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Umberto Tirelli opened his atelier in November 1964 with two sewing machines, five seamstresses, a milliner, a secretary and a driver-warehouseman. Since then Tirelli has only grown.


Umberto Tirelli

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How can you explain the fact that Umberto Tirelli has not remained with his feet planted in the fields of Gualtieri, where he was born in 1928, and has chosen instead to dress Medea and Ludwig of Bavaria? Perhaps the existential curiosity of his family, perhaps fevers intellectual adolescence in the lower valley, perhaps the proximity to the snobbissima Parma, perhaps the only case in the likeness of a tailor his fellow countryman, Luigi Bigi, ambassador of French fashion. Bigi, which saw him working with glue and scissors, rummage in attics, recover old rags to create costumes and disguises, he said: "You have too much love for these things. You'll end tailor. "

His fate led him to dress not for men, but their representations, not the reality but the scene, not the present, but a history of crinoline and "quartered".

The first job is bellboy in a fabric shop in Milan. "Do not be in a hurry - the mother said - perhaps a free shop under the arcades and you can open a beautiful haberdashery." Years later, when Umberto arrived and will be happy in her beautiful costume workshop, mother Dirce continue to say: "Go there go there. Sares mei a nice stores in ca 'your'. In Milan, the offer of joining the Sartoria Finzi, costumes for the theater. Here is the first meeting with Luchino Visconti, already a legend for his penalty in the reconstructions of environments and clothes for him the characters were to be "alive, real, clothing, and not mannered." The tailoring done in 1955 by Visconti part of the customs of the historic Traviata, the one with the shoes of Violetta launched towards the proscenium to free your feet tired from dancing too.

That Tirelli for the director was an immediate crush artistic, a little farther on, it will become crucial in friendship in his life and in his work. That season in Milan was generous with intelligent and generous friendships: Franco Zeffirelli, who directed La Scala, Piero Tosi who created the costumes for the Sonnambula, Beppe Modenese she shared with him the two rooms, kitchen and bathroom.

They Zeffirelli and Tosi who drag him to Rome and find a job to Safas, theatrical tailoring of high craftsmanship but in need of new blood to the advanced age of the owners. If Milan had made ​​his bones on the materials, here Tirelli learn the meticulous sewing everything by hand, a sleeve must be plumbed, should be reversed, it can not be sewn so good to hoping that the distance from the floor to the stage mimetizzi. Learn that culture is not just about the costume, but also the theatrical tailor, who is the costume designer for something more important than the master builder to the architect. Search the libraries, visit museums, scoops manuals, learn how to cut un'inquartata in the eighteenth century and as a pince of two and a half millimeters can give a different line to a dress. Often in the name of historical accuracy you consume sacrifices. Claudia Cardinale in The Leopard for the dance duo Tosi / Tirelli squeezes the life from 68 to 53 centimeters with a devilish bust. The shooting of the dance lasted a month: the Cardinal came out wounded. Tosi Visconti and sleeving even Callas, La Sonnambula in 1955: it seemed crazy to compress the horns of a soprano, Maria Callas, but did not flinch.

Those of Safas are magic years: the television came from pioneering, the cinema had the sails to the wind, the opera was miraculously healed by the voices of Callas, Tebaldi, Di Stefano and Del Monaco. In prose triumphed in the head with the Society of Young Romolo Valli was born and the Spoleto Festival. For Tirelli are the years of meetings with the masters of talent and genius, but also able to understand, and to teach without ever fit in the chair. At the head of Luchino Visconti, who spent whole afternoons in the lab to Safas. For the Leopard from the beginning of 1962, the tailoring is monopolized for seven months and two thousand costumes: those of Fabrizio, Tancredi, Angelica, four toilets dance and all the partisans, the masses of the shepherds and peasants.

In 1964, two years after the faticatissimo set, Tirelli started his own business. A Tosca by Mauro Bolognini with costumes designed by Anna Anni is the first show signed by the "Sartoria Tirelli theatrical craft." Umberto Tirelli is something more and something less than a theatrical tailor, he understands that among the tailor with scissors, needle and thread, and the costume designer is an empty space to fill with professionalism. That is his job: creator of costumes and set fashion archaeologist. A definition that is more in line with his passion for the recovery period costumes and authentic accessories: buttons, buckles, ribbons, feathers, sashes, Dalmatian, trimmings, gloves, caps, handbags. Even in this Tosi Visconti and are the masters, dragging a Trovarobato that it becomes almost a disease: the pleasure to hunt between attics and trunks of fashion finds from resurrecting magically on stage.

Result nine warehouses crammed fifteen vintage dresses: the museum Tirelli. The big hugs hundred years, from 1870 to 1968, but the entire collection traces the history of four centuries of fashion: the Five, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the French Revolution to women who throw corset and is laid bare under shirts white batiste, the first Empire, the return of the bust, the romance of lace, satin, and velvet flowers, the pomposity of fashion Louis Philippe and the vulgarity of the Second Empire, with tiaras, curls and trains to no end, the era Napoleon II with skirts and petticoats of the Countess of Castiglione, the clean lines and almost adherent of Sissi, Empress of Austria, who sent hoops and crinolines in the attic until the twenties, to Chanel, to the "great evening" by Dior, Balenciaga , Galitzine and Capucci. A collecting mania that led him to spend weekends rummaging in flea markets or forgotten in the closets of palaces until the fame spreads and arrive extraordinary pieces donated for friendship because "we know where they end up." Its most important things have enriched the first fashion exhibition curated by Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum in New York: "Inventive Clothes", two decades of fashion from 1919 to 1939.

Philologist of fashion, ally and shoulder costume for stage ideation, instinctive hound authentic and researcher of material impossible, to give life to all those "sketches" drawn on the scene sketches. For Medea Callas in 1969 uses rag grandmother's health and gauze, and boiled nettles and lemon peel to get some yellow and some green for the 1968 Rossini's Moses uses crochet sweaters, three-layer nylon for the capes, plastic casting molds and aged with burns to the armor. The association of work and friendship with the costume is essential. His "saints" are Piero Tosi and Pier Luigi Pizzi, one researcher documented, the other imaginative inventor.

In the early seventies Tirelli has no breath passes from Conformist by Bertolucci in Rome and Fellini's Amarcord, Tristan and Isolde on drawings Manzù, from Truffaut to Streheler, who entrusted him with his most beloved creature, the Cherry Orchard. These are the years for even more intensely cinematic Visconti, who, fresh out of the success of the Fall of the gods, ends up turning Death in Venice and is getting ready to monumental Ludwig, only to realize the mantle for the coronation scene tailoring it took three months. But with friends and they go in quick succession: die Visconti, Romolo Valli, Maria Callas, the mother dies Dirce, and Tirelli clings to work: Fellini, Cavani, Ronconi, Scola, Bolognini offer you a positive and happy defense against horrors of life.


The eighties are still a season of workaholism. The alliance with the costume creates the "big names" that have made ​​the bones in tailoring: Gabriella Pescucci in the head, then Fiorella Mariani, Wayne Finkelman, Joseph Crisolini Malatesta, France Squarciapino, Maurizio Millenotti, Alberto Verso and Giovanna Buzzi. These are the years of close collaboration with Luca Ronconi and the association with Pierluigi Pizzi for opera. The alliance with the cinema is more sporadic, but the masterpieces are born as OIC Ciornie of Mikhalkov, and with the customs of Pescucci, Once Upon a Time in America by Sergio Leone's family and Scola. What does not come from Italy, comes from Europe and the States and the international dimension of Tirelli has soared. In 1981, the Italian-American costume designer Milena Canonero arrives at tailoring via Pompeo Magno for the wardrobe of Chariots of Fire, will win the Oscar, and will continue to rely on Tirelli for Cotton Club and the third Godfather Coppola and Out of Africa diSidney Pollack. Always in the eighties Gabriella Pescucci relies on loyal Tirelli Tailors costumes of The Name of the Rose, Teodor Pistek those of Amadeus by Milos Forman, Franca Squarciapino those of Cyrano de Bergerac. The credentials of Hollywood Tirelli multiply.

In March 1990, two of "his" movie, Valmont and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen get an Oscar nomination. Tirelli is the ceremony with his friend Dino Trappetti, who will succeed him at the head of tailoring: it has been silent at all that his sixty-two years are doomed, he kept quiet because he wants to enjoy that triumph, he kept quiet because short Traviata will be performed live by Riccardo Muti with costumes by Gabriella Pescucci made ​​by the "Sartoria Tirelli theatrical craft." May 1990 is the last Traviata Tirelli. May 1955, the first Traviata Visconti marked the birth of a passion. Between one and a Traviata Traviata thirty five years of skillful craft, talented craftsmanship, enthusiasm of the professional service of a singular work: the theatrical tailor, what is not as men, but their dreams.

From the book "Dressing dreams" by Guido Vergani and Umberto Tirelli.