Giotto Calendoli on Believing in second chances, in fashion as in life

MILAN – The word “create” stands out on Giotto Calendoli’s right hand among the many tattoos that cover his body, says a lot about his personality and the artistic desire that drives his actions.

Eloquent in both his words and hand gestures, the Italian social media personality has garnered attention – and followers – for several years thanks to his sense of style and high-profile supporters – see Louis Vuitton, Dior and Acne – before deciding to channel his creative impulse into craftsmanship.

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Eight years ago, he started playing with hat models, gradually adding other categories. He reinforced the project with new experiments with materials, textures and techniques under the clothing and accessories brand Handle With Freedom, which he officially launched in 2019 and retooled last year during the pandemic.

“It all started with my own need to find clothes that could truly represent me,” Calendoli said. “I wasn’t looking for a trend but rather a soul. Fashion is already saturated, nobody is inventing anything new. I used to go to my grandma’s and fish items from my grandpa’s wardrobe. Every time I took a piece, my grandmother would tell me to handle it with care, but for me that also translated into freedom.

One of the goals of the Calendoli label is to give a second life to pre-used clothing and unused textiles, enhancing unisex pieces with washing techniques, embroidery and colorful patches, with the aim of eliciting an approach more fashion conscious.

Clothing items range from repurposed parkas, reversible bomber jackets and quilted options – all given a makeover with artwork, contrasting fabric patches and bold stitches – to vests made from old parachutes as well as deconstructed suits, sweaters and shirts with ironic quotes rendered in the brand’s signature capital letters, reminiscent of a child’s handwriting.

This playful style, which informs all graphics, has helped Calendoli convey its message and make its designs recognizable.

It is no coincidence that “the most complicated skill is to be simple”, which serves not only as a mantra for the founder, but also as one of the quotes on a series of white T-shirts grouped under the “Mom’s Drop” collection, as Calendoli the mother embroidered them herself.

As for Calendoli, he is still very involved in the creation of hats, which remain a large part of his brand’s offer. Encompassing fedora styles, bobs, beanies and baseball caps, the pieces originated in the Marche region of Italy – specializing in the sector – before being finished with materials salvaged from Calendoli’s travels around the world. , as well as sewn by the founder in his Milanese Workshop, a small greenhouse nestled in the courtyard of an Italian palace. Calendoli also puts its personal touch on the packaging by hand painting the hat boxes.

Giotto Calendoli in his workshop in Milan.  - Credit: courtesy of Handle With Freedom

Giotto Calendoli in his workshop in Milan. – Credit: courtesy of Handle With Freedom

Courtesy of Handle With Freedom

“I’m not a designer or an artist, I just have a few ideas and I want to make them come true,” Calendoli said, stressing that he saw the brand more as a box with multiple expressions and creative experimentation.

On the one hand, he started working with ceramics and during the special edition of Milan Design Week last September he launched a collection for the home that includes cups, pillows and blankets displaying the codes. playful brand.

With prices ranging from 50 euros to 400 euros for hats; 70 euros for t-shirts, and up to around 600 euros for jackets, the brand is available in a selection of stores in Italy, such as Biffi and Been, but also in France, Japan and Mexico.

Handle with the Freedom home collection.  - Credit: courtesy of Handle With Freedom

Handle With Freedom’s in-house collection. – Credit: courtesy of Handle With Freedom

Courtesy of Handle With Freedom

Earlier this year, the brand hosted a trunk exhibition in Mexico in partnership with concept store Kabe in Tulum, showcasing a special capsule collection of hand-embroidered pieces and straw hats developed with local artisans.

“We moved there temporarily for a month and it was an interesting experience to research fabrics, raw materials as well as new techniques,” recalled Calendoli, who plans to replicate the project in Japan, which is among the best markets in the world. the brand.

“Mainly through our own e-commerce, we receive orders mainly from New Zealand, the United States and Japan,” Calendoli said, noting that the brand and its concept resonated more with an international audience. “Usually Italians are more limited by labels and logos, while foreign customers are driven by their own personalities and tastes. “

Calendoli’s predominantly international fan base, acquired during the heyday of his blog, may have also played a role, but the founder is determined to keep Handle With Freedom’s identity separate. As a result, and unlike other influencers on a similar journey of launching their own brands, he didn’t want to put his name on the label and build on his fame, but instead opt for “something that everyone can to identify “.

The red X-shaped stitching that marks all the pieces in the collection further reinforces it. “It’s like a signature, but I wanted it to be a solid and timeless symbol rather than a name. That way there can be anyone behind, ”he said.

Giotto Calendoli in his studio in Milan.  - Credit: courtesy of Handle With Freedom

Giotto Calendoli in his studio in Milan. – Credit: courtesy of Handle With Freedom

Courtesy of Handle With Freedom

Calendoli immersed himself in allegories and geometric signs to explain the ultimate mission he has for the brand. Referring to the famous Florentine painter and architect Giotto, he said his goal was “to design my own perfect circle, the one that connects people. This is my idea for the future.

Of course, human relations and community development influence different aspects of his business. On the one hand, when Calendoli first spotted his studio space, he launched an Instagram contest to encourage talent to submit ideas for revamping the location. As a result, he collaborated with architect Alfredo Di Mauro and plant artist Satoshi Kawamoto, promoting their work on his social media.

While similar calls to action are launched seasonally on both the brand’s account and its personal Instagram profile – which has more than 130,000 followers – Calendoli also runs workshops in its workshop for young talent. improve their skills, because “in a city like Milan, there is no place where people can spontaneously meet to share a creative experience.

More recently, he raised the bar on his social engagement with a project involving seven inmates at Pozzuoli Women’s Prison, an hour’s drive from his hometown of Naples.

For this project, he handed the women a blank sheet of paper and asked them to express what freedom meant to them. The words and designs they shared were then turned into decorative designs for a capsule collection of bandanas and shopping bags made with dead textiles from the prison. All the profits from the online sale of the coins, which sell for between 30 and 55 euros, will go to the detainees.

Handle with Freedom ™ bandana styles developed by inmates.  - Credit: courtesy of Handle With Freedom

Handle With Freedom bandana styles developed by inmates. – Credit: courtesy of Handle With Freedom

Courtesy of Handle With Freedom

“Everyone thought the pandemic would make us better but it was quite the opposite, individualism prevailed. Yet I still strongly believe in working together, as well as in second chances, ”Calendoli concluded, stressing that the experience has allowed inmates to learn new skills, gain benefits for good behavior as well as get started. a journey for a future reintegration into society.

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