A Pantone Dream In Rib-Knit: An Interview With Designer Giuliana Raggiani i

The turtleneck has had a bizarre reputation. Like a pop star with a long career, it had a murky past (worn by sailors and thieves looking for a warm outfit for prowling in the night), caused a sensation when it first hit the scene, began slowly fading into the background, then started acting strangely in front of the press (think of the beatnik and his beret or Steve Jobs’ monograph wardrobe of Issey Miyake-designed turtlenecks), but now the turtleneck is making a comeback in a big way. Last February, when the fall 2015 collections started hitting the runways, the turtleneck hit the spotlight for a sartorial revival, like an aging diva getting her groove back. This is why designer Giuliana Raggiani is right on the money. Her label Giu Giu’s fall collection is highlighted with classic wide-ribbed turtlenecks that can be layered or worn a la carte, depending on how brisk the weather. Raggiani’s love of turtlenecks dates back to the fashion staple’s glory days – her grandmother, Palmira Giglia, was responsible for the “Nonna Turtleneck,” which sold at her luxury womenswear boutique on Boston’s Newbury Street. They became a must-have for any discerning, chic woman’s wardrobe. In fact, there are a lot of things going on in Giu Giu’s fall collection that encapsulate Raggiani’s passions, interests and biographical background. The color palette – brown, amber, dashes of fuschia and hints of blue – is borrowed from Gustave Klimpt’s “Le Tre Età Della Donna” or “The three ages of woman,” which depicts a woman in her three major life stages: childhood, adulthood and old age. There are also pieces that are inspired by her background in ballet – the slouchy, cozy knitwear that a dancer may wear during warm-up is contrasted with pieces that mirror the linear rigidity of plies and pirouettes. And the title of the collection, Tangling, comes from the practice of meditative "doodling,” which is called zentangling – a practice that is said to lead one to more mindful living. Examples of these doodles can be found in the textiles and patterns of the collection. We got a chance to catch up with Giuliana Raggiani to discuss her new collection, its inspirations, and her love for turtlenecks. 

Oliver Kupper: So, tell me a little bit about your background, when did you know that you wanted to become a clothing designer? 

Giuliana Raggiani: Honestly, I think I expected to become anything but that. I grew up in New England in a first generation Italian family, and from an early age my Nonna taught me the importance of craftsmanship in clothing. Frequent trips to Neiman Marcus and Saks, embroidery lessons, and the importance of Salvatore Ferragamo shoes in one’s wardrobe. At the time, I’d roll my eyes, but secretly took mental notes. 

As I got older, being part of a ballet company left me with a strict schedule, and little time for exploration in design. So it wasn't really until I had to trade in my point shoes for a pencil when I reconnected with fashion. This eventually led me to moving to New York and attending Parsons School of Design, and then discovering my love of knitwear at Central Saint Martins in London. Serendipity is funny. That’s when you know some things are just meant to be. When it’s out of your control, yet falls together like it was already mapped out for you. 

OK: What is your personal design philosophy? 

GR: Clothing should be a template for a person to feel comfortable in your own skin. Like you’re wearing nothing, and everything at the same time, because it feels so good on your physical body. I try to always design with a mindful intention - Garments that excite the senses more than just visually. Touch. Mixing textures through fiber & stitch, the ability to explore, roll, tie, twist, reverse, etc… Engaging your inner child & play. One of the main reasons I love knitwear. It makes the possibilities in achieving this endless.

OK: Can you tell us about your love of turtlenecks? 

GR: It’s not so much any turtleneck, but specifically the “Nonna Turtleneck.” Palmira Giglia, my grandmother, was the genius behind these pieces. They were produced under her original line “Vaccaro,” which sold at her infamous luxury boutique on Boston’s Newbury Street from the 60s to early 90s. A staple item in every woman’s wardrobe. A weird little squiggle silhouette off the body, yet when worn, voilà! Perfection. Completely covered, yet effortlessly sexy and chic. These turtlenecks were everything to her. She kept an archive of every color from each season, which I remember vividly as a child - A pantone dream in rib-knit form. When she passed away exactly one year ago, as an homage to her, I decided to reincarnate them under the “Giu Giu” label. 

"Completely covered, yet effortlessly sexy and chic. These turtlenecks were everything to her. She kept an archive of every color from each season, which I remember vividly as a child - A pantone dream in rib-knit form."

OK: Who is the Giu Giu woman – can you describe her? 

GR: She’s a chameleon. She can be a he too…has a sense of humor, and an air of quiet confidence. Weird, but sophisticated, has a soft spot for nostalgia, and an appreciation for good design. I want her (or him) to feel like their decision in wearing a Giu Giu piece doesn't confine them in a “category.” It’s a blank canvas kind of label, with a bold energy. Ageless and genderless. 

OK: Do you have a personal design hero – in fashion or otherwise?

GR: In Fashion: aside from Nonna ~ Dries Van Noten, Kansai Yamamoto. Otherwise: Charles & Ray Eames, Marina Abramovic, Erwin Wurm 

OK: Okay, lets talk about the current collection – its inspired by your background in ballet right? 

GR: Right. I’m usually drawn to extreme contrasts. There was something about the rigid and linear movements of ballet, versus the dancer’s relaxed warm-up silhouettes and layering that I wanted to reflect in this collection. The matching suit-sets (symbolizing the aesthetic “perfection” in ballet), knitted in cozy qualities (enhancing that undone, off-stage dancer appeal). The palette was inspired by Gustav Klimt’s “Le Tre Età Della Donna," a piece recently gifted to me, and close to my heart.

OK: What is Zentangling?

GR: My best friend’s mom came to visit from Hawaii last year and she shared this new practice with me. To tangle means to doodle, so it’s essentially meditative doodling. I gave it a go and fell in love. The results led me to the different intarsias and repetitive stitch patterns seen in the textiles throughout the collection. “A mindful practice on pen & paper, using slow, careful, and deliberate strokes. As you create your tangles you relax, gain focus, and may find unexpected inspiration.” 

You can learn more about Giu Giu and see the full AW 2015 collection by visiting the label's official website. The collection is also available for preorder here. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper