A siren's song in fashion and design

Adele and Cinzia from Studio Medea, Olivia Cummings from Cleopatra’s Bling, and Gabriella Picone from Idda Studio talk about the renewed interest in mythology and the timeless stories that inspire their work.

Italy was one of the great centers of the classical world. Epic tales of wrathful deities and fantastical creatures permeate the nation’s culture in sometimes uexpected ways. Reaching its apogee in the Renaissance, when classical forms were rediscovered in an explosion of artistic endeavour, artworks paying homage to mythological characters have adorned the nation’s piazzas, museums, and palaces for centuries. And then there are the entrenched dogmas, local superstitions and folk tales that have also animated Italian village life for centuries.“Italian folklore is deeply rooted in the country’s history and traditions. It reflects the Italian people’s collective experiences, beliefs, and values throughout generations,” explain Bangalow-based business owners Cinzia and Adele from Studio Medea. “As a result, these tales have become an integral part of the cultural identity, fostering a strong sense of pride and connection among Italians.”

This strong sense of pride is what kindled the passion in these two Italian-born creatives to establish, Studio Medea, an online boutique store that stocks an extensive range of Sicilian ceramics including teste di moro and pigne, as well as an eclectic range of homeware.

Studio Medea

The idea for the store came from “an unquenchable thirst to capture the essence of Italian history and artistic beauty.”

They believe the interconnectedness of the vast tapestry of stories has sustained their store’s popularity. “The diversity of these stories adds depth to the overall Italian folklore and fosters a sense of pride and identity in different regions, which often evokes feelings of nostalgia and comfort, reminding people of their childhood, family gatherings, and simple times. This emotional connection contributes to the enduring popularity of these stories.”

Idda Studio’s Gabriella Picone says that her early memories of Sicilian folkloric iconography and the nostalgia associated with such imagery heavily influenced the creative direction of Idda. “Growing up in Sicily, I was always told superstitious tales, traditional stories that have come to shape the contemporary culture of Sicily. Even the name of the Aeolian islands is inspired by the god of wind, Aeolus, whose wind-blowing face you will find all throughout Lipari, whether it’s on the sign of a pastry shop, on vintage tiles on the streets or on the logos of boats. Even at a young age, I remember the impact these stories had on my upbringing, and when starting Idda Studio it came naturally to draw on these personal references.”

Picone is looking to her roots for her next collection, Le Sirene, which pays tribute to the Sirens from her father’s native, Lipari, in Sicily.

Gabriella Picone. Photo Joe Kramm

My next collection is inspired by the Sirens, female-like mythological creatures who are most famously referenced in The Odyssey. Local tradition holds that these islands were the ones mentioned by Homer, where the Sirens used their magical songs to lure Odysseus into danger. Although Odysseus was able to escape by having his crew plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the ship, the symbolism of the Sirens as strong tempting female figures is remembered in history. The next Idda Studio collection, Le Sirene, features hand-painted napkins and tablecloths with vibrant Siren figures. The pieces are limited edition and produced in Italy, and we are excited to launch them soon.

Melbourne-based jewelry designer and director of Cleopatra’s Bling, Olivia Cummings, is constantly interweaving storytelling with her jewelry design. Several collections pay tribute to Italian myths and religious figures. “We love to tell stories. Capitalistic societies have appropriated symbolism, and there’s a lack of context in storytelling. We strive to honor what it means and give people more than just what is trending on social media.”

Cummings, who was previously based in Naples, was immersed in the city’s stories of Sirens, San Gennaro, and the feminielli. Her designs paid homage to some of teh city’s most beloved motifs. “Living in Naples blew my mind. It was so chaotic and folkloric and so embedded in history.”

Olivia Cummings from Cleopatra’s Bling

Cummings believes the last few years have seen a shift in consumerism and a yearning for more meaningful items with a story behind them. “I think people feel disenfranchised globally, so they are turning to brands that have something to say and sort of represent untold stories of these cultures. People are looking for depth, and it was so much easier to make money ten years ago, but there was a lot more mindless spending and consumerism. Now people want a story and something unique to hold onto forever. It’s pushing brands to question what they are doing.”

The allure of myth and legend has been pervasive. Small scale Italian designers are not the only ones taking inspiration from their mythic heritage. The Versace logo is embellished with Medusa, Dolce & Gabbana celebrated Sicilian folklore in its alta moda shows and in 2018 the Met Gala held the exhibition Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. With Sirens and nymphs emerging from the depths of the sea and their enchanted woods to conquer the catwalk and the showroom, it appears the resurgence in classical myths and fables in the worlds of fashion and design will not abate anytime soon.