Childhood Memories À Porter

Butterflies on flimsy dresses, natural objects turned into geometric patterns, a fantasy world on a shirt: this feast for the eyes is Leitmotiv, a small Italian brand which is quickly turning heads with its colorful, exquisitely tailored apparel. The two-year-old label was created by Juan Caro, a Colombian-born visual artist, and Fabio Sasso, an Italian tailor fascinated by the relationship between art and fashion. Leitmotiv was created so that they could both explore this dual relationship through their collections.

They based their F/W 09 effort on the imagery of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; white rabbits sharing the scene with supernatural characters such as magic horses, dogs and deer. This collection was later translated onto a successful line of bags, T-shirts and scarves for Italian brand Furla as part of their “Talent Hub,” a fashion incubator for young designers invited to apply their aesthetics to the house’s signature leather goods. “It’s a genius project,” Caro says, “it gives us the chance to design a capsule collection without limiting our creativity.”

Fast-forward to S/S 10, and the atmosphere is still playfully colored. This time, the duo looked at artist Joseph Cornell’s boxes—collections of enchanting objects and natural tones that fascinate both designers. His sets were turned into delightful prints mimicking the natural pieces from Cornell’s works, which the designers digitally printed onto loose silhouettes of shiny silk. It’s a psychedelic, surreal injection of color, perfectly balanced by a few well-placed pieces in charcoal (a long, floaty belted skirt; a well-cut trouser; and a pair of frivolous pleated pants). The Leitmotiv woman struggles with two identities: a respectable lady in a pillbox hat (itself featuring the Cornell-inspired prints) and a playful, creative soul in search of escape.

There is also a Leitmotiv man, but he looks like the fantasy of a child compared to the playful-but-grownup Leitmotiv woman. His style is carefully tailored and discreetly shrunken, and his way with patterns is even more extreme than his female counterpart’s. He layers printed shirts and jackets, and never fails to add a contrasting printed tie into the mix. “The two lines were developed together, and in both collections there are pieces which blur the gender boundary, focusing solely on the brand’s aesthetic,” Sasso says. But who is the Leitmotiv wearer? Caro and Sasso are quick to point out that “our style is perfect for versed eclectic personalities looking for extreme stylistic research in an outfit with strong intellectual and personal references.”

Amazingly, they managed to translate this thought into a brand, and quickly became the new young voice of Italian fashion. This came with a bunch of great opportunities, too: first, they were selected to take part in “Who is On Next”, a competition organized by the Italian fashion chamber and Vogue. It was here where they were noticed by the people at e-shop giant Yoox, which is now stocking a preview of their S/S 10 collection.

Their fascinating world is born out of a complex mix of old and new methods. “We like to be inspired by every idea. Our creative process is translated into a product with both artisan and digital techniques,” Caro says. Their whimsical but wearable style has been talked about for a while now, and they are now regarded as the next big thing in Italian fashion. Considering that their first fashion show was staged in their backyard, they have certainly come a long way since then, and the future is as bright as their prints.

– Rosa Maria Bertoli