If your idea of room service is eggs Benedict and fresh orange juice in a swanky hotel bed—and not a pair of sandals that changes color—then you weren't on Rome's via Veneto last weekend.
In her quest to highlight Italy's rare and handmade, Altaroma's Simonetta Gianfelici finds the concept of luxurious, intimate nourishment applies perfectly to limited-edition fashion from young brands made in Italy. In its second edition during Altaroma's Fall 2012 couture presentations, Room Service united 15 designers in suites at the Grand Hotel Marriott Flora for two days of one-on-one, made-to-order and made-to-measure private shopping.
This was the chance to meet people like Rome's Caterina Gatta, whose pieces are made exclusively in vintage couture fabrics from the '60s to the '90s; Silvano Arnoldo and Massilimiliano Battois, who pleat fine leather bags in Venice for their Arnoldo)(Battois collaboration; Lucia Odescalchi, whose jewelry takes its cue from "Calder's mobiles, Fontana's spatial concepts, and Klimt's chromatism and optical-Kinetic grids;" Camilla Stipa of Ka-Mo, who has devised a clever system of leather strips on rings to switch the uppers of traditional Italian thong sandals; and Vesthes, a trio of friends from Florence who produce just one collection per year, designed and assembled in Italy with handwork from India.
Caterina Gatta, 28, is always on the move and sells her pieces about as fast as she can make them. Her finds are the last precious meters of vintage fabrics from Gianni Versace, Emaunuel Ungaro, Yves Saint Laurent, Irene Galitzine, Hubert de Givenchy, Valentino Garavani, and Pino Lancetti that she pulls out of the back rooms of fabric stores throughout Italy. After graduating from London's Central St. Martins, Gatta launched her brand in 2008, which is available in New York at Kirna Zabête and Julie Skinner's P.S. Postcript Couture. The number of pieces she makes of a particular style is limited to how many meters of fabric she finds. All of her work is in fabrics with selvages signed by the designers which can be traced back to a season.
At Room Service, Gatta showed her latest pieces, about 20 in all, each presenting a time warp between her modern, girly design and the ornate prints of vintage couture. Versace fabric from the Gianni days, spelling out the designer's name in flowers in white silk brocade and also on transparent mousseline, was used for a mini hooded cape. Gatta's shapes are complex, a kind of fashion origami; and to make the vintage fabrics more contemporary, she likes to combine them with PVC clear plastic, or bright insets of pointelle punched leather. The latest addition to her repertoire is shoes, made from couture silk prints by Ungaro and others, laced up like grandmother ankle boots with a modern zipper on the side and spiky heel. Gatta's friend, Milan-based milliner Francesco Ballestrazzi, continues to collaborate on hats. Ballestrazzi favors retro bibi shapes, and for Gatta, he combines vintage florals. One of his new hats looks like an overturned vase with a clear plastic splashing over the hat like water.
Arnoldo)(Battois have opened a shop to sell their bags, but for Room Service they assmbled the complete fall collection for special orders in leather that mimic wood filigree, and fur embroidered with birds of paradise, riffs on the doctor bag with oversize metal trim, and their classic elephant bag in pleats and python.
Lucia Odescalchi has her jewelry atelier in Rome's 17th-century baroque Palazzo Odescalchi, where she works with the designer Gian Lorenzo Bernini; but she decamped for Room Service with her latest oversized bead necklaces and massive cuffs combining precious stones and diamonds with rough iron, bronze and silver.
"My inspiration is a polyhedric woman with a sense of irony," says Camilla Stipa. The desire to travel light and "pack more than one personality in a shoe" inspired Stipa to take Italy's sleek leather thong style apart and put it back together articulated with a system of rings that allows the wearer to change colors. Stipa works with a master sandal-maker in Parabiago and adds feathers, silk and semi-precious stones to her classic styles.
Vesthes' Diana Tramontano, a self-described "cool hunter," dreamed that there was a more intimate, personal way of producing clothes as one-of-a-kind pieces just once a year, and so she enlisted the help of her friends Marco Contiello, a designer from Naples, and the embroiderer Laura Rossi. Together, they formed Vesthes, which is a derivative of the Greek and Latin terms for dress. "Trust your crazy ideas," is Vesthes' motto, and in their current collection, that takes the form of a caftan covered with 1,500 silk tassels and Miyuki black bugle beads embroidered in India. "Each piece is different, because our customers don't want to look the same," says Contiello. "It's contemporary, but not fashion. These clothes are like cult objects." Vesthes is based in Florence, but there is no store, showroom, or fashion show now, and the trio have no plans to grow their brand that way. "We just want to move from place to place," says Tramontano. "This time we're in Rome, but the next place might be someone's house in Los Angeles," says Tramontano.