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I was in Milan on Tuesday and I thought to pop in to see my friend Gigliola Curiel for a coffee at her atelier in Milan, Corso Matteotti 14 (http://www.raffaellacuriel.com/ hereinafter I’m calling her Gil not to mess up with her grandma Gigliola). I like Gil very much: her laid back attitude and sense of humour always make me feel comfortable, which is nothing I can tell very often I must say. The proof is that she was packed with things to do before leaving to Rome to present their haute couture collection at Altaroma, the telephones ringing the seamstresses sewing and I sat down peacefully to sip my coffee and she didn’t even send me packing. 

Gigliola Curiel at the Carillon in Paraggi in 1952

 

Basically the Curiels are the reigning family of fashion in Milan: they have been into it since 1910 when Gil’s great aunt, Ortensia, founded her atelier in Trieste just above Umberto Saba’s library. Then Gigliola (my friend’s grandma) moved to Milan, settled down there and won it over. She was as smart as a whip and definitely a daredevil. Gil told me that she was the first one to sell oversea entering into distribution agreements with foreign stores such as Harrod’s in London and Bergdorf Goodman in New York. She was Jewish and also a political fugitive because her brother was one of the leaders of the partisan resistance opposing the Germans therefore during WWII she had to hide away. Very well, she spent the war period in the same hotel where the Germans had settled their head office in Rome, hiding in plain sight. 

 

Gil over the phone trying to work while I ‘m at large taking pictures in her Atelier

 
Then came her daughter, Raffaella, who basically – very much like her mother – has ever been an innovator. She’s been one of the first stylists (possibly the very first one and however the only one to do it as distinctive mark of her collections) to closely cooperate with artists and designers at the highest levels drawing together “traditional” arts and fashion and transposing into her gowns the colours and dynamic lines of the futurism movement or the music of Tchaikovsky, to mention a few. I remember her name, Lella Curiel (Raffaella, aka Lella), being mentioned in connection with every important social or cultural event in town since when I was a child.
And now it’s Gil’s turn. She works 24/7 and is always on the go, but she’s definitely doing a great job, particularly with her own prêt-à-porter collection that is very much like herself: glamorous and refined and yet laid back and self-ironic, elegant with a modern twist… And then the level of their manufacturing and fabrics is just stunning. 

  
Being at their atelier in Corso Matteotti is enchanting. While everybody is moving their production line abroad, the Curiels still manufacture their clothing in Corso Matteotti, 100m off Via Montenapoleone, right in front of the historical Sant’Ambroeus cafe. So chic. And so full of history. They still have all the paper patterns of their own and other famous tailors’ creations dating back to the early ‘900. And shelves over shelves of croquis, buttons, trimmings and everything that contributed to the making of over a century of history of fashion: an inestimable heritage (their family’s story definitely would make a great novel, I would apply myself to write it, but they have their own family talent, Gaetano, Gigliola’s brother, whose last novel “La Candidatura” – the candidacy – the true story behind Milan Expo http://www.vogue.it/en/people-are-talking-about/vogue-arts/2015/05/la-candidatura-gaetano-castellini-curiel has recently been a huge success  so, you see, it never rains but pours 😉)

  
It’s very much like a women’s house: full of beautiful things and memories, apparently messy but efficient. Beside the (OMG) stunning clothes that were being despatched to be presented at Altaroma (which I didn’t dare take pictures of 😁)  there are so many precious clothes that you’re only spoilt for choice. I personally almost died for a gown inspired by the white Swan of the Swan Lake… Unreachable.  

We had an interesting conversation about haute couture an current trends and she told me that – as a stylist and being into fashion – she’s quite under the impression that love for beautiful things is slowly coming back, that – after the last almost grotesque 20 years – people are eventually fed up with extreme consumerism and kind of an attention for details and refinement is getting a foothold… Let’s hope it’s for good 🙄. And this is actually the kind of fashion the Curiel women have been carrying forward over the years: a fashion that is closely interlaced with culture and the social fabric of their own time. A fashion that lasts.