushes or mini license plates wielding my name in souvenir shops. I had to travel internationally to discover something even better. In Paris in 2013 I discovered a street (near Pére Lachaise Cemetery) with my name.... then in Venice, Italy (near Basilica San Marco) I found a beautiful shop, and in Rome, Italy (close to the Colosseum) I found a Beauty Spa.... all of my namesake. How easy is it for you to find your name around the world?
The fabulous Ms. Edith Head was as American costume designer who won more Academy Awards than any other woman in history (won 8, nominated for 35). Head received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Letters and Sciences with Honors in French from the University of California Berkeley in 1919. She then received her Masters Degree in Romance Languages from Stanford University in 1920. Head became a language teacher in La Jolla. In wanting a higher salary she told the school that she was also a qualified art teacher. Head began taking evening classes to improve her drawing skills. In 1924 despite her lack of experience in art and costume design (in fact she borrowed drawings for the interview) she was hired as a costume sketch artist at Paramount Pictures. She began designing for silent films in 1925. By 1930 Head was established as one of Hollywood's hottest costume designers. Head worked at Paramount for 43 years until 1967, when she moved to Universal. Head was known for her ability to work with even the most impossible personalities (she was one of Alfred Hitchcock's favorites). Head also became a trusted collaborator, as she consistently and extensively listened to the preferences and opinions of the female starlets she was dressing. Head designed for some of the biggest female stars of the 40's and 50's: Grace Kelly (Rear Window), Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday, Sabrina), Shirley MacLaine, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, Ginger Rogers and Bette Davis. Edith Head's name is now synonymous with Classic American Cinema (Sunset Boulevard, Breakfast At Tiffanys, The Birds). She was a pioneer for women in the film industry and inspired trust in everyone who knew her. Having worked in the costume industry, Edith Head is an easy person to look up to. However, her personal style can be a lesson to us all, she had true signature, wearing her famous sunglasses day or night, indoor or outdoor. To know more about her, I highly recommend her books: How to Dress for Success and The Dress Doctor.
Over the last 4 years I have been volunteering for an International non-profit organization called Girl Gone International . My job as City Manager of Rome requires me to hold and organize events for women who have an international mindset. We drink wine, eat amazing food, give each other advise, see museum exhibits, and have a book club where we engage in literary debates over cocktails. First and foremost the company is a free online magazine for women who are living, working, studying or simply traveling abroad. There are GGI communities in over 130 cities in the world ready to welcome you. When a person has stepped out of their country of origin, and is without friends or family, finding their tribe can be life changing. The link below is a little interview about why I am involved in this amazing group of women:
Désirée Marie Townley
A native Oregonian, Désirée is currently living in Rome, Italy. She started working as a Costumer and Makeup artist in the Opera and Theater industry after receiving her degree in Dance in 2008. Work offered her the opportunity to travel beginning in 2009 and she hasn't stopped since. Everywhere Désirée goes, she seeks out artists and crafts people as a means to understand new cultures. Through their art and their voices, she finds stories worth telling.