Like many girls, I’ve dreamed of going to a ball just to dress up. And the preparation can be better than the event itself.
Every December, Milan’s party month, since I was nine years old, I was jealous of my mother. She could transform herself, just for a night, into the kind of woman I used to see on cover magazines. I loved being her stylist and adviser for her beauty and fashion choices.
Kindly, she let me choose her dress almost every year just to make me happy. As a little girl, I was thrilled at the idea of going out shopping and looking for a remarkable piece. My mother believes in quality, but her lesson is never pay full price. Hence, outlets, vintage stores and discounted luxury retailers are our hunting grounds.
I remember all of our yearly hunts vividly. It was the same script every time. The shop assistant would ask her: “What are you looking for?” My mother would answer: “I have an important event to attend and I would like something…” And because Italians are nosey, making the most of the excuse to help her, they would enquire what kind of event she would be attending.
After all those years, in 2018 I had the honour to be invited for a gala to mark the 46th edition of Pirelli Calendar, an event titled Dreaming. My first thoughts were: “What am I going to wear? A long dress? A gown? What shoes and what bag?”
I examined celebrity looks, I scrolled through my favourite influencers’ Instagram posts to find some inspiration, and I created a board on Pinterest with all the things that I liked. I love planning and I hate to not be prepared. Plus I am a perfectionist, and this was my biggest mission ever.
That year, our roles changed. My mother was the little girl, suggesting and styling, while I was the main character.
We discussed a lot about how my dress should be and, as with many daughter-mother relationships, we wanted different things. My days were spent at work, but as soon as I would come home, my online research would begin, exploring vintage, pre-used and new clothes to buy.
All the ones saved in my wishlist were black or dark blue, simple almost too plain. My favourite was vintage Yves Saint Laurent. The dress was all black velvet with little circular silver sparkling sequins. It had simple lines, the skirt falling to just above the ankles. In perfect condition at an excellent price. The problem was I could not try it on, and, there was no time to adjust it if needed.
Friends encouraged me to choose something younger and more fun. We started from zero. All of our usual places had nothing right for my body or personality, so we settled on a trip to landmark department store Rinascente.
So, early on the last Tuesday of November, my mother and I strolled through the old streets of Milan to arrive at the Duomo. Just opposite it is Rinascente, Italy’s answer to Harrods, full of international brands and the latest trends.
We decided to arrive early because that week they would put your clothes on hold until Friday (Black Friday), when customers could return to pay less and take home their new outfits.
The biggest shop in Milan was quiet. I have often visited it before, so I was relaxed. We went straight to the fourth floor where all the mono brands are – infinite racks with all imaginable options. A person could be lost, not knowing where to start, but I knew every single corner of the store. Without hesitation, I went straight to the back where I knew the fancier looks were.
The clothes varied from sophisticated to simple, I was still unsure if I wanted to look like Charlotte Casiraghi or Kate Moss. Thankfully my mother was there guiding and reminding me: “if you wear something you are not comfortable in because it is not suitable for your personality, you will feel insecure all night.” She was correct – and the mere idea of wearing heels was scaring me already.
After exploring satin, velvet and every possible colour, we found the perfect brand for me, Needle & Thread. The British brand represents, from my point of view, a classy girl but with a modern twist. The only problem was choosing the colour and the right dress. Luckily, I had a nice saleswoman who tried hard to help me.
The first option was my dream dress, one I was sure about even before trying it on. But I was completely wrong. It was the most delicate of dresses with transparent half sleeves in a beautiful lilac mixed with a light blue. The tulle fell to my feet, the dress adorned with flower embroidery and shimmering sequins and transparent half sleeves, for the first time ever, I felt like a princess. I was amazed by the look. I even gave my mum permission to take pictures while I played with the flaunty gown. Usually, I hate being photographed.
The next option was a semi-long dress, with different shadows of red, from burgundy to dark pink. The main focus was a deep cleavage with gemstones on the front and a tulle multi-layered skirt and frill trim. I was out of my comfort zone with this one. My personal stylist and the women in the changing rooms all offered their opinions, mixed, not very useful. I found myself thinking: “Am I going for a dress that is not in my style, but I really like it because of the skirt, or not?”
I went back to my cubicle to change again. It was the most spacious and super-light changing room I have ever been. When my mother came back with other options, the one she loved the most was a folksy “country” style.
While I was not impressed by her choices, I reluctantly tried on an embroidered dress in different nuances of pink. It had no sparkle and it was unacceptable in my mind. I was going to a gala, not a simple party. I wanted to wear something unique. I came out in front of my audience and the big mirror, and everyone present could see how much unhappy I was with this outfit. The colour was terrible for my pale skin, and even though I like simple things, this was just… common. At that moment, I thought: “This is a total disaster, I will never find the right one.”
Then from nowhere, almost like magic, the same folksy “country” dress that I had just taken off appeared in a different colour, and it seemed like a brand-new model. I went back to my cubicle to try one last time…
This one was all black, long enough to cover my feet without tripping me over, and with a big black velvet bow at the front. It was connected to the corset, which in turn was linked with little sleeves that highlighted the shoulders. The dark dress seemed bright thanks to small cream flowers embroidered all over it fading away towards the edge.
Instantly I was in love with it! It made me feel good, elegant, but still young and fun. It was a beautiful dress, perfect for dancing all night long. I twirled around to appreciate the tiered tulle in motion. I posed for imaginary cameras. This was the one.
My story illuminates the magic of fashion – the transformative potential of a specific garment. When people say fashion is superficial, they do not understand how powerful this creative world really is.
Still, today when maybe I am feeling a little sad, I open my wardrobe just to see and to touch the tulle gown. Every time, a smile appears on my face.