Interview With Paola Fabbri: Expert in Historical Tailoring

 

I want to take a moment to thank Signora Fabbri for agreeing to this interview. For those of us on the west side of the Atlantic, this may be the first time a modern historian of the clothing worn in 14th and 15th centuries enters into a dialogue with a living history organization. Signora Fabbri is a subject matter expert of historical textiles and tailoring as far as I (and many others) are concerned, but if you have any questions simply look at the body of her research and work in answer to question number 1.

Paola_portrait.jpg
Paola Fabbri

Signora Fabbri has recently published a book entitled, La Moda Italiana Nel XV Secolo (available here in Italy and available on Amazon Kindle in the US). It is in Italian and I have done my best to translate the major bits of info in my blog post here (Renaissance Fashion 1300-1500). Her book, La Moda, covers Italian fashion of the quattrocento (15th century). Most of the questions below are geared towards the clothing information in her book, and in one of her answers she hints that the book may be translated into English (please support this by commenting below that you would be interested in the English version!). If you have other questions for Signora Fabbri, simply comment below and I will forward your questions to her.

I am a member of the largest living history (rievocazione) group in the world, the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). We have well over 30,000 members who engage in a broad range of activities, including armored combat, jousting, rapier fighting (fencing), archery, equestrian activities, historical cooking, medieval dance, and recreating medieval arts and sciences. This includes a broad range of domestic arts and sciences (fashion/tailoring, textiles, herbalism, woodwork, blacksmithing) as well as medieval music and theatre. Other activities include the study and practice of heraldry and scribal arts (calligraphy and illumination). We choose the time and place we study from the many pre-17th cultures of Europe and I have chosen Renaissance Italy (1300-1600). I am particularly interested in the central and northern Italian city-states of Firenze, Venezia, Verona, Ferrara, Bologna, Imola/Forli, and Mantua.

In real life I am a sociologist with a Master’s Degree in social science, so I love learning about people. In living history I get to bring the people of northern Italy from 1300-1600 to life. I am thrilled when I learn something new about their pastimes, medicine, games, clothing, heraldry, culture, customs, or lives. I have traveled many times over the past seven years to Florence, Venice, Verona, Forli, and Ferrara to conduct research by visiting museums, archives, and historical sites. I found Dotoressa Fabbri first when I was searching for more information on the clothing of women in those cities during the trecento, quattrocento, and early cinquecento. I have long been a fan of Signora Fabbri’s work and am honored to finally meet her across the internet. Here is a list of questions that were translated into Italian for her answer, along with her answer in English directly below.

 

1. What is your background? Tell us about you.

After studying arts I attended a school of fashion, the Istituto Marangoni Fashion & Design in Milan (www.istitutomarangoni.com).

I collaborated for ARS HISTORIAE, which used to be the official magazine edited by C.E.R.S. Italia – Consorzio Europeo Rievocazioni Storiche (www.cersonweb.org).
Here are some articles of mine, in the Italian language, I got to publish in it (you may read the original Italian titles above):

No. 05 January / March 2006 and No. 6 April / June 2006: The Italian clothing in the 15th century (ITA:
No. 09 January / March 2007: Headwear and hairstyles (ITA:
No. 10 April / June – No. 11 July / September – No. 12 October / December 2007: The cycle of months at Torre Aquila in Trento [article in cooperation with Giuliana Ghidoni]
No. 12 October / December 2007: Reconstruction of historical clothing. Techniques and issues.
No. 15 July / September 2008: Analysis of garments from the 12th to the 15th century
No. 17 January / March 2009: Fashion in the 14th century – Part I
No. 18 April / June 2009: Fashion in the 14th century – Part II
No. 19 July / September 2009: Female contraptions for a trendy body
No. 20 October / December 2009: The garments belonged to Eleonora, Cosimo and Don Garzia Medici
No. 21 January / March 2010: Glossary of terms related to medieval clothing – Part I
No. 22 April / June 2010: Glossary of terms related to medieval clothing – Part II
No. 23 July / September 2010: Glossary of terms related to medieval clothing. Medieval textiles – Part III
No. 24 October / December 2010: Glossary of terms related to medieval clothing – Part IV; Silk between Middle Ages and Renaissance – Part I
No. 25 January / March 2011: Silk between Middle Ages and Renaissance – Part II
No. 26 April / June 2011: Children’s clothing 

(Here are the names of the articles in Italian to assist in your online searches)

  • N. 5 Gennaio/Marzo 2006 e N. 6 Aprile/Giugno 2006: L’abbigliamento italiano nel XV secolo
  • N. 9 Gennaio /Marzo 2007:  Copricapo e pettinature
  • N. 10 Aprile/Giugno – 11 Luglio/Settembre – 12 Ottobre/Dicembre 2007: Il ciclo dei mesi di Torre Aquila di Trento [in compartecipazione con Giuliana Ghidoni]
  • N. 12 Ottobre/Dicembre 2007:  Ricostruzione di abiti storici. Tecniche e problematiche
  • N. 15 Luglio/Settembre 2008:  Analisi di vestiario tra XIII al XV secolo
  • N. 17 Gennaio/Marzo 2009:  La Moda nel XIV secolo – Parte I
  • N. 18 Aprile/Giugno 2009:  La Moda nel XIV secolo – Parte II
  • N. 19 Luglio/Settembre 2009:  Diavolerie femminili per un corpo alla moda
  • N. 20. Ottobre/Dicembre 2009: Gli abiti dei Medici Eleonora, Cosimo, Don Garzia
  • N. 21. Gennaio/Marzo 2010: Glossario dei termini relativi agli indumenti medievali – Parte I
  • N. 22 Aprile/Giugno 2010: Glossario dei termini relativi agli indumenti medievali – Parte II
  • N. 23. Luglio/Settembre 2010: Glossario dei termini relativi agli indumenti medievali – Parte III ; “Tessuti medievali”
  • N. 24 Ottobre/Dicembre 2010: Glossario dei termini relativi agli indumenti medievali – Parte IV ; “La seta tra medioevo e rinascimento” – Parte I
  • N. 25 Gennaio/Marzo 2011: La seta tra medioevo e rinascimento – Parte II
  • N. 26. Aprile/Giugno 2011: Abbigliamento infantile

 

Conferences held in Italy about historical clothing (you may read the original Italian titles above):

– August 2003: Men of the Middle Ages: clothing and everyday life – Villadose (Rovigo)
– October 2003: Women and Men’s Clothing in the 15th and 16th c. Lombardy – Cisliano (Milan) – February 2004: Fashion in Italy in the 14th century – Las Plassas (Cagliari)
– April 2004: Clothing and Accessories in the 15th century – Montecchio Maggiore (Vicenza)
– April 2005: The Italian outfit in the 14th century: reconstruction techniques – Training Workshop, Las Plassas (Cagliari)

– July 2006: Reconstruction of historical clothing. Techniques and issues – Giaveno (Turin)
– April 2007: Reconstruction of 13th century clothing with the aid of historical iconography – Arcella (Padua)
– Settembre2007: Everyday life clothes and accessories in the 14th century – Montagnana (Padua)
– January 2009: The Italian clothing in the 15th century – Mortara (PV)

– February 2009: Male and female civilian garments in the 15th and 16th c. – Rocca Scaligera, Castle of Arzignano (VI) – April 2009: Fashion in Lombardy in the second half of the 15th century – Isola Dovarese (Cremona)
– October 2010: Re-enactment at the service of craftsmanship: clothing and footwear – Calolziocorte (LC) Collaborations:

– December 2006: Le usate leggiadrie. The parades, ceremonies, celebrations and custome in the Mediterranean area between the 15th and 16th century – speech at the conference on Diego Cavaniglia held in Naples

– Naples, December 14th-16th: cooperation for the exhibition setting named The costume of an era (ITA: Il costume di un’epoca), which consisted of an exposure of clothes from Diego Cavaniglia’s grave goods held at the Church of San Lorenzo Maggiore, Naples, in the context of the conference mentioned above.

– Since 2005 cooperation with Dr. Lucia Portoghesi in the restoration of the grave goods belonging to Gregorio VII (X century) and Diego Cavaniglia (XV century)

(Here are the conference names in Italian)

  • Agosto 2003: L’uomo nel medioevo abbigliamento e vita di tutti i giorni – Villadose (Rovigo)
  • Ottobre 2003: Abbigliamento femminile e maschile nella Lombardia del XV e XVI secolo – Cisliano (Milano)
  • Febbraio 2004: La moda in Italia nel XIV secolo – Las Plassas (Cagliari)
  • Aprile 2004: Abbigliamento e accessori nel XV secolo – Montecchio Maggiore (Vicenza)
  • Aprile 2005: L’abito italiano nel XIV secolo, tecniche di ricostruzione – Work Shop formativo a Las Plassas (Cagliari)
  • Luglio 2006: Ricostruzione di abiti storici. Tecniche e problematiche – Giaveno (Torino)
  • Aprile 2007: Ricostruzione di abiti del XIII secolo con l’ausilio dell’iconografia storica – Arcella (Padova)
  • Settembre 2007 : Abbigliamento e accessori del vivere quotidiano nel Trecento – Montagnana (Padova)
  • Gennaio 2009: Abbigliamento italiano nel XV secolo – Mortara (PV)
  • Febbraio 2009: Abbigliamento civile maschile e femminile tra il XV e XVI sec –Rocca Scaligera – Castello di Arzignano (VI)
  • Aprile 2009: La moda in Lombardia nella II metà del XV secolo – Isola Dovarese (Cremona)
  • Ottobre 2010: La rievocazione al servizio dell’artigianato: abbigliamento e calzature – Calolziocorte (LC)

Standalone creations: 

– Replica of Diego Cavaniglia’s late 15th c. doublet, now kept together with the original at the Convent of St. Francis in Folloni, Montella (AV)

2. How did you first become interested in historical clothing?

It is very difficult to answer this question… I think my interest in historical clothing it’s kind of innate! There’s no particular reason actually, it was born since I was a child and developed on its own.

Paola1

3. What made you decide to write this book?

My idea was gathering in a single work the information at my disposal.

4. Did you study at a University in Italy? Which one? How did you enjoy it? Would you recommend it for others who are interested in historical sociology, specifically clothing?

No, I didn’t study at the University. As said above, after studying arts at the High School I attended a school of fashion, the Istituto Marangoni Fashion & Design in Milan; then I privately pursued my studies concerning the historical clothing and had the luck to take part in a few restoration projects.

5. What are you personal hobbies and pastimes? Do you have pets?

My hobbies are vegan baking and cooking; I have 8 cats and a dog.

6. Do you participate in living history events? Which ones do you attend? Which ones do you recommend for those in the US to travel and attend?

I just take part in events as a viewer. I would suggest the Armour Tournament (ITA: Torneo in Armatura) organizzato da FAMALEONIS Cultural Association (www.torneoinarmatura.com/english.html ; http://www.famaleonis.com/company.asp)

7. Do you ever come to the US to teach about historical clothing?

No, I’ve never been to the US.

8. Will your book be available in print?

The editor is thinking about that option.

9. I read that you have studied original finds. Tell us about them? Were any in Italy?

Referring to the 15th century, I had the luck to work for the restoration of two garments that belonged to Diego Cavaniglia, a noble native of Campania who died after being wounded at the Battle of Otranto (1481); I’m talking of a doublet and a “giornea”, the latter is the only surviving for the time being. These finds are in excellent conditions, considering they are grave goods. The doublet is made of silk damask and the “giornea” is made of crimson silk satin, both exhibited in the museum inside the Convent of St. Francis at Folloni, Montella (AV). I also studied Pandolfo III Malatesta’s funeral doublet, dated to the first quarter of the century, made of crimson silk velvet and now preserved in the Civic Museums of Fano (PU).

10. What is your favorite historical veste/sopravveste combination?

As for women “cotta/giornea”; as for men, “doublet/pleated giornea”.

Paola2.JPG

11. Is there a place you recommend that sells the proper Italian silk velvet or brocade for reenactors to buy for the aristocratic clothing they make?

I would suggest both the Fondazione Lisio in Florence (http://www.fondazionelisio.org/) and the Seterie Cordani at Zoagli (http://www.tessiturecordani.it/) but let me warn you that their products are really expensive.

12. Many of my followers are familiar with Herjolfsnes dress. Since Italy is so far from Greenland why is that a good basis to pattern trecento & quattrocento gonnelle, cottardite, and cipriane?

We should consider Herjolfnes patterns only valid as far as the 14th century is concerned. Given that Italian finds from this period are not known at the moment, we may assume, also basing on the iconography, which those clothes could have the same type of cut in Italy as well. To clear up any misunderstanding: are NOT suitable for the Italian 15th century.

13. What construction techniques would you recommend for those wanting to make a gamurra?

You can cut the bodice into 4 quarters (2 front and 2 rear ones) and the bottom in 6 sheets, always bearing in mind that the height of the textiles at that time did not exceed 70 cm. Six sheets with a width of 70 cm at the bottom provide a wide drapery, equal to about 4.20 mt. As for the waist portion, to be attached to the bodice, I usually proceed as following: I divide the underbust circumference into 6 and multiply the result by 3. Example: considering an underbust circumference equal to 90 cm., I’ll have 6 sheets of 45 cm. at the waist (90/6 = 15 and 15×3 = 45) and 70 cm at the hemline; at this point, you must curl the waist until it is 90 cm.

14. How do you feel about “princess seams” (a seam that runs in a curve from the shoulder to the waist that passes over the breast)?

Italian iconography doesn’t show those seams. Anyway, when a woman has big breasts and a small waistline, that is inevitable. At the moment in Italy we do not possess relics of genuine female garments (gamurre) enabling to say with certainty whether it was or not in use. Therefore, we can only make assumptions.

15. Who is your favorite historical woman of 1300-1600? Why?

Veronica Franco, a Venetian poetess and courtesan who lived in the 16th century, for her great strenght and culture.

16. Do you know we think of you as the Janet Arnold of 1300-1500?

No, I didn’t know that. Thank you so much but I don’t deserve it! Mrs Arnold was one of the greatest clothing historians.

17. Who are inspirations for you in the historical research world? Why?

Dr. Doretta Davanzo Poli, because she’s one of the major italian spokespeople as far as the history of costume and textile field is concerned.

18. Who was your mentor?

Dr. Doretta Davanzo Poli

19. Do you mentor others now?

No, I don’t.

20. Are there other time periods and countries that you study the clothing of?

As for historical periods, my work goes from the Roman times to the early 19th century but I’m specialized in the 14th and 15th century.

21. If you could live in an Italian city in 1490, where would you live? Why?

Actually I don’t like the idea of living in the past.

22. What other books on living in Italy from 1300-1600 would you recommend for us (in Italian or English)?

I would recommend La storia del costume in Italia by Rosita Levi Pisetzky, Treccani editions (Italian language).

23. Who are the reenactors ( rievocatori ) that you look up to in Italy? I ask because I would love to look at examples of people wearing your work and also recommend for my friends to visit those blogs and Facebook pages.

FAMALEONIS (www.famaleonis.com) and IMAGO ANTIQUA (www.imagoantiqua.it)

24. Would you ever be open to working with any of us in the US to translate and market an English version of your book? (I would personally work to help translate it for free)

I’ve already talked about this with the publishing house (Bookstones), which is planning to proceed  with the English translation of my e-book The Italian fashion in the 15th century (ITA: La moda  taliana nel XV secolo). In order to do so, they are thinking to launch a crowdfunding campaign  on http://www.kickstarter.com platform, so to raise the necessary funds. To achieve our goal, however,  we need to drum up interest in our project and get to really interested people, such as the followers  of your website and Facebook page. Can we count on your cooperation to spread and push somehow the news?

25. In English we do not have a lot of information on Italian clothing during 1300-1500. Once my readers have a chance to buy and read your book, would you give us another interview with questions on the clothing? They would benefit greatly from your clarification and advice.

Of course, it will be a pleasure.

 

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10 thoughts on “Interview With Paola Fabbri: Expert in Historical Tailoring

  1. As I read this interview, I became very excited! The possibility of getting a copy of Paola Fabbri’s book translated into English would be invaluable to not only me, but to many of my friends in the SCA, and particularly, my mentor.
    I will be waiting for news, as this hopefully blossoms into a reality!

  2. Please come to the US and talk to us about 15th C Italian clothes and especially your work on Diego Cavaniglia’s clothes!!

    And we are definitely interested in English language versions of your work!

    We have been over 500 people in a Facebook group specifically focused on 15th C Italy.

  3. I would be very interested in an English translation of this book and happy to help fund a Kickstarter. Please keep us posted on Facebook about any updates on the project.

  4. Great interview! Thank you for organizing and allowing us to get to know Paola a little better. Although I own the Italian version, I would love an English copy of Paola Fabbri’s book and I’m sure there are others who feel the same. Let me know when it becomes available.

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