Blending the past, present and future is no simple feat. A conversation with Sofia Bertolli Balestra, Head of Research, Design & Brand Identity at Balestra Roma, and the granddaughter of iconic couturier Renato Balestra, gives insight on the new identity, sustainable initiatives, and intergenerational vision for Balestra
By: Tripti Jangpangi
Posted on: May 2, 2022
Renato Balestra is considered a legend in the haute couture industry. He knew how to express art with sequins, stones and shades. An iconic high fashion Italian maison founded in 1959, Mr. Balestra was famous for his fabrics, embroidery, chic yet mischievous silhouettes. That confidence and ode to creativity is now being taken forward by his future generations, with a touch of bold modernity.
Sofia Bertolli Balestra with mother Fabiana Balestra and aunt Federica Balestra
"We are at the third generation and every dress designed and made, in over 60 years of history, is a world of inspiration and knowledge from which to draw."
In its new identity, Balestra presented its first prêt-a-porter line in February 2022. The brand is reinventing their DNA and constructing a new paradigm by adding more dimensions under the leadership of Mr. Balestra’s two daughters, Fabian and Fredrica Balestra, and his granddaughter Sofia Bertolli Balestra.
The new collection is an homage to the dreams that never fades. “Renato Balestra's strength has certainly been his tenacity and love for this work. He managed to make women's dreams come true. He was considered the ‘painter of fashion’, he leveraged his artistic spirit to create a unique synergy with Italian Haute Couture,” says Ms. Bertolli.
From Prose to Pride
The characteristic savoir-faire, art and design of Mr. Balestra are now getting a further layer with the addition of inclusivity and empowerment. When inquired about this new refreshing wave, Ms. Bertolli emphasized, “We wanted to make a turning point through various tools such as the change of logo, new communication, a new aesthetic, but always keeping what we learned from the Maison. We are at the third generation and every dress designed and made, in over 60 years of history, is a world of inspiration and knowledge from which to draw.
"Renato has always thought only of haute couture, while this is the first ready-to-wear collection: an important change that allows us to open up to new markets. Everything is new, yet each piece in the collection claims an older story. Even the sweatshirt with the Piranesi print seems to come from a collection of the past, without defined boundaries. We drew on our archive by focusing on the period between the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s: shoulder pads, sequins, and sparkling dresses for an amused woman who wants to live the night. All the high fashion craftsmanship remains that we continue to do with passion. We are also working with artists and photographers who are not in fashion to create a completely new identity. If before Balestra was elegance and tradition, today I think we have dared on a very solid basis: when I think of the woman we want to design, she must be strong and bold. Talking about beauty is anachronistic: we are unique.”
Another tradition that the new generation continues to follow is the brand’s patronage towards the iconic Balestra Blu color. The traditional Balestra style is also a journey into cultures, through the search for contrasting volumes, colors, fabrics and fine embroideries. “Our inspiration constantly comes from the archive. By the 1970s, Renato Balestra was famous for his signature “Embroidery Painting”, based on the original use of materials and actual painting on fabrics of any kind. His mastery of transparencies, through innovation and freedom of expression, spoke to modern, strong and sensual women,” adds Ms. Bertolli.
This new journey has been quite a while in the making as the three women had started planning for this new identity since before the pandemic. “The pandemic has put us in difficulty but at the same time has allowed the fashion system to slow down and this has given us the right push to start working on this project. In addition to this, a generational change took place which gave a further boost to the project,”Ms. Bertolli said.
"The new generations have an awareness and sensitivity towards issues that Balestra must respect. We have entered into a perspective of continuous improvement by looking at three spheres: social, economic and environmental. It is a stimulating challenge, but the fact of having an entirely Italian production already sees us well positioned. Every small step towards reducing consumption is an important message.”
Luxury fashion is rethinking the design process by adopting new technologies. Even though Balestra Roma is in the early stages as a ready to wear line, it is using new technologies for the creation of prints and fabrics. At the moment, Balestra wants to focus solely on ready-to-wear. “We must first grow the brand under this point of view and then we would like to expand and make a line of accessories,” Ms. Bertolli mentioned.
Tracing digital carbon footprint, following sustainability
Information and communication technologies contribute 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is predicted to double by 2025 according to a study published under Digital Trend 2020 by Kemp. Ms. Bertolli emphasized on Balestra’s commitment to reducing its digital carbon footprint – something not many brands are focusing on. “On the communication side, the website is an example of how technology today can have an important impact on the network. In general websites have increased the space they take up on servers threefold in the last decade. Our new website reflects this commitment to environmental responsibility. That’s why our website conveys accurate content using the bare minimum resources: each page weighs under 500kB and loads in a fraction of a second, and fully complies with W3C standards and current accessibility best practices. Technology gives us the opportunity to think about our future in a sustainable way.”
In its 60 years of life, everything was produced by hand at Renato Balestra’s atelier. Each piece of material was consumed without leaving much scrap. The brand agrees that controlled growth is the right approach to work, “with times that respect our employees and their needs and asks to slow down the production frenzy by looking beyond next quarter revenue”.
The sense of drama that Renato Balestra managed to project with his delicate overlays, silken jackets, shimmering big sleeves is continued, but through power silhouettes, audacious designs, and monochromatic combinations.
Ms. Bertolli continues, “It is not enough to be careful at the production chain, which is one of the elements of the entire life cycle of a garment. We want to overcome seasonality by taking inspiration from high fashion work processes. It’s the same market that is asking for it. The new generations have an awareness and sensitivity towards issues that Balestra must respect. We have entered into a perspective of continuous improvement by looking at three spheres: social, economic and environmental. It is a stimulating challenge, but the fact of having an entirely Italian production already sees us well positioned. Every small step towards reducing consumption is an important message.”
Truly for women by women
There are three women at the helm of the brand now, which can be quite a power bomb of creativity, energy and innovative strategies. The age difference helps in giving a multi-generational outlook to the brand as well. “We are a team and that makes everything very easy. We discuss all together, but then each one has a well-defined role. We have to carry on a creative reality and we have all the tools to do it better. I am very attached to my mother and aunt. We speak to each other several times a day: I believe this attitude is reflected in the work in a positive way. I'm digging through the archive to review in a contemporary key the work produced by Renato in a period that Fabiana and Federica know well and this helps me,” said Ms. Bertolli, the youngest of the three.
Balestra’s evolution is fuelled by three key aspects: a young team, a treasure trove of heritage, and a fashion industry that is redefining itself. “Today Balestra is led by a creative team of young designers that want to propel the brand’s evolution into the future, envisioning a new paradigm of poetry and storytelling while still celebrating Balestra’s heritage: freedom and creativity remain the true drivers of its idea of fashion and style – but become part of a broader vision of inclusivity and empowerment, which celebrates the cosmopolitan nature of our globally connected life,” said Ms. Bertolli as she captured the spirit of the new Maison Balestra.
"He managed to make women's dreams come true. He was considered the ‘painter of fashion’, he leveraged his artistic spirit to create a unique synergy with Italian Haute Couture."
Renato Balestra in 1965
Which brings us the question, where is the original maestro? “While Renato is always present, he is part of the family. He continues his personal projects and follows his great passions such as opera and ballet. He loves this collection. He sees the hard work behind it and he finds himself in it. He was really surprised by the quality of the product and of the fabrics,” Ms. Bertolli said smilingly.
The sense of drama that Renato Balestra managed to project with his delicate overlays, silken jackets, shimmering big sleeves is continued, but through power silhouettes, audacious designs, and monochromatic combinations. We are awaiting to witness the further metamorphosis of this artisanal brand.