Monday, May 17, 2010
Guiliana Camerino died today in Venice. The handbags she designed (sold under the Roberta Di Camerino label) dangled off the arms of Grace Kelly, and Elizabeth Taylor in the 50s and 60s. Fancy doctors satchels someone called them. Beautiful is what I call them. Want one. Now please thank you.
Her story reads like a novel. Born in Venice to a prominent Jewish family, she dreamed of becoming a theatrical costume designer. She escaped to Switzerland during World War 2, where, as a refugee needing a handbag and money, made her own. Soon afterwards, a swiss woman riding with her on the bus bought the handbag right off her shoulder. Which is how it all began.
Her bags were widely copied--consciously or unconsciously--by loads of other designers. The senior buyer at Barneys described the shock of looking at Roberta Di Camerino's archive: "Every handbag I had ever seen had already been done by her years before."
Gucci's lattice of G's (she did it in 1946); Bottega Veneta's woven leather (she did it in 1957); Prada's articulated frame (she did it in 1964).
This copying bothered Camerino at first. She says:
"When I was only doing bags, I found it particularly important to be always very well dressed, so I became a client of Chanel. Once in a fitting she saw me crying because someone had copied a bag which I had done exclusively for Neiman Marcus. 'You must not cry now,' Coco said. 'You cry the day they don't copy you.' "