PRECIOUS AVANT-GARDE: interview with Paola Emilia Monachesi

There are three types of fashion designers: those who give up at the first difficulties, who fight like lions trying to reach their goals and other who face this challenging job with a smile and a vulcanic energy. Paola Emilia Monachesi surely doesn’t belong to the first category and with her label “Pryvice” gives a shot of life to the traditional Italian High Fashion, brightning the catwalks with flashes of gold and precious metals.

The first time I’ve seen the creations designed by PAOLA EMILIA MONACHESI was more than one year ago, at White Show, where she showcased the collection for the brand Au197Sm. I can easely remember the exact moment in which her surprising style impressed me. Gold foils, three-dimensional structures, a lot of white, something recalling the coolness of street-style but in a fantastic couture way. I’ve immediately thought that was one of the most interesting and gorgeous collections of the year. So avant-garde, so light and precious.

"Pryvice" fashion show at Altaroma in July 2019

The Paola’s uncontested talent couldn’t finish with the adventure at Au197Sm, after an incredible business career in big names of fashion industry like Versace and Emilio Pucci. Her new creature is Pryvice, her private corner of dreams in which she gives life to all her unbridled fantasy, always fascinated by the thousands of possibilities offered by technology and the preciousness of metals.

Paola Emilia Monachesi in the showroom of Livia Gregoretti

The collection “Tech Intencity”, that I’ve seen in the last edition of Altaroma, is clearly inspired by the future, so hungrily pursued by the designer, but finally is a future of positiveness and hope. Impressed by this unconventional approach, I’ve asked to Paola an interview, in which I discovered not only an incredibly creative designer, but all the passion that only a lover can have for life. Here our interesting conversation held in the beautiful “Showroom Livia Gregoretti” in Milan.

The collection "Tech Intencity" by Pryvice in the Livia Gregoretti's showroom in Milan

The last time I saw you was in July at Altaroma, with your beautiful fashion show.
Exactly, a show that continues my path as Artistic and General Director of Au197Sm. We separated and that brand no longer exists, while I’m continuing with my concept. I called my new brand “Pryvice” because I wanted to be totally alone.

So a new adventure?
It’s the continuation of my path of absolute research of new materials and innovative applications connected to technology. The name “Pryvice” is the union of pry, which means investigate things with curiosity, and vice, that is part of my person, something I cannot do without.

"Pryvice" fashion show at Altaroma in July 2019

Is fashion your vice?

My vice is exploring fashion always looking for something that not yet invented and that can be the starting point to see things in another way. It’s absolutely related to the future and is however wearable. This is the most important thing. The basic silhouettes are very comfortable, but for me the details make the difference. All the process is handmade, so the reproduction of some pieces is very challenging. This doesn’t mean you can’t reproduce them, because they are not museum artworks, but wearable unique pieces. Even the same skirt model will never be the same, because decorated with applications and not prints. Everything you see here is applied by my hands.

Do you concretely make everything? So is this an artisanal approach to future?
Yes, absolutely. It’s precisely combining the craftsmanship to the highest technology and research, because right now in Italy and worldwide it’s essential a concrete approach to clothes. I don't make drawings. I directly create on dummy, putting on some fabrics, assembling pieces.

One of the most eye-catching pieces of the collection hand-painted by Paola Emilia Monachesi

A very extemporary method, but also very tactile.
It must be. I know how fabrics fall well, but everything must be always very light, in every season. Creating a garment on the dummy you know where to add fabrics seeing the wearability. The old sketching system is not mine. Simply drawing you don't know if the result is heavy, if the pattern maker correctly interprets it, if everything is right or requests adjustments. I find fashion sketches a great waste of time and money, not mine. This is my basic concept.

This is a very interesting! So you revolutionized not only your aesthetic concept, but also the design process.

This is my base and there’s no way to get away from this method. Because intuition is fundamental. Combining fabrics is part of me, of searching for new things, even materials or decorations never used for clothing. When I created the pattern of my dresses in gold and silver called “toile d'araignée”, that is the spider's net, I experimented through hundreds tests of particular spray resins that allow me to obtain this particular effect just by changing the nozzle and creating the flow using the wide movement of the hand. Then one gold sheet after another, or steel or copper, I start to make my applications on. Then there are other resins that allow me to draw, having much more defined and hard motifs. 

The “toile d'araignée” and other special effects created by Paola Emilia Monachesi

Experimentation is the first step for you. Do you make a lot of tests on many different fabrics until you find what you like?
Exactly! And everything must be able to surviving many washings. I must always keep in mind that something can be beautiful, unique and maybe even difficult to do, but it must be easy to wear and easy to wash.

To better suit the needs of a normal person's life?
Oh yes! Another very important thing is that I rarely use zips and buttons. Because I want that a woman can wear my dresses, whatever size she has, having a different fluidity effect. It’s fundamental how a dress falls on the person, not the size.

Detail of an outfit from the fashion show "Pryvice" at Altaroma in July 2019

One of the problems of standard size is the rigidity of shapes and dimensions. And this marginalized women, who can have the perception of not being enough for certain brands. This can be frustrating. Instead curvy women can wear and appreciate a product like your. I find it a great approach, which increases the sense of freedom that your clothes already give.

That's right! Freedom and lightness are very important to me. I don't care if this dress is at the end transparent, because you can wear it with a very simple black lingerie dress, a jumpsuit or whatever you want, it doesn't matter. This piece is enough, wherever you go. Some of my dresses have the waist lowered on one side or a deep back neckline, because you can easily slip it over your head. There is no zip, it's easy.
Outfits of the collection "Tech Intencity" showcased at Altaroma in July 2019

Your creations are wonderful, but the concept behind them is also beautiful.
You saw them at Altaroma where I presented them with certain combinations. After the fashion show I added other pieces to the collection. Some with handmade materials, like the silk chiffon combined to a net that, with a resin and the heat, I managed to unite placing inside my decorations made with colored copper, aluminum or silver. And it's all made by hand.

Besides being a fashion designer, are you also a textile designer?
In the end, yes, because I don’t buy this kind of material. I have basic fabrics and then work on them. Also in the jacket I created the material with a net and the lizard skin. It became a special material that is also waterproof and can be machine-washed. But please, note that the jacket has no buttons.
Outfits of the collection "Tech Intencity" showcased at Altaroma in July 2019

A search for practicality despite the extreme luxury. But it's an incredibly fresh, wearable and light luxury. My idea is that you don't like closures, maybe preferring more the concept of openness.

Exactly, maybe the closures give me a sense of discomfort. Things are never too tight at waistline, they must have a movement. It’s something that I study a lot for any type of woman, because for me it’s fundamental. There are longer or shorter backs, tall or short people and I don't like women forced into a rigid shape. Speaking about materials, I also use black copper maybe in a very simple t-shirt or in an over sweatshirt.
Everything is iridescent. In the shirts the grosgrain ribbon has an iridescent and reflective effects. The lines are simple, clean, but enlivened by the paintings on fabrics. All made by my hands. Here at the Livia Gregoretti’s showroom you can see many more pieces than in the fashion show, in which I presented only what was ready. In a dress for example, I created a mix of “toile d'araignée” and resin, which gives to the simple organza a different movement.
Outfit of the collection "Tech Intencity" showcased at Altaroma in July 2019

Practically a pictorial action. Is liberatory this artistic gesture you apply to the fashion product?
Psychologically speaking, absolutely yes. Because having a past as Commercial Director at Versace, having launched Peter Dundas together with Pucci, or as buyer, I’m never satisfied by what I see around me, in the shops. In fact, all the people who approach this collection first tell me that they have never seen anything like it. There is no competitor.

The first time I saw your collection for Au197Sm, I was completely amazed by your style because it’s something totally incomparable. Very avant-garde, but not unwearable. Because in the fashion world there are certainly very particular and creative things, but too often they remain museum pieces. Instead, is beautiful to see real people wearing your clothes.
Simplicity and wearability are fundamental. For example, my organza skirt with hand-painted panel that can be worn with a tight t-shirt or with a very strange oversized sweatshirt ...

Hi-tech fabrics and sparkling decorations for the creations by "Pryvice"

is each piece interchangeable? There is no concept of outfits, you can even hybridize the look.
Exact! You can mix everything. I love to transform different colors into a single shade. A color fits perfectly with another one, even without having a color-block effect. Everything turns, in a very easy way. The look is totally transformable and at the same time a piece becomes a passe-partout garment that you can use with everything. From purple to white, to black and yellow, you can mix everything.

This collection has wonderful colors. There are black, white, neon details, yellows and lilacs in many shades. Everything is very moved. Is this love for colors applied to metallic interventions a thing that you will carry on as a leitmotiv of your future winter collections?
Sure. Because the concept cannot change. A woman can find in the collection something not standardized. I want to avoid being a product. So I don't speak in groups, but everything must be mixed.

Outfits of the collection "Tech Intencity" showcased at Altaroma in July 2019

 So a person who loves your style, can mix the seasons? It means a timeless style.
Exactly, my pieces are timeless. And you will never throw, because in the next collection you will have others that will be totally different, but they will always follow the same concept.

Well, in the Italian scene your style stands out, but not for too strong colors or too invasive features. Paradoxically it stands out for its lightness and harmony. Is this the essence of your character?
This is a very beautiful thing. I've always been a passionary. Even in 1995 I showcased for the first time in Tokyo because I designed 5 collections for a Japanese group and at the same time I was the Sales Manager at Versace. I was young, with Santo, who still supports me so much today. But I never wanted to stand out personally. Now there’s this opportunity and I realized that I have to make everything by myself, because I need to express my reality, let people touch it, understand who understands me. I have to find the right people. Now I'm in the showroom of Livia, who absolutely married my concept, then I’ll be in Paris. I’m very happy about what I did until now, but never satisfied. That’s why I would add fifty more pieces to this collection, because I already have them in mind.

Detail of an outfit from the fashion show "Pryvice" at Altaroma in July 2019

You are a vulcan of energy and even at the end of the fashion show you go on the catwalk with a strong music, bringing a lot of positivity and a lot of energy. Are the classic fashion schedules, with their seasonality, too tight for you?
Yes a lot, in fact the "see now wear now" concept is fundamental for me. Just as times and trends quickly change, we cannot stop. It’s true that a woman goes every season to the stores, but also reviewing the same things for months, because the retailers are obliged to buy a certain amount of clothes for very specific contracts, in the end is boring. While instead the possibility of producing every month is interesting. The result would be the same at economic level, but with a better of turn-over within the store, making them more interesting and attractive.

Outfit of the collection "Tech Intencity" showcased at Altaroma in July 2019
I agree, especially in a period like this, with social media that transformed the usability of images. The new idea is to scroll thousands of outfits with a finger, wanting them immediately. But I have to wait six months? Traditional times are now obsolete.
Yes, they are absolutely anachronistic because too far from modern times. I wish to have the opportunity to do something else. For example, a client of mine from Qatar adores a dress and needs in the store 5 pieces with the same line, but other fabrics. Now there are the traditional tailoring times, especially because the industry thinks in closed compartments. There is the pattern maker, the one who cut, the seamstress, everything with enormous costs. Instead this can be changed and I say it by experience. If the customer requests 5 pieces for Christmas, he can have them punctual with all the variants he needs.
Outfits of the collection "Tech Intencity" showcased at Altaroma in July 2019

Is this new way of producing something that you are already testing or is this a different process you would like to approach?
It’s my project, but who in Italy agrees with me? How can we do it all together? I can do it by myself because I’m alone and I know how to organize it. Others are not in my condition and don’t have my background. Who is interested to this process? Young designers?

Well, from experience I can tell you that some young designers want to approach new methodologies, because they can't afford economically the timing and traditional modalities.
I’d really like to have a meeting with them, to compare myself with young people. Explain how the system can be revolutionized and how they can spend less. But they must be talented, possibly with my same determination and passion. For young people who have smartphones practically glued to their hands and who have much faster times than ours, that method is very tight. I’m a very social person and absolutely impatient both as person and as designer for having something faster than this.
Detail of the lilac dress designed by Paola Emilia Monachesi for her "Pryvice" avant-garde couture collection

I’d like to understand better your inspiration. In traditional fashion houses the elaboration of a concept is usually relegated to a specific moment and must also be rapid, to leave room for the development of the collection. But you practically paint on clothes, that are born from your hands and body movement. Is inspiration something that you find at the beginning or is it a work in progress?
It’s a work in progress, one inspiration for each garment. And then there is necessarily my rational mind in building a main theme. This is also part of my background. But I have no initial inspiration, other than pieces of fabric I work with. Now I'll tell you a secret about the lilac dress. One night it occurred to me that, without the ultrasound machine I used for the previous collections for Au197Sm and that it costs a fortune, I need some idea to give movement to the fabric miming the ultrasonic effect. Then I made it with the corrugated hair straightener, with the heat that changed the fiber structure. Then I applied the same machine on leather and organza, previously worked internally with gold. At first sight you cannot understand it.

I really like the fact that you don't stop in front of the traditional processing method, so even with a hair dryer or a hair straightener you can create something.
Of course, because you have to understand what can bring you to the same result. There are so many objects in the world you can experiment with. In fashion industry everything is divided in watertight compartments, while could be linked and useful to each other.

Handmade details on the avant-garde creations realized by Paola Emilia Monachesi

To create connections also with other realities?
Exactly, in fact for example two groups of architects, one from Rome and one from Vienna, asked me a collaboration for some pieces. This is great. Usually there is art and then fashion, or fashion inspired by art, but this is sterile.

Do you prefer hybridizations between genres?
Yes, because in this way creativity never ends. I create an object that does not remain only in that fashion show or in that exhibition, but it has an evolution that makes you remember it, because otherwise everything is forgotten. Instead, working in my way, I give a sense of continuity. But only enthusiasts, real creatives living in a world of visions can do this. I have two sides, one more rational and one more creative. 
The second one maybe derives from my family. I’m the third-degree granddaughter of the famous painter Sante Monachesi, my grandfather was the tailor who created Loro Piana. I don't know why, but when I take an object or a fabric in my hands I transform it into something else. Sometimes young designers are too focused on going out on catwalk making something strange, which is a forcing that is not strange, but made just to impress, to emerge. This is something that I consider lack of talent, something made for social media.
Outfit of the collection "Tech Intencity" showcased at Altaroma in July 2019

What is your perception about the future of fashion?
I'm in extreme confusion over this question. I know there are designers who would like look forward, but cannot because they have a debt with the customers who have followed them up to now, then budgets to be respected. I’m sure they could work in a different way, maybe slowly starting with only the 20% of the collection, to change and enter another world. When people go to a store for buying something, they want something unique. 
A make an example on a famous brand. The Cucinelli’s cashmere sweater, that in the last years evolved in super glamour and even difficult pieces elaborated with feathers, now is used to mix with other collections. We don’t anymore have the total look, except for a very high-age segment. Or maybe you can buy 10 cashmere sweaters of all colors for the winter season, because it's comfortable. This concept can be true for a big brand like Cucinelli, but we cannot continue to create brands on the footprint of that genre. It’s absurd. Most of the collections are all the same, the print changes, one makes it in flowers, one in squares. The shape of the trousers is the same of 2 years before. 
I really enjoy watching London Fashion Week because it's out of this scheme, but it's more of a show. In Paris there are those, like Chanel, who carry on a very precise concept for many years, but with very different styling outfits, that is fundamental in the construction of a collection. Unfortunately, it's a big investment problem that requests the courage to lose 30-40% of your customers, for going in another direction following the changes of society. People aged 40-50 do not want to go around with the elegant suit.

Detail of an outfit from the fashion show "Pryvice" at Altaroma in July 2019

On the contrary, youth has also expanded, so at 40 we are still very young.
Exactly, at that age I want to be unique, I want to be free. I don't take care of other’s opinion, I want to decide how to go out this morning creating my personal outfit, maybe even using an old thing that I have in the wardrobe, but with an amazing piece, with a bomb effect.

Something strong that can be the interpretation of the identity, of the mood of the moment, without prejudice and constraints. So the concept of trend is almost lost?
The trend does not exist. Just watch a fashion show and what is offered. There are miniskirts, long skirts, midi. What is the trend? In the color? There are all, as for the lines. Because you have to satisfy at 100% the segment. And since the segment has expanded, now the collections have thousands of garments, so a woman builds her image as she wants. The only thing we can do is helping the young designers and the types of collections like mine, that can launch new trends. You have to be brave, even without having money. Where there is a will there is a way. 
Do you know who sewed this whole collection with a home sewing machine? I learned to sew and I did it all by myself. At that moment I could not do anything else. And the first thing I did was make a fashion show in Rome.

Outfits of the collection "Tech Intencity" showcased at Altaroma in July 2019

Why did you choose Rome?
What was I waiting for? They were expecting the next fashion show of my previous brand, because I had showcased in Milan with a collection that made the boom. And what I could do? I was finished, dead. And I could not give this satisfaction. So in a week I did what you saw on the catwalk.

In practice you did a miracle! So you don't sleep and eat until you have what you want?
Exact! Because I had to stay alive. The first occasion that happened to me was Altaroma and I did it. I worked alone. Among other things, I also had health problems, but I said to myself "I have to do it". Night, day, fabrics, research, experimentation. I can't use certain workmanships because part of a patent, but I did everything I wanted in an alternative way. And so I did it.

The collection "Tech Intencity" by Pryvice in the Livia Gregoretti's showroom in Milan

Your collection was one of the most appreciated at Altaroma, a fashion week focused on a very particular sector of young designers, emerging brands and artisanal labels, unlike many other realities. How was the relationship with them?

All those who made my fashion show are all friends, who knew what had happened to me and wanted to help me, even the models sent to me from Milan for free. The people who know my life, path and evolution, have believed in me. When one believes in something the results finally come. I was totally happy with what they did for me. Alessandro Mazzini Eventi, for example, gave me the soul with all his team. The nice thing is that when there are these positive energies, then you also find people with the same energies. Paolo Purina, the stylist par excellence, did everything he could to do the styling.

"Pryvice" fashion show at Altaroma in July 2019

A good story, as stories should be.
It must be so. One must be resourceful and do something.

Now you're here with this collection, what's the next step?
The childrenwear. I continue with this female collection and the childrenwear, which I had already done with Au197Sm going to Pitti, but unfortunately I had to leave. Now I want the “Pryvice Baby”. This is for me a fixed idea. About meswear instead, in reality within the collection I can insert something that is genderless. I’d start with luxury sweatshirts, that are a must.

So the first step is the childrenwear and then you will evaluate the introduction of men’s clothing. When we will see the next collection?
I want to showcase at Altaroma because they were very kind to me. Even the Barbara Manto as Pr is really fantastic. If I can I will also Milan, let's see what opportunities I will have. For now unfortunately I don't have a press office and I'm evaluating. Not so many journalists and stylists still don’t know that I’m here, in the showroom of Livia Gregoretti.

The collection "Tech Intencity" by Pryvice in the Livia Gregoretti's showroom in Milan

Do you believe in e-commerce?
Yes and no. I believe in the electronic commerce for a capsule that does not concern the main collection. It must be a separate channel, different from what I show in the showroom. I believe in the fun of e-commerce. So the shirt that comes to mind at the moment, the sweatshirt. No more than 6-7 articles. This is what I think for the moment.

A limited edition?
Exactly, a more active edition limit. In which there is also the menswear. And that's the next goal. Men, children, women, more active but surely super special.

Your policy is to differentiate the lines to have the online channel and the most exclusive boutiques. Do you want to guarantee them a privileged treatment to feel them part of your world in a more exclusive way?

Yes, of course. Then I want to make the brand renowned online. I will never make the t-shirt with a big “Pryvice” logo, but certainly there will be sweatshirts and t-shirts with very specific characteristics. Maybe not with all the artisanal decorations I make in the main collection, but always with something precious, to wear with leggings or jogging pants.
Sweatshirt with gold foil and bubble-wrap effect by "Pryvice"

Are the experiments something that you do only with a semi-couture collection?
Oh, yes! Like some processes with bubble-wrap printing, some triple couplings with gold and silver. Or the resin applied on the net, the hand-painted fabrics with a crunchy effect. All things machine washable obviously, and wearable by different people because in any case without size. I like the concept that it is not only a beautiful fashion to look at, but it is a fashion that you can touches, rubs and that makes noise. It’s essentially multisensory. Because it's part of my world. I hope I told you everything.

I’m very happy to have met you and to have been involved in your passion and your wonderful and creative world. Thanks Paola!