A hidden design gem in Rome: the Accademia di Costume e Moda

Aaaah the days of being a student… a time filled with learning and tools right at your fingertips, and the possibilities of life crafted into everything you create. As I walked the halls of the Accademia di Costume and Moda in Rome on a recent visit, the vibrant energy of brilliant minds is felt all around. The buzz is tangible – as students are in every corner of its maze of indoor / outdoor areas, working on laptops, or with a pair of shears in hand, hunched over a sewing machine, or drawing in sketchbooks. Each student individually unique, but with a common love: design.

I believe it is this spirit that is found throughout Accademia that has driven its students – and the school itself – to such success. Every aspect of Accademia offers, quite frankly, to anyone who steps inside, the magic that lights determined inspiration and creativity, no matter what your calling. Like so many gems in Rome, it shines brilliantly but modestly, its multi-faceted resources discoverable only to those in-the-know in its time-worn palazzo on the Lungotevere Tor di Nona.

On the top floor, fabric librarians help guide aspiring designers through the dazzling archive of swatches of every material. The Fendi-sponsored accessories department, where shoes and bags are designed, offers rows of leather samples and detailings, all to serve the hungry creative. The halls of the school are lined with large mood boards, themed collages and sketches for theater productions. Mannequins on the grand central staircase show off the finished results of the the design process.

The double-sided fabric designed by Diana Aparo for Ostinelli Seta. This artistic material has several layers, including sequins, mesh and velvet.

With such an impressive learning arena, it is no wonder that Accademia is ranked 11th in the entire world for fashion education. The Academy’s graduates have risen high in the competitive clothing industry: like Alessandro Michele, the Creative Director of Gucci; Frida Giannini; Diana Aparo whose fabric design caught the eye of the renowned manufacturer Ostinelli Seta, subsequently hired by Marc Jacobs – and many others. Besides the fashion world, the Accademia also designs for the intensely vivid world of costumery for theater, opera and films in Italy and beyond.

Lupo and I in his school’s design-lined hallways

All of this would not be possible without Lupo Lanzara. Lanzara’s famous grandmother, Rosana Pistolese, founded the Accadamia, and today, he and his brother Furio run the school together with a core of educational leaders – Lupo on the creative side, and Furio on the business side. Their mother Fiamma presides as the school’s Chairman.

To describe Lupo is not easily done with words. No, to describe him is to see him in action. The heartbeat of the school can be seen in Lupo when he is working amongst his students, or listening to him spin ideas even in a short conversation. Often found in the hallways amidst the flurry of students and projects, his visionary soul has taken him even beyond Rome. The Accademia will soon take its curriculum and resources to far flung internatioal locations, where there is a generation of designers ready to learn made in Italy methods.

The opera costumes designed by students of the Accademia adorning the mannequins were developed using futuristic fabrics with sporty detailing, but with traditional silhouettes. Later in the same year, this style was reflected in Christian Dior’s couture collection.

Their most recent fashion show, featured pieces created by graduate and undergraduate students. Observing this innovative clothing, I realized what makes the energy of the building so alive – the passion. Every stitch, every step, and every student is bursting with so much creativity and passion, it’s hard not to be mesmerized.

I may not be an art student anymore, but a creative never truly stops studying and researching, I think. Our minds are constantly engaging with new concepts, bringing together all we’ve learned and molding it with all that’s yet to come. Stay tuned for upcoming design collaborations between my studio and the Accademia – and some joint design classes with Open City experiences.