This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Dream of Italy.
Costume and fashion designer Susanna Lazzaro is the owner of Atelier Scatola Magica in Venice, a “magic box” out of which come extraordinary clothing and accessory creations, each piece unique and authentic made in Italy.
Lazzaro’s sense of and passion for fashion came at an early age: her mother had a tailor’s shop and taught her the ropes; one of her older sisters was a dance teacher, and, when Lazzaro was a child, she recalls, there were dancers at home coming and going all the time. Another sister was a fashion designer, and a fourth one worked in advertising. “Creativity is part of the family’s DNA,” Lazzaro says.
There was a fifth sister, Elisabetta, who worked alongside Lazzaro before passing away. That’s when Lazzaro decided to move their tiny, 29-square-foot atelier, which she had opened in 1979, to a different location. After extensive research, she found it in Cannaregio, in a former cookie factory dating to the 1920s, which produced one of the most typical Venetian cookies, the baicolo.
The new location, which she moved into three years ago, still feels like the “magic box” that inspired the atelier’s name. Arranged on two floors, it is accessed through a lovely garden, Ca’ Zanardi, from a quiet calle. The bottom floor is where Lazzaro displays her creations, which she makes entirely herself, from start to finish, on the large open space of the upper floor.
For Carnevale lovers, a winter visit is a feast as the atelier is filled with incredible Carnival costumes, jackets, hats, corsets and accessories. Lazzaro has a thorough knowledge of costume history and can recreate styles from the 1300s to the 1900s, through a careful application of the historic cut and her skills in corsetry, necessary to reproduce the design of clothes of the past.
Other times of the year, the atelier features dance and theater apparel and costumes, as well as Lazzaro’s regular fashion line. “Our fashion is timeless,” Lazzaro points out. “Our dresses look great now just as they will in 10 years; they’re not tied to trends that change every year.”
To ensure that her clothing will stand the test of time, Lazzaro is strict about the quality of the materials used. She doesn’t use any synthetic materials unless she’s making technical apparel, like tulle. She prefers natural fibers, like wool, cotton, and silk, although they are becoming harder to find as many Italian companies have moved production to China.
“In Italy, we have an incredible fashion heritage, especially when it comes to Susanna Lazzaro strive to promote it, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find quality stuff.” With so much textile, and we’re throwing it away,” she notes. “I love the Made in Italy and I strive to promote it, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find quality stuff.”
With so much of her work involving creativity, doesn’t she ever run out of ideas? “If you’re open to what’s around you, then you’ll be constantly inspired by everything you see,” Lazzaro says. “Leafing through books (I have an enormous collection of books about fashion and historical costumes), going to exhibitions, museums and markets all contribute to fueling my imagination. But it’s also just natural for me: when they ask me for a piece of clothing, a light bulb switches on, and my imagination starts working.”
Far from feeling discouraged from unusual requests, Lazzaro takes them on with enthusiasm. “The more outrageous the request, the more fun I have,” she says, laughing. From fighting angels with wings to goats displaying muscles, to giant tricorns, she has (almost) made it all.
“This isn’t a job that will make me wealthy,” Lazzaro says. “I feel rich inside though, knowing I’ve made a client happy. I love what I do and I believe it shows.”