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.
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.