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Viola Parrocchetti: designer, artist, storyteller

22.05.2020. Emporio Sirenuse

On a starry night, beneath a palm tree, two lizards sway in each other’s arms, absorbed in a romantic waltz. Another couple – human, this time – wade through the sea near Positano’s famous stack of houses carrying a battered suitcase, while overhead three stone-sculpted Ancient Greek theatre masks look down on the scene like gods appalled by human follies. A dreamy woman in sepia with a flamboyant, colourful butterfly hairpiece occupies the centre of a classic Amalfi Coast view, the line of the coast beneath Ravello’s famous solitary pine tree. Positano habitués may recognise her as artist and dancer Vali Myers, a remarkable free spirit who lived with a pet fox in a wild canyon outside town. Another dancer, the great 1930s Russian ballerina Olga Spessivtseva, appears in the rich Byzantine costume of Yarsolavna, the wife of Prince Igor in Michel Fokine’s ballet of the same name. In her hands she holds a sketch of Capri’s unmistakable rocky profile, which can also be seen rising from the sea through the window behind the divine Olga.

Viola Collages 01 Lizards

These are just four of the collages recently created by Viola Parrocchetti, designer and creative director of Carla Sersale’s Le Sirenuse Positano resortwear line, as narrative and inspirational storyboards for the brand’s latest Spring Summer collection. Parrocchetti, who currently lives and works in Milan, explains that she often makes collages at an early stage of her creative work on a new collection, “in order to understand the story behind it”. When I praise the understated, allusive nature of Le Sirenuse’s latest Instagram marketing campaign, which used nine of the designer’s collages to promote a collection that was invisible and “off-screen”, Parrocchetti admits to admiring the story-first approach of Maria Grazia Chiuri, creative director of Dior, who “doesn’t assail the public with a fabric print or an embroidered detail from a handbag, but creates stories that make us realise where the inspiration comes from”.

Viola Collages 06 Masks

But then she laughs and confides: “To be honest, there was also another reason for the collages in this particular case – due to the lockdown measures that were put in place in Italy during the pandemic, it was impossible to get the photographer and the model and the clothes in the same place at the same time. So Carla asked if I could come up with something to replace the usual photos!”.

Parrocchetti and Sersale have a family connection – Viola is the daughter of Carla’s eldest sister. But it was only when Viola moved to Mumbai in 2009 and began working with local artisans on a line of embroidered silk t-shirts that Carla realized her niece was very much in tune, creatively, with the fusion of Mediterranean and Silk Road influences that had long characterized the style and approach of Emporio Sirenuse. “I immediately loved what she created”, Carla recalls. “She was different from everybody else. She had her own style, her own language. She was new, romantic, modern, elegant and simple at the same time”.

Viola Collages 02 Torre Clavel

In November 2012, Carla and her husband Antonio, co-owner of Le Sirenuse, flew to Mumbai. She takes up the story: “Viola had rented a room in the slum and hired her first master tailor and six assistant tailors. She had bought the stitching machines secondhand, and started a company with an Indian girl who remained her partner for the first few years. Visiting the workshop was something I will never forget. Antonio was with me, and at first, I confess, it was a little shocking. But we trusted Viola and started this collaboration. The first collection came into my Positano store in March 2013. Two years later we were in Bergdorf Goodman”.

Taking her cue from photos of the Suzani rugs collected by Antonio’s globetrotting father Franco, Viola designed a series of embroidered cushion covers that became a big hit at the Emporio. At the same time, she began to design prints and embroidered motifs for kaftans and other garments, which were given life by the deft fingers of her talented tailors. After she returned to Milan in 2015, Viola maintained her connection with the Mumbai workshop, which had since moved out of Dharavi. Today it accounts for around 90% of Le Sirenuse Positano’s production, with a smaller part coming from another atelier Parrocchetti helped to set up in Kolkata.

Viola Collages 05 Vali

One important inspiration for Le Sirenuse Positano’s Spring Summer 2020 collection was, Viola says, the convention-defying creativity of free souls like Vali Myers and the hippy movement that followed in her path. Her collection pays affectionate homage to flared pants, to crop tops and exposed midriffs, to the glorious psychedelic album covers of the early seventies. But there’s also another strand in her designs – which, as Carla points out, are fabric-first: “She always begins by designing the fabric pattern, whether printed or embroidered. Once she is happy with her designs, she starts thinking what styles to apply them to”.

This other strand is an homage to the emigrés and artists who were drawn to the Amalfi Coast and Capri from the 19thcentury onwards, to Russians like Michail Semenov, a writer and art dealer who in the early years of the 20th century lived in a converted mill above the beach of Arienzo. He was visited here in April 1917 by Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau, in the company of ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev and choreographer Leonid Massine. This encounter of the Slavic world, France, Italy and the classical culture of Ancient Greece and Rome became a fertile creative melting pot, one that embodied a deeply romantic, highly cultured aesthetic and poetic vision of the world.

Viola Collages 03 Pegasus Faraglioni

Viola has long been fascinated by a side of one of Italy’s most famous holiday destinations that is little appreciated by many of today’s visitors. “My dad has a lot of books about Capri and the characters who lived there over the years”, she says, “people like Jacques Fersen or Norman Douglas”. They were all, she adds “in love with a lost classical era”, creating an idealized Mediterranean idyll made of statue fragments (like the masks in that Vali Myers collage), tanned bodies, craggy landscapes and a diffuse Romantic pantheism.

Viola Collages 04 Medusa

Done in the most traditional way, with scissors and glue, then reworked on the computer, Viola Parrocchetti’s collages are themselves a tribute to a period, the first quarter of the twentieth century, when the collage became an art form in its own right – but also to another, later, flower power era when it reemerged in everything from festival posters to album covers. “I don’t want to reproduce all those 1950s Amalfi Coast clichés”, Viola explains, “things like the Vespa, the basket of lemons”. There’s more depth to the place in her view, a depth that emerges in the stories that swim in and out of her collages like lithe, sinuous dolphins.

The Le Sirenuse Positano 2020 Resortwear collection is available now at Emporio Sirenuse

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