Alessandra the great

“Georgette is the most beautiful of fabrics,” fashion designer Alessandra Vicedomini said of the light, matte crêpe named for the early-20th century French dressmaker Georgette de la Plante.

With an introduction like that – and a name like ours – how could we not be instantly enchanted by her?

But it’s more than that. Vicedomini has a quality — a warmth, a playfulness, a charisma — that invites you in and immediately puts you at ease. Indeed, it may be a quality particular to — or most noticeable in — Italian women. Think of Sophia Loren beguiling Cary Grant and his motherless children in the 1958 movie “Houseboat.” Or Gina Lollobrigida sparring wittily with hubby Humphrey Bogart in “Beat the Devil” (1953). Or Anita Ekberg frolicking in Rome’s Trevi Fountain with Marcello Mastroianni in “La Dolce Vita” (1960). OK, so Ekberg wasn’t Italian, but the film was. And anyway, you get the picture. 

Vicedomini’s sensuous sensitivity was on display as she engaged with clients during a May trunk show at Mary Jane Denzer in White Plains. And it is on display in her fall collection, centered as her designs are on knitwear. Indeed, it’s no wonder she loves Georgette (the fabric, not the journalist). Originally made from silk, the crêpe is today composed of twisted yarns.  Knitted fabrics, Alessandra said, are both shapely and figure forgiving, which makes them trending.

In Vicedomini’s skillful hands, knitwear also creates two illusions evinced in her fall collection. The first is the idea of cashmere as a kind of fur as seen in her signature vests — trimmed in hand-dyed, matching fur — a staple that she revisits every season. Pair one this year with her gray V-neck ribbed and patterned dress, black turtleneck outfit or sleeveless cream creation in undulating layers — all the quintessence of monochromatic elegance.

The second illusion — one that is no surprise for a designer whose bikinis have been featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue — is one of nudity. Consider her gray and white patterned dress with half sleeves and what appears to be a plunging neckline. On closer inspection, however, you can see a jewel-neck collar that leads to a mesh décolletage. 

“Illusory tulle makes getting dressed desirable,” Vicedomini said, “because it is so clever that it makes every piece unique. Nudity becomes sophistication.”

Her creations are at once sexy and demure — a winning combination for fashionistas.

“Vicedomini is the ‘go to’ label for me year-round,” said Mariela Tandy, executive fashion and retail editor at Tatler UK. “From the beginning, they have got everything right…. Alessandra herself couldn’t be a more perfect ambassador and designer, ever immaculate and elegant. Any woman who knows her can see her personality run through every piece in the collection.”

That quote appears in the sensuous coffee table book “Vicedomini: 1962-2012,” celebrating a half-century of the House of Vicedomini, which began with Alessandra’s father, Giuseppe. Briefly partnering with designer Lino Pellizzoni, the House of Vicedomini became known for the “tubino,” a straight dress in jersey or thick silk held together with a few simple stitches. Giuseppe set up shop in his native Milan, hired the model Orietta as house model and later married her. 

Daughter Alessandra was drawn to the business from a young age. “I always wanted to go to daddy’s office,” she says in the book, remembering herself as “a little girl running through the long corridors or playing secretary while typing on those old-fashioned typewriters. I would hide in the models’ (dressing room). I made it my private house. To me it looked so enormous and to see elegant retailers coming in to place orders, statuesque mannequins, glamour socialites popping in…”

Academically inclined, Alessandra felt another pull that she describes in the book:

“By virtue of a sense of justice that is still haunting me, I wanted to become one of those angry criminal lawyers, throwing murderers and psychopaths in jail. I soon understood that was not what fate would have led my adventurous life to.”

Instead fate decreed that she begin modeling at age 14 while continuing her education, in part to help out her parents, who experienced a series of professional and personal misfortunes (the destruction of the family factory when a snow-laden roof collapsed; a car accident that severely injured her mother), in the 1980s. Alessandra modeled for Dolce & Gabbana, Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino and Versace, all of whom would provide a training ground for the day in 2002 when she would take over the family fashion house, transitioning from her father’s structured tweeds to the more casual knits she had begun to design. 

In the meantime, there was a marriage, two sons, a divorce, a life in London, where she was acquainted with Kate Middleton (now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge), a fashion favorite of hers, and a life in Geneva, where she maintains an atelier for a collection that includes accessories.

There’s also an office and showroom in Milan. Between the fall collection, shown in Milan and Paris this month and in London, Madrid and New York in October; her teenage sons; her business and interviews — she was recently in Monaco for a magazine piece — her life is a whirlwind. But one constant remains — Italia.

“Italy is the style reference worldwide, not only because of the designers and major brands who are still making fashion history,” she said, “but thanks to the infrastructures, the artisans, the craftsmanship, the know-how in making, the materials produced and the elegance and flair every single operator exudes.”

And Vicedomini is doing her part to keep it that way.

For more, visit vicedomini.ch.

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