In light of SO-LE Studio’s soon-to-be-dropped latest jewellery collection, Maria Sole Ferragamo discusses how she first fell in love with leather leftovers
Text by: Josephine Giachero
Maria Sole Ferragamo has been hard at work on SO-LE Studio’s new collection, which will be released in September. Leather remnants got her into jewellery first, but it is “ just a starting point,”: the designer has been thinking of exploring new leftover material in her future collections. A summer capsule is also expected to be released this May.
In our conversation, the Italian jewellery maker talks about her fascination with leather leftovers, the primary material of her upcycled designs. “I must confess that leather is in some ways part of my DNA,” Maria Sole Ferragamo told me on a Zoom call, as she stood in a discrete, blue turtleneck against the pink backdrop of her younger sister’s bedroom in Florence.
Not only did the designer inherit a flair for fashion from her ancestors, but also an entrepreneurial spirit that led her to founding her own company. SO-LE Studio emerged in 2017 following the discovery of the founder’s own history, which was rooted in the family’s factory: first by interning there after graduating from the Politecnico in Milan, and then by rescuing and repurposing what was a significant amount of unused material.
“Ever since I was very little, I would go almost every summer in the family factory to learn how to actually work with this material. I was sixteen and I wanted to make a bag. So I just went to ask if they had some spare leather. I found out there was an impressive amount of leather meant to be thrown away or not used for its purpose. I decided I had to make something out of it. Amazingly, that’s why and how this love affair started,” she explained.
Although her teen-age self never actually made that bag, the aspiration stood the test of time. The luxurious leather scraps were treasured in her cupboard for several years before being converted into a necklace “almost instinctively” after she graduated from architecture school. From this instance, Maria Sole Ferragamo became enamoured with the idea originating from a material which comes from “a living-being and therefore it has a life behind it.” Upcycling materials has never been a question worthy of too much pondering. “There was and there is an abundance of material left unused, and I have the fortune of having a creative mind, to be able to look at things from a different perspective. I always thought it was almost my duty to try and make something out of it, rather than buying or producing new and bespoke material.”
Released once a year, SO-LE Studio’s eco-conscious jewellery line consists of a number of sophisticated standout pieces that recall anthropomorphic shapes, with intricate geometries wrapping around the body. Earlobes are softly clipped with shell-like sparkly earrings, and body-con luminous leather necklaces entirely made from upcycled leather scraps cling elegantly to the chest. The designer has recently experimented with jewellery face masks in a range of colours varying from gold to purple. Optical arts and trompe-l’oeil are prominent themes in her work, which she describes as “things that compel you to look deeper, to go beyond the appearance.”
Maria Sole Ferragamo’s background in architecture, which she encountered prior to her MA in Jewellery at Central Saint Martins, is the foundation of her intricate process. “I thought that architecture would give me the right, strong foundation and discipline to construct something more specific on these fundamentals. While I was studying architecture, it was pretty clear that what I loved the most was model-making.”
Still today, a huge part of her making process is about iterations. “I draw very little. I’m more of a maker than a designer, and so I do have prototypes and test them until they fit until the proportion and volume is perfect,” she pointed out. “Every piece that I put out is unique and it is the result of a very long process. It has to have meaning, because I feel very responsible as a designer in a moment of history when we don’t need extra stuff. If I am deciding to put something out there and something else in the world it has to be really well thought out,” she further explained on her philosophy.
At times, It could really be the detail of a building or a spider web to spark her genius. “The number one thing that inspires me is geometry, patterns and repetitions. I look at them on all different scales,” she said of her inspirations. “I’m really intrigued by geometry. An important part of my process is starting from the leather which is 2D and then applying these patterns on the leather through cutting it. I design these patterns on software and then translate them to a cutting machine. By doing so, I am able to stretch and transform the leather and turn it into 3D volumes and forms. Architecture is engraved in my process,” the designer explained.
More inspiration is drawn from the costumes of the past, particularly the ones that date back to the Elizabethan era and the garments of the clergy. The duality of restriction as a means of protection and strength fascinates the designer, but their attributes of impracticality and confinement are entirely avoided in her designs. While she is in her studio space, Maria Sole Ferragamo listens to white noise to help her focus. Not too long ago, she even considered pursuing a career in music. She defines her music taste as “rather schizophrenic”, and they range from Johnny Cash and Johnny Mitchell to Billie Eilish and the newest trap Italian artist.
Paying homage to the effortless elegance of her mother and sister- the ultimate muses and test subjects of SO-LE Studio – Maria Sole Ferragamo aims to give jewellery a primary role in one’s outfit construction, elevating the dream behind investing in a made-to-last piece. “My way of dress, (my sort of uniform) is dressing very simply. Monocolor but in high-quality clothing. What was born as an accessory, so a secondary element, now has a primary role. I want jewellery to be the outfit-changer.”
The market of green-jewellery is certainly a niche one, but she has never been interested in filling a gap in the industry. “Of course I’ve done all the research, but I never really looked at filling a gap in the market because my way of working is not to find whether there’s a blank space, but to rather create a desire, to create a dream. I want the wearer to feel like they can start a conversation because that’s what often happens. People get asked about my pieces and they come to me and say: Oh whenever I wear them I have a story to tell because conversation starts.”
She, on the other hand, claims that in today’s fashion, sustainability must be taken for granted without doubt, but that leather leftovers are merely an added value to her designs and should not be the reason why people fall in love with her jewellery. Sustainability, in her opinion, is literally “Something that should be the norm.”
Based on the designer’s experience, the pandemic was a very useful and reflective period. During the first months of putting SO-LE Studio’s e-commerce together and structuring it the way it is now, she found it beneficial to consider, learn, and reconsider aspects that she had previously taken for granted. “I was fortunate that I was able to film the video campaign in July, which was possibly the only month when photo shoots were permitted. So, apart from any delay, which we all experienced, I must admit that I was thankful for this time. The downside, which I am now starting to feel, is the limitation of meeting people on the spur of the moment, that spontaneous inspiration which informs my work.”
Following some thought on this tumultuous time, our conversation ended with Maria Sole Ferragamo referencing the great Renzo Piano. “There was a lovely interview with Piano, who said that creativity is like a game of ping pong. So one concept bounces from one arm to the other, and it’s a never-ending game of ping pong. Then you can sit calmly at your desk and think about it, but you need the match first.”