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Inside a tailor’s shop that makes Oscar-worthy costumes

Rome's Tirelli atelier has been behind 17 Academy Awards for best costume design

Dresses redisplayed at the Tirelli's warehouse in Formello near Rome
Dresses redisplayed at the Tirelli's warehouse in Formello near Rome (AP)

For nearly six decades, the Tirelli atelier in Rome has woven itself into the fabric of Italian and international film history, earning the nickname the “Oscar tailor’s shop” for its contribution to cinematic costume design.

Established in November 1964 by the late Umberto Tirelli, the shop has been behind 17 Academy Awards for best costume design. Most recently, its artisans collaborated with Janty Yates and Dave Crossman to create the costumes for Ridley Scott's epic Napoleon. The Hollywood designers were nominated for an Oscar that will be decided at this weekend's Academy Awards.

“Maybe it will win! Let’s add another medal to the medal collection,” the shop's current head, Dino Trappetti, said in an interview. “Of course, the Oscar is not won by the tailor’s shop, the Oscar is won by the costume designer. But the tailor’s shop has the merit and the honour of having participated to make it win.”

The atelier’s origins stem from Tirelli’s passion for collecting antique clothing. He scouted pieces in the attics of aristocrats and flea markets worldwide, patiently building a collection that now counts more than 15,000 authentic garments spanning from 1750 to 1980.

Also read: Paris Fashion Week: Balenciaga offers styles made from repurposed clothes

At the start, the shop featured “a sewing machine, two cutters and two other seamstresses,” Trappetti said.

Today, the headquarters of Tirelli Costumes in Rome's Prati neighbourhood features mannequins wearing some of the atelier's most famous creations: A delicate pink flowered outfit Tom Hulce wore as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Milos Forman’s Amadeus (which netted an Oscar for costume designer Theodor Pistek); the rich red velvet bustle and feathered number Michelle Pfeiffer's countess wore in The Age Of Innocence (which gave designer Gabriella Pescucci her Oscar).

After the 1984 Amadeus design Oscar, Tirelli could have gone more international “because the market was immediately interested," Trapetti said. But Tirelli, who died in 1990, was not convinced.

Trappetti remembered him saying: “I’m not going to America. If America wants, America will come looking for me.”

It has.

In 60 years, the tailor’s shop has created more than 300,000 costumes that are now stored in a warehouse in Formello, near Rome, where double-height racks of clothes stretch out across 7,000 square meters (more than 75,000 square feet). Costume designers come for inspiration, historical information—and hand-cut, hand-sewn creations from the team of Tirelli seamstresses.

“You can’t make those costumes in a factory. In a factory you can make films with robots, futuristic or fantasy. But these things have to be made by hand,” Trappetti said.

Also read: Paris Fashion Week: Loewe’s fusion of couture and tailoring

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