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Article: At Home With Fortela Designer Alessia Giacobino


At Home With Fortela Designer Alessia Giacobino

‘It’s all about research. We build the collection from pieces we find in vintage markets, either taking inspiration from the whole garment or small details like a button. Each piece has a history and story I want to share.’

Founded as a menswear brand in 2015 by Giacobino’s husband Alessandro Squarzi – talent scout, entrepreneur and Esquire UKs best-dressed man in the world in 2017 – Fortela was originally inspired by Squarzi’s own wardrobe; a vast archive of vintage clothing and couture. In 2020, Giacobino launched the label’s first womenswear collection with the goal of creating comfortable, menswear-inspired wardrobe essentials in neutral tones, rooted in utility and military styles. ‘Contemporary and timeless is our mission, and we are never influenced by trends,’ she says.

Giacobino has worked in fashion for more than 20 years as a fashion designer, interior designer, stylist and art director, but she began her career as an architect. Her then-future husband commissioned her to design the first Fortela showrooms – all dark woods and vintage aesthetics. ‘It’s all about instincts for me,’ the 49-year-old says of having no traditional fashion training. ‘I’ve touched all shades of the creative world because I never wanted to have limits.’ As well as designing the collections, Giacobino is involved in everything from Fortela’s general strategy to designing the interiors of their boutiques.

‘When I first met Alessandro, aged 26, I had a feeling that what was happening around us was exceptional. The chemistry between us was unbelievable, both in terms of feeling and vision.’

The couple’s two-storey apartment in St Tropez’s city centre, purchased in 2010, represents their true ‘essence, taste and vision’. They spend the Easter and summer holidays at the property with their teenage daughter Allegra, and the rest of the year at their homes in Milan and Rimini. In the interior design process, Giacobino ensured she maintained all of the building’s old features, in the same way she does for her fashion collections.

‘I spent eight months searching all over France for antiques and visited around 150 vintage markets,’ Giacobino says. There isn’t a single piece of furniture that isn’t vintage. She found a pair of horns when spontaneously stopping at a house with a ‘yard sale’ sign, and transformed two ancient wood boxes that were bought in a market into a one-off piece of furniture. Giacobino neverthrows anything away, and has a ‘buy now, figure it out later’ approach. Case in point: she bought rustic wooden shutters and months later repurposed them for her bathroom shower. ‘I remember where I bought each and every item and I love to look around my house and remember the feeling of those times.’

When Giacobino invites friends over for dinner, she puts just as much thought into tablescaping. ‘I create my own napkin holders with leftover sample trimmings and customise them with shells, buttons or feathers,’ she says. From white and orange linen tablecloths to black porcelain plates with gold details, or classic white china, each arrangement is never the same. The only constant is her silverware: ‘It’s a mismatched set I curated from pieces that were passed down from my grandparents – each one is different.’

Her vintage fascination and creativity can be traced back to her unconventional childhood in Rimini, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. She lived with her parents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and grandparents under one huge roof, in a bustling community of creatives, led by her enlightened entrepreneur grandfather. The famed La Dolce Vita film director Federico Fellini and his actress wife Giulietta Masina were close friends. The family shared wardrobes, visited vintage markets every weekend and put on shows in costumes, day and night.

‘It was very stimulating for a creative soul. My family’s approach to fashion was investing in expensive items that would stand the test of time. I still wear my grandfather’s Burberry trench coat today.’

Growing up, Giacobino was a curious, ambitious and restless free spirit. At 17, she moved to Florence to study architecture and soon after opened her own studio in 1999. When designing a particular customer’s boutique, he was so enamoured by her personal style that he commissioned her to make him a capsule collection of clothing to fill it. ‘At the time, I was wearing tailored smoking jackets with military trousers found in vintage stores, which I customised with illustrations,’ says Giacobino. The capsule was a sell-out success and six months later she launched her own label, JO NO FUI, at Milan fashion week in 2001 with a collection of dresses and skirts using 1970s vintage silks. Next, Giacobino founded her second label, Mr & Mrs Italy in 2007 – known for starting the fur-lined military parka trend worn by Cara Delevingne and Rihanna. She later sold the label and closed JO NO FUI in 2013.

‘When I was younger, I always created clothes I liked, but I accepted compromises as I was focused on creating a big business,’ she says. ‘Fortela feels like a gift in our careers because we only design what we love.’ Giacobino’s style is ‘casual and comfy’ with a tomboy spirit; Fortela is her daily uniform. On the very rare occasion that she isn’t wearing Fortela, Giacobino looks to Saint Laurent and Celine for tailored suits.

‘My home city was a place where people from many different countries met, so it feels natural to mix styles from all over the world,’ she says. ‘I fell in love with Indian and Moroccan jewellery at vintage markets as a young teen, and my father brought me back jewels from the Middle East and Africa from his business trips.’ The collision of cultures, from Moroccan to Lebanese, in St Tropez is one of the reasons it has such a strong place in her heart.

Her wardrobe is lined with cowboy boots, a vast hat collection (a Panama for the summer, western cowboy for the winter) and military trousers, of course, have pride of place. Fortela’s Jerry cargo pants are her go-to, seen in the shoot alongside other ‘timeless favourites’ including the Shearl shearling overshirt and the Juliette boyfriend jeans. References to Native American Navajo and global cultures are rife in Fortela collections and Giacobino traces her interest back to her childhood in Rimini.

‘I was introduced to Native American jewellery by Alessandro and we now have a collection of around 700 pieces, mainly silver with topaz or turquoise gems,’ she continues. Giacobino assures that the pair have the utmost respect for the cultures they are influenced by and always make sure to declare their design inspiration origins. ‘On our new website, we display images of the ancient garments that inspire each piece,’ explains Giacobino. ‘For me, the power is in the story.’