Inspired by Nature – The 2018 CNMI Green Carpet Talent Winner Gilberto Calzolari

CNMI Green Carpet Talent Competition winner Gilberto Calzolari shares the story behind his sustainable design after being awarded The Franca Sozzani GCC Award for Best Emerging Designer at the GCFA, Italia 2018:

  An elegant, couture dress may not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of used jute coffee bags, but CNMI Green Carpet Talent Competition winner Gilberto Calzolari’s creation proved that with a little creativity, even the most unlikely of materials can be given new life as something beautiful. At the 2018 Green Carpet Fashion Awards, Italia, held in his hometown of Milan, Calzolari was awarded The Franca Sozzani GCC Award for Best Emerging Designer for his design, which was created from Brazilian coffee sacks purchased at Milan’s Navigli vintage market. The bags were being sold in Milan to use as water barriers against canal floodwaters – a growing concern due to climate change – and were transformed into a striking floor-length gown, lined with archive fabric and embellished with Swarovski Advanced Elements lead-free crystals. As well as taking home the handmade Chopard statuette made from fairmined gold, Calzolari will join a 12-month mentorship programme with the Bicester Village Shopping Collection by Value Retail and will also get the opportunity to present his designs at Milan Fashion Week next February supported by the CNMI.  His collection will also be featured at The Creative Spot – a dedicated retail space just outside of Milan that showcases the work of emerging design talent at Fidenza Village.

“I can hardly express what this means for me,” said Calzolari of his win. “Ethics and aesthetics have always been core values of mine and with this dress – an unusual combination of poor materials (the recycled jute coffee bags) and the precious world of Swarovski Crystals (in the exclusive “Advanced Crystal” recipe that complies with the most rigorous eco-sustainability requirements) – I wanted to prove that creativity and luxury can, and must, go together with respect for our planet. 

“To see this effort appreciated by a jury of this level is further incentive to continue writing the future of fashion in the name of sustainability.”

As the son of a fabric salesman and high-end boutique store manager, Calzolari grew up in Milan surrounded by fashion.  After working for some of the most prestigious luxury fashion houses in Italy, in 2015 he established his eponymous brand, which he describes as “glamourous, romantic, chic, ironic, responsible.”

Speaking after the GCFA, Italia, Calzolari shared the inspiration behind his creations:

What have you learnt from the CNMI Green Carpet Talent Competition process?
So much! In the preparation of this project I had the opportunity to study and question where materials come from – their composition, their carbon footprint and the impact of the fabrics and their manufacturing process on the environment. 

It was a really valuable lesson and an enriching experience that I’m sure will have an impact on my future choices. I believe sustainable fashion is the way to good. Fashion brands need to display an awareness and commitment in this direction, not only as a moral imperative, but also as a way to separate them from fast fashion. Of course, it’s a long process and manufacturers need to help us by enabling us to choose from a wide range of eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics and techniques, at reasonable prices.

What is the story behind your winning creation?

The dress has a pure ‘green’ soul, even in its conception. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that only when mankind turned away from Nature to live in an urban environment, it began to develop an aesthetic perception of the countryside and a melancholic longing for it. Its beauty soothes our senses, awakens our desires, and reminds us of the true meaning of life. 

I found all these feelings perfectly represented in a film by Jean Renoir “Une partie de campagne” – a bittersweet love story between a young Parisian woman from a bourgeois family and a down-to-earth boater she met during a picnic in the countryside. From this initial inspiration, I decided that I wanted to pay homage to my own Lombard countryside, so I went searching for the right fabrics. 

I knew I wanted to use jute but when I saw the Brazilian jute bags at the Navigli canals market, originally used as coffee bags and then as barriers against the flooding of the canals – I knew I could convey the concept even further. So, I decided to treat the recycled jute as a real couture fabric, creating a tight-fitting bodice lined with natural cotton muslin, with ‘a gocce’ draping to form a tulip shape. Finally, I created a clash between the original material and the high-end tailoring by embroidering it with Japanese floral motifs in Swarovski crystals.

How did you start in sustainable fashion?
I’ve always paid attention to environmental issues, since I consider nature to be one of the biggest sources of inspiration for my collections.  For my first collection, inspired by the Arctic, I partnered with Polar Bears International – the most important non-profit association for the safeguard of the polar bear and its habitat.   My catwalk during the “Next Trend” event during Milan Fashion Week opened with images of polar caps collapsing and icebergs melting to the soundtrack of Depeche Mode’s “Wrong”, as a statement about the risks of Global Warming. 

This commitment is also reflected in my choice of materials, as I love the juxtaposition of unusual fabrics – sometimes even technical and innovative ones – but always keeping in mind the environment (for example the use of eco-fur). 

With my new SS19 collection I wanted to take this concept a step further.  Along with a set of clothes made using the recycled jute coffee bags, I also used cupro linen produced from the purest cellulose found in nature.  This is made through a very specific process in which cotton-waste is dissolved and extruded, obtaining a very fine thread. The result is a material with unique characteristics of comfort, ventilation and resistance, but that is also extremely delicate, hypoallergenic, atoxic and 100% recyclable. My goal is to further implement my future collections in this direction.