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Federico Sangalli’s Atelier of Dreams

Knowledge, research and a great passion for forgotten textiles and the art of tailoring are the keywords to Federico Sangalli’s designs.

Entering Federico Sangalli’s atelier, located near Piazza San Babila, a few minutes’ walk from Milan’s Duomo, is a bit like stepping into the secret world of haute couture. A group of skilled dressmakers and embroiderers in lab coats sit around a table, working on his designs, creating intricate beadworks or sculpting architectural motifs into the fabric, while customers try on haute couture and made-to-measure designs in another space that opens up on Milan’s busy city centre.

Sangalli comes from a fashion background: his aunt Maria owned an atelier and created unique designs for Milan’s high society. Growing up surrounded by amazing haute couture designs produced following the highest standards of quality and craftsmanship, helped young Federico developing a true passion for fashion and for the amazing work that goes on behind the scenes of this glittering world. Sangalli’s haute couture, made-to-measure and ready-to-wear creations are all characterised by his personal motto, “fashion should make people dream”. His Autumn/Winter 09 collection includes designs that feature draped and pleated motifs that create wave-like movements on jackets and tops while elements in metal mesh give the collection an architectural edge.

Dazed Digital: What prompted you to continue your family’s tradition and what’s the most important lesson you learnt from your family?
Federico Sangalli: For roughly thirty years my family owned a high fashion atelier between Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Manzoni in Milan, so I grew up surrounded by the local tailoring art. When my aunt who directed the atelier decided to retire, I felt it was unthinkable for me to let this world die and decided to inject all the passion my family had transmitted to me into my own collections and atelier. My family taught me to always have a special care for details and for the structure of each design and to respect the female body. When I create my designs I immediately visualise them on the wearer’s body and think about how they can flatter a woman and empower her.

DD: You often describe your collections as “couture-à-porter”, what do you mean with this definition?
Federico Sangalli: I’m trying to combine ready-to-wear with high fashion in my designs, creating unique prêt-à-porter pieces made by following the same techniques applied to haute couture, because I feel that fashion is art. Yet my concept of art is linked in my mind to the ancient Greek word “techné”, that reunites in itself both arts and crafts. This is why, while I like drawing and sketching beautiful designs, I also like to see them turned into technically perfect pieces that suit the human body. I’m lucky because I have a group of very skilful dressmakers and artisans who work in my atelier and help me turning my sketches into wearable works of art.

DD: In a previous collection entitled “The Vertiginous Thrill of Couture” you incorporated Vienna straw into your designs while in your A/W 09 collection you used metallic nets, what fascinates you about these materials? 
Federico Sangalli: While I firmly have in my mind a precise idea of elegance, proportions and harmonies, I like creating innovative designs by mixing unusual materials with different weights. This is why I mixed straw or metal with very light fabrics such as chiffon. I also enjoy a lot rediscovering forgotten textiles that aren’t employed in fashion nowadays. For example, for my A/W 09 collection I rediscovered marquisette, a fabric Chanel used in the 50s for the lining of her designs. I used it as a decorative motif on elegant sweaters and jumpers and reintroduced marquisette linings in all my outerwear.

DD: You designed two costumes for Luciana Savignano, ètoile at Milan’s Scala, did you enjoy it and would you ever do costumes for films?
Federico Sangalli: The connection between fashion and costume design is a wonderful one, also on a historical level. In Italy Gianni Versace designed costumes for theatre and ballet shows and also for Luciana Savignano, so it’s as if I were continuing a long-established tradition. It was a wonderful experience because I’m used to see my dresses being worn by women, but seeing a professional dancer moving in one of my designs on a stage allowed me to project my creations into a very different dimension. When I worked on the pieces I actually thought about haute couture dresses rather than just about costumes. The final costumes were the result of a collaboration with Luciana also on a design level. Traditionally, tailors and dressmakers would ask their customers which were their main needs while they were creating something for them. I come from this background, so we worked together on her costumes. Luciana also opened my A/W 09 catwalk show, modelling one of my latest designs and I was honoured to see her dancing on my runway. I would love to be able to do costumes for a film since I’m interested in different forms of art, from fashion to cinema, architecture and technology.

DD: Do you feel people have lost interested in the Milanese fashion week?
Federico Sangalli: One of the main reasons why Milan Fashion Week has been in a crisis and has lost business is that too many artificial brands supported by powerful industrial groups were created and also allowed to present during the local fashion week average collections that do not stir people’s emotions. I think we should invest more on new and talented designers. There are signs of hope thanks to a few competitions and projects launched in the last few years by the Camera della Moda Italiana (National Chamber of Italian Fashion) to support up-and-coming designers, but there is still a lot of work to do.