The effortless elegance of Italian fashion and design
By Afshan Shahid
“I could have been a ballerina.”
My tall, slim daughter, a Smart City consultant, calls me from London to let me know her routine medical check went really well. She is fit in every sense, her bones are strong and her core muscles are flexible, she reassures me.
“Mummy I could have been a ballerina,” she adds accusingly.
I’m not surprised with her medical results because she is regular gym goer and careful with her food. But her remark about her dream profession takes me aback —she still remembers, I think.
A villa in Rome
Twenty six years ago, I had asked her what she would like to be when she grows up . She replied almost immediately, and with a strong conviction, “a ballerina”. My chubby four year old was playing in the courtyard in our home in Rome, lining up her Barbies against her dolls’ house to wage war on her brother Omar’s Power Rangers and whatnots.
We were living in an old villa overlooking a valley which was the route known to have be taken by Napoleon and his army when they invaded Rome in 1792. Located just off Via Cassia, a main road that leads North from the city, it was an ideal location overlooking the countryside and just minutes from the city.
I was busy stenciling grape vines on the uneven dinning room wall — a converted verandah. The huge wooden shutters opened onto the courtyard, where brother and sister were playing under the cool shade of the pine nut tree.
Listening to the sound of the breeze through the pine needles, I paused to think. How could I answer her without being discouraging? Not knowing what to say, I made an excuse about her physique not being quite right for that profession.
Professions in Art Forms & Cultural Activities
In fact dancing is not even considered a profession in our culture or our family. Pakistani culture is a melting pot of Indian, Persian, Afghan, Central Asian, South Asian and Western Asian influences. It dates back more than 5000 years. While literature, notably poetry, is the richest of all Pakistani art forms, music and dance have received very little attention.
My daughter was obsessed with ballet for quite a few years afterwards. I didn’t encourage her or discourage her and she grew out of the obsession in her own time. But when I think back to my response, I realize that although family influence on career choice is strong in our Pakistani culture, we were bringing up our children in a different environment and the culture in Europe, though different, was just as rich as ours.
Italy is one of the birthplaces of western civilization and a cultural superpower. The famous elements of Italian culture are its art, music, style, and iconic cuisine. Italy introduced opera to the world before exporting it to France. Ballet also originated here. I am sure being a ballet dancer would have been a prestigious profession in Italy if she had chosen it at the time.
Even though I can only sfiorare (touch very lightly) on the culture of Italy, I know that it had a big influence on my daughter’s final career choice. In fact, on winning a scholarship from her university in the UK, she chose to go to Politecnico di Milano, the most outstanding technical universities in Europe, and the largest Italian university in engineering, architecture and design. We, my husband and I, just had to go and visit her there.
Milan, the center of design
Italy is one of my favorite destinations in the world. Not only is it bel paese (a beautiful country) its just an open-air museum, around every corner there is something of historical significance. There is no end to the things we can do there. Walking around the familiar city streets in Milan brings a wave of nostalgia.
”Remember I went into this shop to buy silk for the lining of my fur coat, and you stood outside eating gellato with the kids,” I reminisce with a smile to my husband.
I had spent hours in Tessuti Raponi Sas just off Piazza Monte Titano. There was an endless variety of fabric to chose from, different textures, prints, and colors. I had designed a jet black faux fur coat with deep red pure silk lining for a fashion design course I had taken in Rome. This was the best place to buy the red silk I needed.
Italy is the ideal place to do a course in design. At the time I was determined to learn the effortless elegance of Italian fashion, life-style, and manners — that perfectly imperfect look, that fashion statement with a laid back confidence. Have I achieved that unique style in my designs?
For more of Afshan Shahid’s insight into life, click here: Beautiful Imperfections: Interlocking Threads with Memories
Afshan Shahid has an apparel design studio in Cambridge, UK and a manufacturing unit in Pakistan. She travels extensively searching for inspiration. Inspired by Italian embroidery, Irish crochet, Scandinavian knitting, Russian soutache work, lace-knitting from Eritrea, she seeks them out in her travels. In addition to Business Management and Information Technology from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, she has an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and Biology.
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