Let me introduce you “The Hands” behind fashion

What would happen to fashion designers without someone able to actually reproduce and recreate their beautiful sketches?
Karl Lagerfeld
Karl Lagerfeld


Diane Von Fustenberg


Valentino sketches


I wanted to dedicate a post on this beautiful, but not so recognized (at least not as it should), profession: the tailor. Last summer I had the chance to meet Belma Salihovic, a talented young tailor that used to work for the Haute Couture of a famous fashion house and one day decided to leave that job to pursue her aspirations and follow her own creativity.

1. What is your study path and your work experiences, how did you become a tailor?

I graduated as Fashion and Textile designer in 2008 at the European Institute of Design in Milan (IED), where I deepened my knowledge of planning and designing a dress. Following my degree, I had a work experience in London at Vivienne Westwood’s, during which I discovered that the side of fashion I liked more were styling (in the sense of pattern-making) and sewing. When back in Milan I passed the selection to enter the course of theatrical tailor at Accademia della Scala.

My work experience has developed through different areas: in fashion I have been working as a tailor for Atelier Versace Alta Moda, as modeler for Camera della Moda and I am now teaching at Ied Moda Lab. In theatre I have been working as a tailor for Filippo Timi’s show at Teatro Parenti (in collaboration with Prada). I also collaborated with many artists for exhibitions at the art gallery Kauffmann Repetto. 

2. What are the phases of realization of a Haute couture collection?

The phases of realization of a haute couture collection are quiet similar to the ones of a pret-a-porter collection:

  • Research of mood-board/theme and the following choice of colors, silhouette, fabrics and embroideries. 
  • Sketches and selection of the USCITE
  • Creation of the trial models with similar fabrics, fitting and removal of defects
  • Creation of the models with the original fabrics and embroideries 
  • In the pre-catwalk phase, the garments are sized and fitted on the models that will wear them during the fashion show

What differs from pret-a-porter is the complexity of the garments in terms of model structures, preciousness of fabrics and the sartorial method of realization. Also the collection does not go into an industrial cycle of production, but is just presented to potential clients and eventually ordered and custom-made.   

Versace Haute Couture 2015
Versace Haute Couture 2015

3. Today’s young generation common desire is to become fashion designers, would you explain the difference between the roles of a tailor and of a designer?

First of all, to the figures of the designer and tailor, we need to add that of the pattern-maker (or modeler). The designer makes the sketches, the modeler “reads”them, studies the shapes, the silhouette, the cut and develops the paper pattern (Cartamodello), finally the tailor is in charge of the realization. In some artisanal realities, as the theatre costume ateliers, we can also find the figure of the Cutter, who cuts the pieces of fabrics that will actually be put together by the tailor. On industrial level, this figure has been substituted by machines. It is obvious that in small and “homemade” environments, these figures can mix up and melt and sometimes, as in my case, it happens that the same person engages the whole process, from the idea to the confection.

Belma’s creations


Belma's creations
Belma’s creations

4. Creativity, as you know, has no limits, but unfortunately our bodies are not perfect. What is, in your opinion, the balance between creativity and the wearability of fashion garments?

Creativity and wearability, in my opinion, find their balance depending on the time and occasion of exploitation of a garment. For events such the Oscars, weddings or concerts, “celebrities” or the more eccentric brides can choose extra tight corsets and very scenic gowns, with uncomfortable and heavy structures, but that will assure a really a impressive result. Otherwise, when garments have longer times of utilization, often creativity in pret-a-porter is expressed into the details, fabrics, prints and in the complexity of cuts. In the mainstream production, fast times and low cost of production easily erase any trace of creativity, resulting into simple pieces, which are very wearable and follow the current trends.

5. In the creation of a new piece, do you prefer to start from the design or from the fabric?

Usually I start by collecting the fabrics that inspire me, I follow my instinct and I see how the fabric falls on the body and is adaptable to a model. I don’t make sketches, but I develop the paper patterns following what’s in my mind and them I proceed with the tailoring. 

6. What are the couturiers of the past that give you inspiration?

The couturiers that inspire me are the geniuses of the past, from Cristobal Balenciaga to Cristian Dior, Pierre Cardin, Charles F. Worth, Jacques Fath… Unfortunately I realize that today’s fast rhythms do not allow the creation of such sartorial and refined structures or cuts as in the past.

Belma's creations
Belma’s creations
Belma’s creations

7. What does elegance mean for you?

In my opinion elegance is anything that remains actual and modern, no matter the flow of time. In the pieces I realize, elegance is translated into a sort of equilibrium between a wish to catch the attention, but at the same time a desire of discretion and romanticism.

8. Are there any institutions/academies specialized in tailor ship, in order to maintain this ancient profession?

In Milan there are fashion schools as IED and Marangoni, which mold the figure of the fashion designer and introduce the basis of tailoring and pattern making, in order to discover a possible attitude to sewing. For a more technical school there is Istituto Secoli, specialized in pattern making and tailoring at industrial level and the Academy of Teatro alla Scala, which trains theatre tailors teaching a traditional tailoring method.  

9. What future do you see for tailors?

With the recent re-evaluation of the manual labors I think there are and will be quiet a lot of young people keeping this profession alive. My only fear is that the need to fasten the production time will transform the sartorial reality in more niche and that some traditional techniques will be replaced by simpler and faster ones. In any case I am sure that there will always be a tutelage towards this ancient tradition, in order not to loose it. 

10. What would you suggest to young people who want to step into this career?

My suggestion is to attend a course that can teach you the basics, in order to learn a method to apply to various garments. In the past the young ones had the chance to learn on the field with the apprenticeship. Today companies, request you already have the right experience and know how, in order to join them. 



Follow Belma on facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/BELMA/603574033098999

Belma Salihovic interviewed by Nicole Petitti


Photo credits:





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