"It is a job of Art & Craftsmanship"

An interview with Paola Girardi

The work carried out in Girardi Paola's tailor's shop ranges from conception to design, from research into materials to model making, from cutting to finishing, each garment is a prototype.

Her story begins with her graduation as a model maker in 1972 from the Istituto B. Montagna in Vicenza, and after significant experience in companies in the sector, she started her own business in 1983 as a fashion designer for bespoke tailoring, eventually opening her own atelier in Vicenza. In the meantime, she has always participated in fashion shows in Vicenza and Venice with the tailors' category of Confartigianato Vicenza, with which she has been collaborating for years. By joining the Accademia Nazionale Dei Sartori in Rome, towards the end of the 1990s with the 'world congress' of tailors, she had the opportunity to present his creations in Italy and abroad. It has long been involved in training and enthusiastically welcomes students from Italy and abroad to whom she offers highly professional training periods.

What is the current level of vocational training in the custom tailor sector?

From my point of view, current training in the custom tailor sector leaves a lot to be desired. For many years, I have been a member of the commission of the Accademia Nazionale dei Sartori for the national competitions Forbici d'oro and Manichino d'oro in which the dressmaker and tailor who has been able to emphasise the style, technical ability, creative flair and formal rigour of women's custom tailoring is voted. Over the years, I have seen a substantial deterioration in the technical skills of the participants, who came from all over Italy, despite the fact that many were over 35 years old and had several years of experience in the labour market. I believe there is a lack of serious vocational training and in particular I have noticed huge deficiencies in manual skills and the ability to make professional cuts. There are fewer and fewer experienced tailors and they are getting older, there is a lack of really skilled tailors.

How has the world of custom tailoring changed in recent years? And which areas have seen the most change?

Custom tailoring is very different from industrial fashion and so-called fast-fashion. In tailoring you work on made-to-measure garments and in addition to technical skills you need other skills such as creativity, the ability to communicate with the customer and to understand their needs. Custom tailoring is by definition exclusive and niche because it aims to enhance the personality of the person we are dressing and to create a style.

What shortcomings have you noticed in recent years on the part of those starting this type of activity?

There is a lack of solid home sewing experience on different models, where for example you understand that the pattern starts from the head and you work with sizes other than 40 which is easy to set up. The base of a collar ranges from 8 to 12 and often less experienced tailors have difficulties when going outside standard sizes.
In larger companies it is easier to find someone who is only a stylist or has more specific skills in a certain area such as the type of material, assembly or market research. There is also the figure of the industrial tailor who generally works on pre-packaged models, while the tailor, although working on small numbers, must be able to know the entire production cycle.

What skills does a custom tailor need in today's market?

A custom tailor must have a solid knowledge of model making, which is the basis for being able to create a well-cut style. To make a garment you need to understand how to cut it, but first you need to be able to create the pattern from. Manual dexterity develops and improves with the actual practice of this work over the years. Then it is a job in close contact with the customer whom you have to learn to understand and to whom you have to be able to give advice in the choice of the model, the fabric, the accessories, right up to the first trials of the finished product. 

What differences do you notice between your vocational training and today's vocational training?

Vocational Institutes have changed a lot over the years. In particular, practical subjects and laboratory hours have been removed or reduced in favour of more theory and subjects not directly related to fashion and sewing. This happened when the school reform of the 1980s introduced the possibility of entering university with a vocational diploma, making it necessary to add theory hours at the expense of laboratory hours. Suffice it to say that when I attended the training school there were 18 hours per week of modelling while today there are 2-3 per week.
I remember a model making course I taught in 2008 that from numerous enrolments at the beginning of the course had gone down to just 7 participants by the middle of the course, with drop-outs probably due to a lack of real passion.

How has the world of tailoring changed in recent years?

Competition is very strong and it is increasingly difficult to emerge and stay in the market. To compete, you have to be able to propose a personal style and be aware that the cost of your products is not always within reach of the general public, as they are unique and exclusive products.

Compared to past years, there is less and less interest in made-to-measure clothing, and with covid the situation has even worsened after months in which people have neglected the care of their clothing and appearance. Today it is important to continually find new style cues and ideas, and this is done by carefully observing mass trends in different contexts such as people walking down the street, in the disco, in the office, or even from trends in thinking and behaviour.

For example, over the years, the importance of using textiles to recycle and repurpose has emerged, of processing fabric scraps to create other things, of the possibility of converting textiles for fertilisers or of creating rubber shoes by recycling them from textiles. These trends represent development opportunities for those who can grasp and intercept the tastes and perceptions of the market.

From this point of view it is an all-round job that absorbs you completely but at the same time can give you a lot in terms of mental wealth and personal growth.

Has digitalization brought advantages to the world of tailoring?

Digitalisation and technology in general are a great opportunity to broaden the customer base you can reach and to promote your products. I am a great believer in these tools and I manage the Facebook and Instagram channels of my business on my own, while I have outsourced the creation and management of the company website, which is also in English.

What would you recommend to a young person who wants to pursue this profession?

Tailoring is a wonderful job that can give great satisfaction, but it requires passion and a lot of willingness to work and the ability to continuously put yourself in the game with continuous training also for those who teach: it is a job of art and craftsmanship.