On a sunny day in early March, three generations of women belted their beloved trenches and hit the park for a photo shoot. As the photographer clicked away, the women chatted to one another in Italian. And bickered, and fussed, and laughed…
Observing Laura, alongside her mother Antonella and grandmother Ermenegilda, it’s clear the affection they all have for one another. Not to mention their discerning eye for elegant and timeless clothes. Antonella is wearing the Burberry trench coat she bought in London in her early 20s. Ermen is wearing the one she then insisted Antonella buy her on her next trip to London.
This is a family where fashion is one of the endearing bonds, sparked by Ermen’s love of beautiful clothes, followed by Antonella who ran a respected lingerie atelier in Florence for many years, and finally Laura, who co-founded a company in pursuit of a career doing the thing she loved most. We sat down together in Laura’s London home to discuss how they have influenced one another and what fashion means to them.
Fortunately, there were some pieces that were just so classic and utterly perfect that even Ermen let them be. Take the black Saint Laurent shift dress that hangs in Laura’s wardrobe today. “The clothes that my grandmother had made in her 20s and 30s fit me like a glove – it’s like they were made for me,” says Laura, who notes they also share the exact same shoe size. “I call that dress my power dress. When I put it on I feel so chic and polished,” she says. “And I also feel that connection you have to something that’s been worn and loved by someone and then given to me to love as well. It’s what I think of when I buy clothes that I know will be passed on to my daughters.”
Laura’s first memory of fashion being a language in her home, funnily enough, has to do with bedspreads. She remembers her mother returning home with two beautifully made bedspreads. The pink one was for her; the blue one for her little sister. “These can be your new favourite colours,” Laura remembers Antonella saying, decisively. And it was so. “I think that was really the beginning of my understanding that that I could have an identity based on the things that I chose to wear or embrace.”
As a young girl, she would eavesdrop on the long conversations between her mother and grandmother about their visits to Alberta, and she witnessed their closeness through style: “I remember my mother returning from a trip to New York with two rhinestone belts. One for her, and one for my grandmother. They just knew each other so well, and in a way, I wonder if I was drawn to fashion so that I could be on the inside of that bond,” says Laura.
Of course, her love of fashion was also stoked by her mother’s lingerie atelier in Florence, where the finest silks from Como and cottons from Switzerland were transformed into sleepwear collections for the likes of Dior and Valentino. “This was a time when women knew the difference between silk and rayon – and what you wore to bed was something more sacred,” says Antonella.
“It was a time when you kept and wore everything. Nothing was disposable” —Antonella
As for the relationship Laura hopes her own daughters have with this style legacy, she wants to walk that line between sharing her passion with them, without making them feel it’s the only important thing. “My love of fashion is bittersweet, because I can’t help but feel that in the beginning, what inspired it was this deep desire for approval. And I don’t ever want my own daughters to feel that it’s the only way to my heart.”
Laura has channelled this passion into work, building a fashion platform that shows women how to build a wardrobe that will stand the test of time. “I really am inspired by my mother and grandmother, and everything I have learned from them about longevity – both by inheriting pieces I love and watching their own timeless style over the years,” says Laura. “It brings me great joy and I just can’t imagine ever wanting or loving another job as much, and for that, I am so thankful to these two amazing women.”
A few days after our shoot, Laura was in her bedroom when Ermen came in with something in her hand: a charm bracelet she had worn so often that the sound of it jingling is one of Laura’s fondest childhood memories. Quietly, she placed it in Laura’s hand. “No, Nonna Stella, I want you to have this,” said Laura, but Ermen shook her head. “I hope you have as many beautiful memories attached to this as I do.” And she left.
When Ermenegilda (or Ermen, as she’s known) left her parents’ home for her husband’s at the age of 18, most of her clothes were hand-made by her mother, Zita. Laura remembers her great-grandmother as being warm and loving. However, this pragmatic woman was tough on her spirited daughter, whose love of fashion she regarded as frivolous.
As Ermen stepped into her life as a newlywed in the early 1950s, she had bigger ideas. Now that she was a young married woman living near Venice, she craved a new wardrobe befitting this new life. And since there were no high-street stores at the time, she turned to a local seamstress called Alberta, who would go on to make many of her clothes, her daughter’s clothes, and even her granddaughter’s wedding dress.
For new pieces, she would show Alberta pictures or describe what she had in mind. This was the time when icons like Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy were setting the style agenda, and Christian Dior was making waves with the New Look. Once a selection was made, the real work would begin. “I remember visiting my grandmother as a young girl and tagging along on trips to see Alberta,” recalls Laura. “I absolutely loved it. From my seat in the corner, I would watch Nonna Stella, my name for my grandmother, select fabrics, argue over adjustments and go back and forth on clothes until they were perfect.”
Back then, a wardrobe grew at a painstakingly slow pace, and nothing was thrown out. “When I no longer liked a dress or a jacket, I would take it to Alberta and we would change it into something I liked,” says Ermen. No piece of clothing was immune to this transformation: “My mother had the most amazing dresses,” says Antonella. “I remember a floor-length Emilio Pucci dress that was so, so beautiful – but when my mother tired of it, then it went to Alberta. And that was because it was a time when you kept and wore everything. Nothing was disposable.”
“From my seat in the corner, I would watch Nonna select fabrics, argue over adjustments and go back and forth on clothes until they were perfect” —Laura
When Laura was off school, she visited her mother’s studio. “Laura would put on a tiny lab coat and special slippers, and I remember her sitting for hours at the little desk we set up for her, measuring lace and ribbons,” says Antonella. “Then she had a little album where she designed her own collections.” For Laura, it was the stuff of dreams: “Growing up, my mother was very busy running her company, so this was my special time and my favourite place. It was where I first dreamt of working in fashion – among all those silks and ribbons.”
A fashion legacy can be a double-edged sword, though, because with a love of style also comes many (many) opinions. Ermen had firm ideas about what suited her daughter and granddaughter… and what didn’t. “For my grandmother and even my mother, everything was more formal,” says Antonella. “There were so many rules they were expected to follow – as was I, in a way. Things like, if you go to a dinner, change into a black dress. Your gloves, purse and shoes should always match, both in colour and fabric. Never wear mismatching velvets. And never go to a wedding in sandals – only closed-toe shoes and tights would do,” she recalls.
Of course, Antonella pushed back against these assumptions. And so too did Laura, who certainly felt their disapproval when she began to experiment. “They might say, ‘That doesn’t suit your body,’ or ‘That’s not well-made’, which is quite the insult. I would say, ‘I don’t care – this is what I want to wear. Who says a trench should be beige? Who says tights should be black?’” recalls Laura. “I remember the moment when I broke away from their way of thinking and decided to just wear what made me feel good.’”
Yet, these days, fashion has become a way for the women to dissolve tension. “If my mum and I have an argument, after a few days one of us might send the other a link to a sweater they might like,” says Laura. “It’s a way to show that we still care and move on a little, without conceding too much ground.”
For Antonella, Laura has grown from that little girl so obsessed with pink that she gave her favourite shade its own name (“rosa pette”) into a stylish woman she admires. “She is so chic, but always with her own sense of personality. Whatever she is wearing, it is always her wearing the dress, never the dress wearing her,” says Antonella. “Laura has an allure.”
She credits her daughter’s unique point of view, in part, with the blend of influences in her life: an Italian childhood, an adult life in London and her American heritage too (from her paternal grandmother). “It’s given her a unique perspective and energy she brings to everything she does. What I love about Laura is that while she can be decisive, she is always ready to change and try something brand new.”
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