Thursday, September 1, 2011


I decided to try working in Italy again.

While I was working as a assistant designer  in Cape Town , I met Elsa de Bruyn who was a designer with the same company.

Elsa de Bruyn.

 We worked for Hellas in Maitland .The company manufactured high end coats, suits, jackets and dresses. In South Africa most manufacturers had their own factories and did not use CMT (cut/make/trim)  operations. It was rather a come-down from what I expected a career in fashion would be. The factory was in a commercial area and it took a long time on a bus to get there from Cape Town .Very unglamorous and hard work.
Elsa and I decide to go to Italy together. We planned that I would go and once I was settled she would join me.Unfortunately she became ill and never joined me in Milan.


While I was in Europe Elsa  married a very good looking Italian that she met in South Africa. He was from a titled Italian family and they were living in Rome at this time. They invited me to come for a visit and I thought that might be a good opportunity to see what I could find in Rome.
Furio and Elsa and their young son Gianfranco lived in Casalpalocco -in a beautiful three storied  villa  outside Rome on the way to Ostia .

 Il Doumo- Milano. Furio and Elsa.

Gianfranco with Elsa.


Furio worked for an American Oil Company in Rome and knew a lot of people .He insisted that I stay in Rome and told me he would help me.
It did help that I had some experience with Mila Schon that was a top designer, so after a few weeks he arranged an interview  for me with the couture house of Lancetti
.After a few interviews Lancetti  offered me a position as assistant.

View of Via Condotti from the Spanish Steps.

Pino Lancetti.

Lancetti was located at 61 Via Condotti- the exclusive Fashion Avenue in Rome.If one stood on the Spanish Steps via Condotti was in line with the steps.Valentino- and most of the other Alta Moda designers based in Rome -were represented  in this area.It was the chicest shopping area in Rome.

Via Condotti.

I was in a better frame of mind -and living with Furio and Elsa made things so much easier.
They just moved from the center of Rome to the house in Casalpalocco .Elsa was very busy with the new baby and the new house, but I think she enjoyed it just as much as I did to be able to talk about South Africa in Afrikaans.We were both learning Italian and it is not easy living in a foreign country and not being able to speak the language properly.Furio was also very busy so Elsa had to do learn a lot the hard way.She had been in Rome  for a while and had to shop and live her life there as much as I had to. It was sink or swim-so one learnt the language fast-as well as dealing with the Romans.....!
That was never easy, and many a time Elsa and I would cry on each others shoulders about being a foreigner in Italy.Furio could  not understand why were sometimes so unhappy with Italy.
He was a very easy going guy and nothing bothered him too much.He had a good heart and he was very good to me.

Elsa and Bubbu.

Furio's family was grand and every Sunday we had to go to the Zio- the uncle that had the title- for lunch with the rest of the family. We all had dress up and Elsa had to dress to the nines and wear the family jewels .
The Zio and Zia lived  lived in a big apartment in the center of Rome.Gianfranco was less than a year old and he only knew the three of us -Furio Elsa and me.So Sundays was always a drama as he wanted nothing to do with these strange people.I would take him out on the balcony and try and calm him down by showing him the cars  and the other buildings.As soon as he was calm ,Elsa would come rushing out telling me to come back with Bubu as the Italian family said we were keeping Gianfranco from them.I would look to the heavens and rush back in with Bubu that started screaming as soon as he saw the strangers again...
I must explain this:- In Italy the biggest fear for a man is that he is "cornutto".The expression means that the husband has horns on his head ,as his wife is having a affair behind his back.(It was acceptable for the husband to do it but not the wife)
Furio trusted me and Elsa completely and knew he had nothing to fear but for the sake of the "bella figura" the family was told that I was Elsa's first cousin.As they loved and respected Elsa I was welcomed into the family with open arms.They even remarked that we looked like each other.
We said out mothers were  sisters to explain the different surnames.

Eur -Mussolini's Rome.

As the house was so big I had my own bedroom with a bathroom next to Furio's study on a separate floor from them.I used Elsa's little Fiat to get to the EUR station where I would catch the subway to the center of Rome for work. Sometimes I  would drive in to Rome with Furio, if Elsa needed that car for the day.It took almost 90 minutes from door to door.
Casalpalocco  was close to the seaport of  Ostia so over the weekend I would use the car to drive there and enjoy the ocean as well.

Party time .Furio and Elsa on the left.

Ostia Beach.

Rome was so different from Milan.One heard English more as it was a tourist haven.I loved it it had so much history and so beautiful to look at.

Rome -the eternal city.

My working hours was the same as in Milan 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and then again from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm. Here I had the wonderful Villa Borgese Gardens with its view of St Peter's to spend my lunchtimes in.Tourist ended up in the  Villa Borgese quite often as all the museums was closed for lunch so they had nowhere else to go but  take a stroll in the park and enjoy a take-away lunch there.At least I had the chance to hear English or even speak to some of them.

Borgese Gardens.

In the morning I use to go the famous Cafe Greco in Via Condotti for coffee and a brioche before work.Many mornings I would see Valentino there having coffee as well. He was about the same age as Lancetti who was  40 then.Valentino still worked from Rome in those days and was world famous after he designed Jackie O's wedding dress when she married Aristotle Onassis.


"Caffe Greco" via Condotti, Rome.

To get to the Lancetti atelier one entered at 61 Via Condotti through a big courtyard ,where he had some of his fashion shows, and took the steps to the first floor.

 Mary was the directrice of the house and she took care of the international clients.We became big friends as she spoke perfect English and her deceased husband was American.She and Lancetti did not get on at all, but he needed her as she had the customer list.

Pino Lancetti and a model in one of his creations.

Lancetti had a younger sister Edda that was called "Signora" Lancetti.She was not married but had a beautiful little girl from a married lover.People that did not know them thought they were husband and wife with a little girl.The also shared an apartment not far form the atelier.Francesca was the best dressed little girl as for Carnivale she must have been the only kid that had a couture made costume....

I joined while they were busy on the new Spring collections so there was not time for training .I had to jump in where I was needed.As this was a smaller house than Mila Schon I was immediately thrown into middle of the design room.
.Lancetti worked very different as he draped and created on a live model.The model stood for hours -in high heels and make up -while he created.

Lancetti working on a  model.

Lancetti Silks.

This 1973 Spring collection was full of peasant gowns voluminous  blouses and full gypsy skirts made out of yard and yards of magnificent silk prints .He used up to five different  prints in a gown.
He would draped the model with fabric and then dash to a corner where the silk where standing and just pull the roll toward him and let it roll of over the floor.He would then mock up the sleeve or bodice.Another print will be used for the skirt-and another for the sash

Lancetti working on an embroidery design,

Lancetti sketch

Once it was done we would make a sketch and make notes of what fabric must be used where.Later he would look at the sketches up on the wall and arrange them into groups.As he got all his fabrics for free from the deals the designers had with the fabric mills-no cost was spared-as long as it looked great!

Draping a dress on a dress form.

Once the sketch was done ,the pattern makers would drape and  make the patterns and cut the gowns in the fabric selected.A few days later the half-ready garments would be showed to Lancetti and the rest of the design team on a walking ramp .Some were approved and were sent off to be finished for the second showing.Others would be ripped apart and sometimes scrapped completely, and he will start over.
Lancetti  was an amazing artist -with a great eye for detail and style.I  was much more envolved in the design room and more hands on as I was at Mila Schon. I learned alot from him.


  1. Such an interesting blog! I'm an Italian girl who is writing a degree thesis about Pino Lancetti and his influence on fashion all across the world.
    I really would like to know you and to talk to you!
    My email is
    Please write to me!
    Thank you,
    Serena Loretoni

  2. Thank you for your answer! I also have sent a message on Facebook (maybe it's in "Other message")... In the meantime I will read these other links!
    Thank you again, really

  3. Thank you for your answer! I also have sent a message on Facebook (maybe it's in "Other message")... In the meantime I will read these other links!
    Thank you again, really