Sofia Balestra opens the doors of her archive, telling of her love for her grandfather’s fashion house and the passion behind her new collections

Marco Nicosia in conversation with Sofia Balestra

Sofia welcomes us in the hall of her office, in the centre of Rome: a big lounge surrounded by hundreds of dresses, from the archive to the latest collections. It could not be otherwise, since “Rome is home,” as she says: “I go back and forth, from Rome to Milan, but it’s great for me even so.” As a host, you can suddenly feel the sacredness of the place: there’s a great view from the windows and, just next to you, there are the clothes that made Italian fashion history, many of which were worn by movie stars like Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Yvonne Furneaux, Tina Louise.

Obviously, Sofia is already familiar with that space, which she personally reorganised, and apparently she can’t wait to introduce us to her own world. She defines herself as a bookworm: after studying Journalism and Art History, indeed she wanted to tidy up his grandfather’s gowns and conduct research on them. It was so that she gave rise to the Balestra Archive, which was declared of historical interest by the Italian Ministry of Culture in 2019. “When I arrived here, the Archive didn’t exist yet and I felt the need to create it, also for my personal culture, in order to understand why my grandpa made certain outfits,” she states. “It’s still in progress and I think I will never finish it completely: a man’s life cannot be catalogued in a definitive way, you can always discover something new. Till now, I managed to recover lots of American magazine articles from 1958 to 1975. Also, I always look for our long-standing customers, so as to have more testimonies of the past collections.”

After a brief foray into the historical part, we move to the side dedicated to the new collections. Sofia Bertolli Balestra debuted at Milan Fashion Week 2022 with a capsule collection, “which was a way to get started.” She explains that her first two collections, ‘Upload’ and ‘Reload’, “were a sort of break with the past, even if not a sharp interruption. Mine is rather a continuity with tradition: the line is simply evolving, by including new kinds of products. We want to be respectful of our history.”

Since she studied his grandfather’s collections carefully, she says it’s almost natural and spontaneous for her “to reprise traditional elements.” The same new logo, blue and minimal, is actually a drawing made by Renato in 1972. So the new fashion designer decided to propose the distinctive features of Balestra House: “We started with Blue Balestra, which is the historical colour of our brand, it’s our DNA and family. We also resumed Giovan Battista Piranesi’s etchings, where he depicted the magnificence and the dream of Rome, like the Capitoline Wolf’s or Romulus’ and Remus’ portraits. We wanted to bring them back in a pop way, including them in some blouses, bodysuits and leggings.” Obviously, the renowned “Embroidery Painting” is another signature that cannot miss, now realised on semi transparent dresses, so as to render a water effect, where light is refracted as in a prism.