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Fashion Philology: Gabriele Colangelo

Milanese designer Gabriele Colangelo merges motifs from the Japanese painter Hiroshige with the unusual muse of philology.

There is a delicate lyricism combined with subtle poetical emotions in Gabriele Colangelo’s designs. In his recent Spring/Summer 09 collection Colangelo studied the nuances and motifs of Japanese painter and Ukiyo-e maker Ando Hiroshige, fusing his minimalist and beautiful landscapes with a basic chromatic selection that goes from white to grey with little splashes of black. The silhouettes of Colangelo’s designs - at times broken by diagonal motifs - seem to be carved out of light. They are elongated and soft, yet at times they are also plastically sculpted, geometrically precise and architectonically perfect.

Colangelo employs a variety of fabrics and materials - all of them luxurious, comprising chiffon, silk organza, cashmere and tourmaline mink inserts - to create light cardigans, fluid blouses and dresses with draped and pleated motifs. The branches in bloom of Hiroshige’s Plum orchard at Kameido Shrine are replicated in resin on the luminous fabrics of dresses and blouses. There is a strange but perfectly balanced dichotomy between lightness and rigorous lines in Colangelo’s work and behind his designs there is also a very unusual muse, philology, to which he turns to dissect and analyse the main themes of his collection.

Dazed Digital: Has your family background influenced your choice of becoming a fashion designer?    
Gabriele Colangelo: My father founded the company Colangelo Milano - that mainly produces furs - over thirty years ago. I grew up surrounded by a great atmosphere, in a workshop where craftsmanship was highly considered, but, initially, I never thought about a career in fashion. I sometimes used to go to my family’s company and do some drawings, but designing was just a hobby as I wanted to become a Latin and Greek teacher. As a teenager I went to a grammar school and had a genuine passion for the classics. I even enrolled in a university course to pursue a degree in classic languages and literature, but, while still studying, I had a strong fashion call. I’ve always had good drawing skills and my family background was leading me towards a different career. In 1998, I took part in a competition organised by the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (Italian National Chamber of Fashion) and won it. The award was a one-year course and also offered an internship. I did my internship with the Ittierre group for the Versace Jeans Couture brand and loved it so much that ended up spending four years and a half working with them. My experience at the Versace Jeans Couture label taught me how a product is created from its early stages to its final launch. It was a 360° experience and allowed me to discover a historical Italian fashion house. I then started working with Versace in Milan focusing on the Versace Classic line.

DD: When did you decide to launch your first collection?
GC: For a while I worked with the Roberto Cavalli fashion house on the Just Cavalli Donna line, then I was called by the Mariella Burani Fashion Group and became Artistic Director for their Amuleti J line. After all these experiences I decided the time had come to develop my own project. So, around this time last year, I started working on a capsule collection that included mainly fur-inspired pieces as a homage to my family heritage and also embroidered pieces. In January 2008 I went to India to work on my embroidered samples and presented my first collection in February 2008.  

DD: What was the feedback like after the debut of your capsule collection?
GC: It was extraordinary. My collection was well received and this allowed me to have a high visibility at the “Who’s on Next?” competition organised by AltaRoma in collaboration with Vogue Italia. The competition took place in July and I was the winner of the ready-to-wear category. It was amazing as I had the chance of presenting my designs to an audience that included the big names of fashion such as Vogue Italia’s Franca Sozzani, Vogue America’s André Leon Talley, Fashion Wire Daily’s Godfrey Deeny, Harvey Nichols’ Averyl Oates and Saks’ Terron Schaefer. Then, during the latest Milan Fashion Week, I presented my Spring/Summer 09 collection in the beautiful location of San Paolo Converso, a deconsecrated church that now hosts art exhibitions.   

DD: Do you think that your passion for the classics and for the Latin and Greek languages has somehow entered your designs?
GC: Yes, absolutely. My love for the classics is reflected by my philological approach to my designs. When I start working on a collection I usually build a referencing world for it, so that there are precise cultural references behind it. When I draw a collection I research a theme that can help me choosing what goes into it, and filter the fabrics, colours and motifs through this theme. Besides, if you have studied Latin and Greek you possess the words from their roots, you know what they mean etymologically. This is the same thing I do with my collections, I try to have a complete knowledge of each piece, from its basic structure to its smallest detail.   

DD: Who is Gabriele Colangelo’s ideal customer?
GC: A woman who is not enslaved by fashion, but uses it to express herself. I think that this is the ultimate aim of fashion: transforming people, making them look beautiful and helping them to express their personality.