HOW TO BE REBORN BY MAKING OTHERS HAPPY. CINZIA MACCHI, FOUNDER OF LAMILANESA, RECOUNTS HER STORY, AND TELLS US HERE IN A CONVERSATION WITH AN ART THERAPIST THAT THROUGH DETERMINATION AND ENTHUSIASM TO CHANGE THE THINGS WE KNOW, PERSONAL SUCCESS CAN BE ACHIEVED
Interview by: Ludovica Gusti*
What is Cinzia Macchi’s background? Have you always worked in the fashion/accessory industry?
I’ve always done training, working for cosmetic companies, on how to sell or launch a new product, NLP courses. Then I discovered a heart disease, unfortunately congenital, and I had some interventions. One of the surgeries seemed to go well but due to a complication I got paresis and ended up in a wheelchair. I had to start all over: reading, writing, basically reinventing my life also because I couldn’t do my job anymore. My husband left me because he said he didn’t want to spend his life looking after me, so I was brought back to my mom like a parcel post. Then I took him back because I was afraid to be alone, and that was the biggest mistake I ever made, because that’s when the violence started.
How did you manage to come out of this dramatic situation? And where did the desire for redemption come from?
Just as I was starting to reach a little balance with myself, I met my current husband, to whom I have been married for 17 years, and I must say that was my good fortune, because despite everything I believe that life has been very generous with me. With him I didn’t need to work, but I missed my independence, my will to do, even if at that moment the intention had changed. Before, maybe it was because of the idea of a whim, because I wanted a nice watch and a nice car, now it’s not that I don’t want them anymore, because it’s like before, but the need is to do something that can help people who have not been as lucky as me.
So at that moment a great desire was born, the will to change things and to put yourself on the line to achieve a goal. But how did that come about? When did you decide that the product was a bag?
I was part of the San Maurilio and Santa Marta Committee of the Associazione delle 5 Vie, in the center of Milan, which is no longer there. That year the Salone del Mobile had put recycling as its theme, and I started thinking about what I could do. I had already tried to do a thousand things, but I started and stopped, probably not interested to the end, my psychologist said it was the fear of being happy… maybe, I do not know. Anyway, I would start and stop.
In the center of town there are still many artisans and I noticed that a lot of things were left over, especially fabrics. I’ve always been drawn to handbags. For years I lived with my grandparents and it was my grandmother’s habit to make me go out with my handbag that matched the dress I was wearing, so she passed this attention down to me.
So I came up with the idea of covering an old IKEA bag with salvaged fabrics, and I liked the result. I found a store that sold cloth to cover greenhouses, the same as the recycled plastic material of the IKEA bag, I took this cloth, brought it to Mrs. Enza, in a small tailor shop, and asked her to make me some bags. During the Salone del Mobile my friends, who have a store in the 5 Vie, displayed them and I was awarded as the best recycling project in the area.
As a first exposure, it went very well! How did you understand that this experience could lead you to be of help to others?
When a Spanish gentleman came by and bought a bunch of bags and with that money I made my first donation for the publication of the book Che Barba by Edizioni Paoline. At that moment I had the idea of making bags to realize my dream and my dream is to create a workshop for women victims of violence and abuse. Very often we think only of physical violence, but violence is not only that, there is also psychological violence that is perhaps even worse and I have been there. That violence that cancels you as a person, that makes you feel like a being that is worthless: if someone does something to you it’s because you deserved it. When people say “go and report it” it’s easy to say but whenyou are in that situation… I for example am part, unfortunately, of the people who have not reported it. Then other things happened that led me fortunately, but not thanks to that, to break that violent relationship.
I imagine, however, that in order to realize your dream, you first needed to create a structure, a brand to develop and make known. What helped you to create and forge the identity of LaMilanesa?
It all took shape when they noticed me at the White Milano Trade Show and offered me a small space next to brands like MaxMara. I arrived as L’armata Brancaleone (ed.in Italian, a group of mismatched, disorganized people who have come together, for a job, a mission, without having the slightest requirement for success), everyone else had their stands set up but I didn’t, I was with my stalls and all my things a bit arranged.
I remember that a couple of weeks before I had gone to a friend of mine who has a modern antiques shop and I saw a blanket thrown on the floor, you know the blankets that grandmothers used to crochet? I asked her to sell it to me but she gave it to me as a gift and I thought I’d make a bag out of it. And even though everyone called me crazy, I wanted to take that bag to White at all costs.
That’s when I definitely decided to always make bags with a sustainable footprint, because I love our planet and I want to do my part.
Going back to White, I remember being reckless and taking an oversized order of these bags that I didn’t actually have, and at the end of the fair I found myself with lots of overseas sales, but without the product.
At that point you had to look for hand crocheted blankets? But where?
For the first time in my life I went on subito.it and put in search “handmade wool blankets” and contacted a lady who had three of them. She sent me three blankets and in the meantime I went around to the artisans, because at that moment the structure was still me, alone. I had the bags made, but realized that more blankets were needed. Every day I would monitor the internet page and there was always this lady with her blankets. I wrote to her and took three more and then she replied “I’m happy to sell you my blankets but I would like to know: what do you do with them?”, and I wrote “I make bags out of blankets!”. She answered: “How can you make bags out of them? You ruin your grandmother’s handmade blankets?” I felt uncomfortable, so I decided to send her some pictures, and that if she didn’t like the bags, not to take blankets from her anymore. Instead, her feedback was positive. I found out that she is Denia, the director of a nursing home, where they use crochet as a therapy for Alzheimer’s. Therefore, I didn’t know, the blankets were the result of years of work of these women. A world opened up to me there, and now they are my suppliers. The amount of work has now increased and today, with two nursing homes, they can’t keep up. So I found some ladies who work from home, who are retired, etc. I have blankets made, which are delivered to me, and then I give them to seamstresses. Lisa “Lady Crochet” works here at our place, the others work from home and cover the recycled plastic jute bags… that is how crochet bags were born. We now have eight permanent people in the office working, plus a whole host of others working around. There are really a lot of us and the nice thing is that it’s all done here. In the show room we make the crochet bags: the blankets arrive, the lady downstairs cuts them, shapes them, and places them over the inside of the bags. The other part of the production, which I design, is made in Bergamo by artisans. A family reality at zero km where we do everything ourselves.
Now that a sructure exists and has been consolidated, is there a possibility of achieving your dream? In the historical time we are in because of the pandemic, how do you plan to proceed with opening the lab? Are there other charitable projects in the pipeline?
The goal was set after a meeting with Riccardo Perdomi and Giusy Laganà of the association Fare x Bene Onlus: to give an opportunity to women subjected to violence, to take back their lives. So the dream, momentarily interrupted because of Covid, was to start having here with us two women coming from protected houses. Our role is to teach them a trade, from putting on a button, to doing hems, sewing, up to the construction of the bag because, if you make them grow together, they won’t necessarily stay with us to work. In any case, you train them by teaching them a job. Now that things are going a little better, we will continue to follow my dream trying to do something for those who are less fortunate. For the Covid emergency we made a bag together with San Raffaele Hospital in San Donato, on sale both on our portal and on theirs, and all the proceeds were donated to charity. Sometimes charity is used inappropriately to make a lot of money, but it is not what we want. During the sale we never refer to this, the bag must be liked, then if we succeed in collecting, we will say that they have contributed to the project. Our business is a family businness, nothing to do with mega structures.
Do the bags have a limited edition? Are there any one-of-a-kind pieces?
Intentionally, no. Now I have the fabric printed especially for me, on cottons and velvets. The only peculiarity is the crochet: if the ladies at home do it, I also give them color input, but the ladies at the nursing home should not be imposed, because due to Alzheimer’s they are mentally unable to understand that they need red rather than blue, they should be left free to create. In my opinion they make wonderful things, so all bags become a little bit unique. The boutiques have also understood this, we send them the photos, they choose them and we’ve been lucky enough to get into some very important boutiques where you might find a Gucci jacket alongside a LaMilanesa bag! We are all satisfied! But I would be nobody, I mean I’m nothing – and I love to define myself as “a woman in the process of learning” – because my success is them, it’s the people who work with me.
During my research on LaMilanesa, in addition to the aspect of sustainability and social involvement, which I appreciate very much, I was captured by the importance you place on the research of tactility and the emotional-sensorial characteristics of each piece. So the research on bags is developed not only from an aesthetic point of view but also thematically and emotionally?
Our collections are born from emotions, from instinct. Just like crochet: we were “lucky” enough to use it before everyone started taking it up again. This year’s collection is the result of the Corona Virus, it’s called Origin, it combines our origin, our true foundations with the future. In fact, poor materials are employed, to be used in an artisanal way: raffia, cotton, linen, wool for hand-stitched bags. And then there are velvets, silks and other fine materials that in turn are combined with research materials. For example, we found a material called Gomau – cardboard and pressed plastic – and we have created a crocheted bag with a strip of Gomau in the middle, a fusion of the ancient, which is our origin, with the future. The white bag with the milk and eggs print was created why during the lockdown I could never find milk or eggs because they were the basis of nutrition and so you realize that the simple things are the most important. To the extent that in the collection there is a bag in the shape of a chef’s hat because everyone during the lockdown cooked. Then there’s one, whether it will sell or not I don’t know, but I had to make it because I think there’s always been a guiding hand up there. And it’s my Madonnina and in my life she has always helped me, even in this period, I think it’s a fair recognition.
One last question. Crochet bags with bamboo handles are very reminiscent of 1950s designs, why did you decide to keep such a traditional style?
We were born with natural bamboo because bamboo is the strongest plant, which doesn’t break. It’s a bit like us, so it echoes our credo, I bend but I don’t break, it marries the philosophy of our story. It will always remain even though we are slowly replacing it.
Sophie is wearing high flare jeans (Levi’s Red Tab), white shirt (Dolce & Gabbana) and cotton crochet bag with bamboo handles (LaMilanesa).
Photography: Carlo Mastrorilli & Giulia Botticchio @ ENT.TV
Fashion: Dinalva Barros @barrosdinalva
Make Up: Giada @weird_giada
Hair Concept: Xavier Perez @xavierperezhairstylist
Model: Sophie Codegoni @sophie.codegoni
*Ludovica Gusti is an artist and art therapist, graduated at the Central Saint Martins UAL and Brera Academy.