"I went home with the stuff inside a headscarf. The next day I could not find anything else as nice or as cheap. I bought the leather, a ball of twine and a curved needle. In short time i had my old bag again. One day a policeman stopped me on the train for smuggling."
by Giuliana Coen
Over the last fifty years, Roberta di Camerino handbags have played a leading role in the world of fashion. The bags evoke exciting stories, glamourous characters and a universe of emotion. In 1956 the legendary Bagonghi bag toured the world on Grace Kelly’s arm. Other devote admirers include the likes of Madonna, Elsa Maxwell, Princess Paola of Liegi, Liz Taylor, Gina Lollobrigida, Isabella Rossellini and Farrah Fawcett.
Roberta di Camerino, one of the great Italian fashion stories, begins with Giuliana Coen. She gave the brand daylight by combining the name Roberta from her favourite song “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and Camerino, her husband’s surname.
Giuliana relied on Venetian extraordinary craftsmanship and created one of the region’s major brands. This craftmanship was mixed with the Neo-baroque style that would become her famous hallmark feature. Under the warp of threads woven by antique looms, she used venetian velvets or Soprarizzo velvets in new colours. Until then these velvets had been used only for furnishings and traditional robes. She decoded these beautiful old materials and recoded it into something completely new. Also, The claps and studs found on her bags were created by the craftsmen of brass ornaments for gondolas. Roberta di Camerino’s handbags proved to be a revolution, unlike anything made before.
She created bags made from narrow leather strips resembling shoestrings, interwoven and worked on looms. Objects that impacted the world of fashion with their unforgettable names (pirata, Casanova, Tranviere, Postiglione) and which continue to act as a reference point, both veiled and explicit, today’s most famous luxury brands. “The handbag is being upgraded from the status of an accessory to that of a garment. It is always less casual, shunning the norm and refusing to tolerate anonymity.
Credit for this re-evalutation of the handbag, making it a unique, luxury item, far removed from the monotonous cliché saddle-stitched-rigid-shoulder strap, goes, as everyone is now aware, to Madame Giuliana Camerino, who has collected prizes, and awards for having created and continuing to create the most beautiful bags in the world”, as Camilla Cederna wrote in “L’Espresso” in 1959. And, it was again Cederna who praised the Brigitte model: a velvet bag complete with an outside pouch in gilded metal that quickly became a best-seller worldwide.
In 1956 she received the prestigious Neiman Marcus "Oscar of Fashion" award. In the sixties, she was invited by Giambattista Giorgini to present her iconic trompe l'oeil effect pret-à-porter collections at Palazzo Pitti's Sala Bianca. Although she then went on to win numerous awards on an international level, it was thanks to the Compasso D'Oro award in 1979 that she entered the realm of creators who know how to revolutionize the quality of objects.
"All colours are beautiful and look good together, because - if, for some reason, two seem to jar when placed next to each other - all one needs to do is to add a third and harmony is created."
The consecration of her talent came in 1980 in the city of New York. The Whitney Museum of American Art dedicated an entire exhibition to her name. The exhibition documented the affection and high esteem that Americans have for her work and art (in 1975 she opened a large boutique in New York on Fifth Avenue). Artists like Salvador Dalì and Giorgio De Chirico were her friends and recognized her enormous talent. The exhibition also displayed sketches of both garments and scarves. These sketches remind us reminds once again how conceptual her design path has been.
Julie Gilhart, fashion director and senior vice president of Barneys New York, says that visiting the archive of the Roberta di Camerino brand is a truly incredible experience: “every bag that i know has already been made by her.”