Maurizio Giambria: Design for Living

On The Town | Philippa Hohenzollern | March 2011

"The woman I design for is strong, self-confident, and graceful," Maurizio Giambra tells me, gesturing with his hands to show how "she" might emphasize a point. "She combines my fashion with her own imagination: Depending on her mood, it can be casual one day and elegant the next; but it is always très chic."

Not only does this statement suit his fashion perfectly, it also emphasizes how his own sense of style associates with it. Although he was dressed casually that day, wearing a black shirt and dark plaid trousers, his visual appearance implied smartness. Meeting at his store in Vienna’s 8th district, there was no awkwardness or discomfort, just a warm welcome at the sunny shop on Lange Gasse that opened nearly a year ago; it was a bit like seeing a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.

The store has clean lines and from outside and from outside you can peek into the tailoring and get a glimpse of his dressmakers at work. When I entered, a black satin dress hung on a mannequin by the entrance, not quite finished; it was arresting, with long streams of fabric that tie around the neck in a collar or a loose bow. We walked in between racks to the back room behind the store, walls covered with his sketches, where a dressmaker was at work on a transparent, chiffon blouse. I shook her hand while Giambra showed me the sketch of the newly blouse that he had drawn in fine lines with a pencil. Throughout the store, racks were filled with his fashions in sleek colors, ranging from pastel coats from his spring collection, light silky blouses in black and white as well as summery flower patterns to mannequins dressed in shimmering evening gowns and plain black skirts.

Maurizio Giambra was born and raised in Sicily but moved to Rome at the age of 18, where he studied at the Academy for Fashion and Design. Living abroad had always been of interest to him and having had an Austrian roommate in Rome, he decided to move to Vienna in 1988 without speaking a word of German. He started his career as a costume designer for television shows, which he did (and still does) with great passion and enthusiasm for the past 18 years.

With the worsening economy and television jobs decreasing, he began to look for a hobby or another activity to focus on to keep him entertained. "In September of 2009 the idea of creating my own fashion suddenly came to me," he said smiling with excitement. "It had always been a dream of mine to make my own designs and work independently," he told The Vienna Review.

"Maurizio is really unlike any Viennese Designer," said Roberta Manganelli of Stella Models, "elegant and glamorous, yet also simple" – which is why Giambra works so closely with the agency. They hosted a show together in early February at the hip, oriental bar and restaurant Aux Gazelles, attracting a phalanx of reporters and TV crews, who were excited by what they saw. Not only were his cuts unusual, but also the fabrics, including chiffon, satin, silk and partly even a touch of lace, decently adding extra attention to the designs, which he carefully selects in Italy, France and Spain.

"Shiny colors and materials are downright essential for evening gowns," he said while pointing out some of his outstanding pieces spread around the store. I immediately recognized one of the dresses I had seen it before online. It was one of his most popular designs, he said. Again simple, yet, it has a small belt that is tied around the hips; that extra little detail making it stand out.

Maurizio Giambra is not the kind of designer who goes out seeking to find inspiration. He is not trying too hard to discover yet another muse like most people involved in the fashion industry. Instead, he lets people and surroundings act on him. From his point of view, a woman does not necessarily have to be interested in fashion in order to be elegant or glamorous.

"It doesn’t really matter if a woman is working in a rice field in Vietnam or at a market, she can still be naturally elegant. This is what inspires me most," he said. He also shared that part of the reason he is obsessed with subtle elegance and grace is his upbringing in relation with his mother’s affection to classiness and sensibility.

He feels strongly attached to timeless movie divas like Grace Kelly, for instance. This is very much reflected in his fashion.

"I am constantly looking for curves, lines, and new silhouettes. My drawings and cuts are always geometric and naturally elegant." And the Italian influence is everywhere, and while some of his designs may appear to be simple, his fashion sense is very feminine, especially compared to the French, who avoid the curves in favor of a more angular look.  During his studies, he learned how to draw architecturally and in his opinion, it contributed a lot to his love for clean, geometrical lines.

Giambra is still often surprised about his clientele. His fashion attracts women aged 20 up to 80, as it can be combined with many things and worn in a wide variety of settings. Which is also why jewelry designer Henri J. Sillam got in touch with him in consideration of a joint show presenting the jewelry together with Giambra’s evening robes, that took place at Sillam’s store in the first district on February 25th. The beautiful, luminous dresses in combination with the outstanding jewels made a remarkable appearance and displayed how an evening dress can suddenly have an entirely new meaning by adding a piece of jewelry to it.

It might sound slightly tricky to host a show at a jewelry store, but in this case it was the ideal location. The entire setting of the recently redecorated store and the glamorous interior, which primarily contain the colors black and hot pink, worked perfectly along with the glossy fabrics and the glowing pieces of jewelry. Even though it was such a high fashion presentation, the overall atmosphere was pretty laid back and open to discuss the designs.

This season he will be surprising us with further elegant cocktail and evening dresses as well as with light chiffon blouses and fresh flower patterns. The plain cuts in combination with these fine patterns add a lot of excitement and edginess and can easily be recombined, whether it’s a casual or fancy occasion.

After working for the television for such a long period of time, Giambra feels like he is permanently discovering new ideas and catching up on the creativity he could not fully act out during his years of only costume design. He described his recent experiences as more harmonious and less hectic, though he still very much enjoys working on costumes. Most of his designs are made at his tailoring in the store. He also plans to concentrate on the issue of dresses within the upcoming months. There are so many occasion where a dress is essential, yet, it is always difficult to find the perfect match.

"Even for television roles it was never easy to find a suitable dress for the actress."  Especially during Vienna’s ball season evening gowns are of such importance.

For the time being, Giambra’s designs are only available at his store here in Vienna. Of course it is of interest to him to eventually expand, primarily because his timeless designs would suit women all around the world, though momentarily he is very pleased the way things are going. He has managed to catch people’s attention without creating something so absurd that it could only be presentable at a fashion show and at the same time, his designs add a lot of refreshment to Vienna’s rather conservative fashion scene. Although his reasons for coming to Vienna did not include standing out through his own creations in first place, Giambra has established a name with meaning behind it and most importantly; he has surprised himself.

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