Representing the creative future

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Towards a slower fashion with Susana Pugliese

Can fashion embroideries narrate stories?

Susanna Pugliese takes us on a visual journey, weaving beauty and intricate detail into a narrative where humanity seamlessly integrates with nature, and paintings transform into garments. The designer’s upbringing in Rome serves as a foundation for her creative exploration: summers were spent between learning to draw and paint from her grandfather, and exploring gardens, parks and the seaside.

Growing up in a creative environment full of beauty, influenced by her family, Susanna’s realisation that fashion – more specifically craftsmanship – was her true calling became inevitable. Despite different challenges, from two years of distance learning, the struggle to find work that pays during a cost of living crisis, and the hustle culture in fashion, Susanna has “this fire in me to create, to explore more…”

Susanna finds beauty in unconventional objects like mould and mushrooms, and adds her own spin through meticulous embellishments. The Italian Renaissance inspires her work, evident not only in the designs but also in the illustrations. Her mixed medium strategy, employing photography, illustration and a wide range of artisanal skills – emphasising attention to detail – weaves a narrative reflecting her surroundings. Most significantly, Susanna channels emotions and concealed memories into her art, viewing creativity as a means of exploration and healing.

Following an internship with Sinéad O’Dwyer, Susanna honed her haute couture skills at the Viktor & Rolf atelier in Amsterdam. She then realised how important craftsmanship is in couture. Despite the exhilaration of the couture world, she recognizes the industry’s fast-paced nature, pushing creativity to produce incessantly. This realisation prompted her to reconnect with her roots, drawing inspiration from life’s subtleties. Her surroundings became a wellspring of inspiration, grounding her in visually enticing experiences. Visual research, encompassing photographs, paintings, and collected objects, marks the beginning of Susanna’s design process. She then selects images, objects and words that speak to her the most and proceeds to the collage and sketching step. Then, she starts experimentation with garment structures. Her final and favourite step is embellishment and beading. Despite the lengthy and difficult process, she finds joy in patiently translating her visions into beaded artwork, explaining how grounding the process is and how important it is to display patience and resilience.

“London is the best place to be as a creative.” – Susana Pugliese

Studying and interning during pandemic restrictions strengthened Susanna’s resilience. Her final year at the University of Westminster, fueled by the energy from her placement at Viktor & Rolf, was the highlight of her academic chapter. The designer expresses how pivotal being in London is to her journey. “London has been the best place for me. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. It’s international, open-minded and offers more opportunities than anywhere else. It’s the best place to be as a creative.” The city allowed her to thrive in creative freedom and that is where connected with the most interesting, hard working people. Reflecting on her journey, she expresses no regrets but advocates trusting instincts, embracing vulnerability, and mastering technical aspects of fashion design. Looking back, she harbours no regrets in the choices she has made. However, if she had to do it all over again, she would trust her instincts more and be more vulnerable, as she believes vulnerability is the essence of the best creative work. That would be her advice to fashion design students, and also: to work hard and learn every technical aspect of making clothes, as she believes that is the most important skill a fashion designer has. Knowing how clothes are constructed unlocks more creativity in the design process. Deconstructing a crinoline skirt allowed her creative space for experimenting with volumes and shapes, emphasising the importance of structure in her collection. In fact, she references elements of fashion history in her work, like the corset, French military uniforms from the nineteenth century and horse riding garments.

The pre-collection, 48 Ore A Casa, embodies a sensory indulgence in different textures and mediums. It was born from a trip Susanna took during a school break back to Rome, where a serendipitous exploration of a local restaurant ignited a weekend of artistic and culinary inspiration. In the face of a fast-paced society, Susanna advocates for savouring the learning process and remaining endlessly curious. Her graduate collection, Viaggio Per Itaca, inspired by the poem ‘Ithaka’ by C.P. Cavafy, serves as a testament to her motivation: to explore and create with each step, treating each project as a journey. That became her motto in life in general, to value the process as much as the result.

“It was like a dream being at Viktor & Rolf; I could see what goes on behind a couture collection, and how much craftsmanship it involves.” – Susana Pugliese

“My final collection was an explosion of ideas that I want to explore more. And I’m super ready to do it.” As she aspires to be a designer who takes people on a transformative journey, Susanna sees her current collection as a stepping stone for further exploration. Her appreciation for handmade details and craftsmanship drives her desire to keep learning. She envisions a more inclusive and representative future for her work, experimenting with tailoring for different sizes. Susanna’s adaptability, empathetic values, and a wide range of artisanal skills position her to thrive in diverse work environments.

“It was like a dream being at Viktor & Rolf; I could see what goes on behind a couture collection, and how much craftsmanship it involves. I think luxury is moving away from this – focusing more on hype than quality craftsmanship, which is what I want to focus on in my work. I want to create one-of-a-kind handcrafted designs, experimenting with embroidery and textiles towards a slower fashion.”