Designer for haute couture and costume designer for the cinema and classical and avant-garde theatre, Rosanna Calcagnile founded the Calcagnile Academy in 1984, in her beloved Lecce. A courageous choice, a ‘challenge’, as she herself defines it, that would give her great satisfaction.

Hers is a pioneering vision of the fashion business, understood as an engine of experimentation capable of sustaining the production system because “creativity and innovation are not enough, entrepreneurship must not be neglected”.

More than an interview, the one with Rosanna Calcagnile was a confidence, an intimate and reflective tale on the many facets of fashion, on its social and educational role, on the importance of a constant cultural exchange, but above all based on personal growth, even before working.

Can you tell us how and where your passion for fashion comes from?

Passion is a beautiful word that encapsulates so many feelings, that moves man beyond himself, that opens the door to dreams.

As I talk to you, my thoughts go to my loved ones who are no longer with us, who undoubtedly marked my personal and professional growth. My mother, a rational, intuitive and orderly woman, must have passed on to me her aversion to sloppiness, more related to manners than to objects, and her passion for sewing and trend setting. Dad was a music-loving watchmaker, particularly opera, who delighted in playing the guitar. They are the ones who passed on to me a love of aesthetics, good taste, kindness and respect. The values of fashion and those of life are the same. Fashion is a state between the mind and emotions, it is the expression of thought, it is message, culture; it is a tale that unfolds through clothes, life, death. You see, when you design a dress, all you are doing is writing a story about yourself, so that it becomes the protagonist of someone else’s story. Clothes affirm our identity, they are memory, they take us back to another time and place and communicate our way of being in the world like a business card. Fashion, culture and education have been an inseparable trinomial in my career.

Calcagnile Academy was founded in 1984. Why did you decide to open your academy in Apulia?

Founding a fashion and costume academy, the first in Salento, was a challenge to myself. The idea came from research carried out in the area and from a terrible reality: the difficulty in generational turnover in the tailoring sector. The basic error was in the conviction of master tailors that young people were showing a lack of interest in this trade; I, on the other hand, strongly believed that this was not the case, that it was necessary to innovate the tailoring tradition. This is where the Calcagnile patent for prototyping comes in, an exemplary method created to stimulate interest and encourage students,
free to reinvent new creations by expressing their own identity. This is how the figure of the couturier designer came into being.

Life has given me quite a few satisfactions, but the most beautiful rewards are the demonstrations of affection from former students. Most of them now hold prestigious positions in fashion houses, others have created their own brands… I will mention a few to give you an idea: Massimo Orsini Couture, Itaca, Io Atelier, Arianna Laterza Couture, Marco Rollo Couture, Anastasia and many others.

Not long ago, I received from Mauro Antonazzo, a former student, a very special gift, the bus ticket for the first day of attendance at my academy with ‘my dream has begun’ written on it. Since that first day, 30 years have passed and this boy, by now a man, has really come a long way, going from one prestigious maison to another. There are so many guys that I am particularly attached to, that I am proud of; I think this is the most beautiful part of my job.

Fashion, politics and social issues: how much do these three apparently distant fields influence each other?

But Fashion is culture, it is social commitment and daily work. Let’s go back for a moment to 1994, when with the slogan ‘for more space for women’ as my first candidature I was elected municipal councillor in Copertino, my home town. It was an extraordinary experience, with the then mayor, Prof. Gino Prete, a man of great depth, who entrusted me with the task of chairing the commissions for social services and delegation for equal opportunities and culture. I was initially frightened by this choice, the meaning of which I still did not understand, but nevertheless extremely grateful. Thanks to this path, I was able to understand how to obtain concrete results from the socio-cultural sector to create development in the area. Vision and talent without an entrepreneurial spirit and without a strategy behind it are not enough.

You started out as a costume designer for the performing arts and cinema; which projects are you most attached to?

Actually, the cultural projects always come to mind, because they are always the most challenging, both in terms of costs and research of materials; not to mention the always tight deadlines. I proudly remember the identity uniforms made for cultural workers at the inauguration of the new Castromediano Museum in Lecce, the ‘Touch you sensitivity’ collection of shirts made of bamboo, hemp and nettle fabric in Braille language for the visually impaired, the many projects carried out at the Academy, the eco-sustainable collection presented in Dubai, the ‘Disdir’ collection inspired by the art of Carmelo Bene, and I will stop here, I could not tell you everything, there would not be time.

We saw you struggling with the big machine of the Notte della Taranta 2022, what was the experience like?

I would say, to say the least, absorbing. A great understanding was immediately established with the extraordinary artists. I took on this challenge encouraged by my faithful collaborators Santa Scioscio, Raffaella Baldassarre and Dolores Mauro, even though we had all already been working hard for a year. The idea, apparently simple, was to highlight the style and essentiality of the folk tradition, not before listening to the stories told by the songs.

Suggestions, inspirations, emotions and research gave rise to costumes personifying the symbolic message of the immateriality of song. They were both pillars soaring towards the sky and a celebratory monument to the millennial rite of the Taranta.

All this was amplified by the graceful gestures of the extraordinary performers of the popular orchestra, Enza Pagliara, Alessandra Caiulo, Stefania Morciano and Consuelo Alfieri. And so, while from Melpignano they communicated memory, tradition and movement to the world, I communicated my thoughts through my costumes.

What are your next projects?

I am currently following the making of the feature-length docufilm by actor and director Pascal Pezzuto

“La Città dei Santi di Carta” (The City of Paper Saints), a work that obtained the approval of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, shot between Lecce and Rome. Set in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it narrates the events that led Lecce to become the world capital of sacred papier-mâché art, filling churches all over the world with “paper saints”.

Other projects? For the moment they are top secret.

What do you recommend to those who, like you, are passionate about the world of fashion and would like to make it their profession?

Young people are the bearers of ideas, of a new contemporaneity. Unfortunately, vision alone is not enough, it must encompass theory and practice. Creativity and innovation, of course, but without neglecting entrepreneurship. Mind and heart must always be left open and receptive to seize any novelty. One must never stop evolving and improving, with humility, the only solid basis on which to build one’s personal, even before one’s professional growth.