A while back I got a book entitled Sarti d’Abruzzo (Abruzzese Tailors) by Guido Vergani.
It’s a thin volume published in Italy by Skira and, though the title mainly focuses on the tailoring traditions in Abruzzo from Domenico Caraceni (1880-1940) to Nazareno Fonticoli (1906-1981), founder of the Brioni tailoring house, the book also mentions tailors from Molise (in the past Abruzzo and Molise formed only one region) and in particular from Capracotta.
This small village in the province of Isernia was also dubbed as the “tailors’ village” since many of its inhabitants worked as tailors. In the early 1900s there were indeed around forty tailoring houses in Capracotta for a population that reached only 1,000 inhabitants.
A while back the local city hall honoured the village tailors dedicating them a street, Largo dei Sartori (Tailors Street).
Immigration had a huge impact on the local tailoring traditions and many tailors left moving to cities such as Rome and establishing their workshops there.
Among them there was also Sebastiano Di Rienzo who opened his own tailoring house in Rome after working as pattern cutter for many famous fashion designers and houses such as Valentino.
Di Rienzo also wrote a few books about fashion and style and became chairman of the Accademia Nazionale dei Sartori (National Tailors' Academy).
Though Vergani’s book is a good introduction to the work of many tailors hailing from Abruzzo and Molise, it’s also a frustrating volume because it doesn’t analyse in detail the work of the artisans mentioned in its pages.
Besides, while the book features quite a few old pictures in black and white, it doesn't mention the sources and that’s a shame.
What particularly intrigued me were three pictures taken in Capracotta, one of them - taken in 1935 - features a group of women and children who were learning embroidery at the local nun’s convent (many convents in Italy offered women the chance to learn tailoring/embroidering skills).
I have been very curious about this image since spotting it in the book and often wondered if there were some relatives of mine in it. Indeed, though I was born in Abruzzo, my paternal grandparents were originally from Capracotta, so we used to go there often on holiday and still have quite a few relatives living there.
We were actually in the village in the summer of 1996 when Di Rienzo - who appears to be from the records I have a distant relative of my father - celebrated the forty anniversary of his tailoring career with a catwalk show that also included a dress inspired by Capracotta and decorated with hand-painted local monuments and churches.
I think what fascinated me about the picture with the nuns (apart from the rather scary uniforms worn by the two nuns...) were the looms the women held in their hands. One girl in particular rather than holding her loom obliquely towards the camera, had put it on her knees, revealing in this way the wooden structure underneath. "Who knows who is this girl or who are the other women...", I often wondered while leafing through the book.
The mystery of the picture was recently solved by my father’s cousin, Vincenzina, who spotted in it her mother, Vittoria Sammarone. She is the first child on the right (first row from the bottom), exactly that girl with the round embroidery loom on her lap I often wondered about.
Vincenzina explained that her mum was 9 years old when the picture was taken, though she looked older since young girls used to work a lot in the countryside at the time. Vincenzina also spotted in the photograph further familiar faces, though none of them are close relatives.
Unfortunately auntie Vittoria died a few years ago and I wish I had found this image before since it would have been interesting to ask her about what she learnt during the courses held at the convent. Yet I'm happy to see that this picture ended up in a book, it's somehow a tribute to her and to all the women portrayed in it.
Tailor Sebastiano Di Rienzo will present his new book "Machines for Fashion" in Capracotta, Italy, on 25th August.