The Atelier Tirelli

Silvana Mangano and Bjorn Andersen - "Morte a Venezia" - Regia Luchino Visconti -1971 - Copyright Mario Tursi, archivio storico del Cinema
Silvana Mangano and Bjorn Andersen – “Morte a Venezia” – Regia Luchino Visconti -1971 – Copyright Mario Tursi, archivio storico del Cinema
"Morte a Venezia" - Regia Luchino Visconti -1971 - Copyright Mario Tursi, archivio storico del Cinema
“Morte a Venezia” – Regia Luchino Visconti -1971 – Copyright Mario Tursi, archivio storico del Cinema

The ability of empathise or even identify with a character through the art of dressing is a key aspect of the publication you are holding so tightly in your hands in this very moment. But beside super-modern magazine making, another great craft that heavily relies on such abilities is, no need to brag about it, acting: The transient nature of dressing the part, to shift a person from an actor to a character, is a concept so dear to our hearts that we pretty much dedicated this whole issue on it.

A man who based his career on dressing the part was dress-maker Umberto Tirelli: He in fact believed it would have been even better if the actors could actually perform in authentic costumes, and not just replicas. So fond he was of his craft, he sworn the actual weight of the fabrics chosen for the costumes would play a fundamental part in helping the actor transitioning into a character.

With a work ethic this precise, it does not come as a surprise that he eagerly collaborated on pretty much all the films from Italian director Luchino Visconti, world-renowned for his being extremely finicky when it came to historical realism.

After training with a tailor in his hometown in the region of Emilia Romagna, Umberto Tirelli (1928-1990) decides to make the big step and to broaden his horizons, he moves to Milan and starts working in a fabric shop on via Montenapoleone.

It is in fact in Milan that he, in 1953, starts collaborating with the Sartoria D’Arte Finzi, a shop specialised in costumes for theatre and especially famous for its involvements with Visconti and La Scala. It is through Finzi that Tirelli contributes to a large part of the costumes for ‘La Traviata’ in 1955, directed by Visconti and performed by  non other than Maria Callas herself.

Simonetta once said, Tirelli is responsible for putting together one of the most outstanding fashion collections in Italy if not the world

Finzi and Milan will play a fundamental role in Tirelli’s career, as it will put him in direct contact with great masters like Danilo Donati, Piero Tosi (Who won an Academy Award for his career as recently as last February) and Franco Zeffirelli. All illustrious professionals who advise him to move to Rome, the true and unique centre of cinema industry in Italy at the time.

In the november of 1955 he becomes part of the SAFAS, an organisation originally monoeuvred by the Maggiani sisters, who will collaborate with Tirelli on the production of costumes for Visconti’s  masterpiece ‘The Leopard’, a project that will take seven months of production and the realisation of almost two thousands costumes; An outstanding amount of clothes that are now collected in his very own, fabled archive.

In 1964, Umberto Tirelli establishes his namesake dressmaking shop in Rome, and from there, it is pretty much history. As the coutourier Simonetta once said, Tirelli is responsible for putting together one of the most outstanding fashion collections in Italy if not the world: His collection is in fact formed by 15.000 authentic dresses and roughly 170.000 costumes produced by his company, a truly exceptional collection whose original fashions range between the 17th century and 1970’s, making it probably the widest collection outside the museum circuit. He donated to the world’s most important museums of costumes such as the Met in New York, the Musee d’Arts Decoratifs in Paris and the Costume Institute in Kyoto.

The biggest donation he ever made, however, is to the gallery of Costume in Palazzo Pitti, Florence, to which he left 150 originals and 150 costumes in 1987. In the same year, he establishes the Tirelli-Trappetti foundation with Dino Trappetti, his closest associate and now director of the Sartoria. 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the atelier with the release of a potentially updated version of “Vestire La Scena: L’atelier Tirelli”, the 1993 book curated by Caterina D’Amico De carvalho, Dino Trappetti and Gabriella Pescucci.

It is important to mention Gabriella Pescucci, as she has been taking care of the heritage Tirelli left after his passing: Winner of an Academy Award in 1994 for “The Age of Innocence”, she pretty much curated the Fondazione’s extensive archive single-handedly: She in fact catalogued the archive through the 5.000 squared metres of the showroom in Formello, just outside Rome. Pescucci divided the collection through historical ages as well as social classes because, as she told Italian magazine Il Venerdi’, ‘to recreate a peasant’s costume, with all its laborious ageing and distressing, can be as hard as crafting an opulent, embellished cape’ .In fact, Pescucci first involvement with the Sartoria was assisting Piero Tosi in the works for PierPaolo Pasolini’s Medea in 1969; For this film, Tirelli tried to source antique fabrics to stay as close as to authenticity as possible. Or making sure the fabrics were as close to the originals as possible.

This great entrepreneur spoilt the new generation with his complete dedication to costume-making. But his precision and love for his craft also granted him an incredibly high reputation within the world of Fashion:

It is in fact for the 1973’s “Inventive Paris Clothes: 1909-1939” exhibition at the MET in New York, that Diana Vreeland wanted to involve him the most. It is at her personal request that he accepted to lend a substantial part of his archive.

An archive that still fascinates fashion and cinema, just turned very appropriately 50 years young

By Claudia Sarti

Originally published on Lujon Issue 2

thelujonmagazine