The Man, the Myth, the Magic: Q&A with Signor Mont
Anthony Montesano, Melbourne-based couturier, has fascinated me for years. His work is iconic and is as easily recognisable as his laugh and hilarious social commentary. He is one of a kind, and today he’s ours to devour. (Photos Rachael Ogle)
Anthony, tell us a little bit about your family background and Italian heritage.
I was born in Melbourne to Italian parents. My dad came across from Capistrano, Calabria as a 2 year old, and my mum came with her family from Marsiconuovo, Basilicata as a 4 year old.
I have always been proudly Italian; in my mindset, style and love of hosting others. I have to say, after a short visit to Italy in 2011, this was truly cemented and strengthened. Suddenly every piece of my being made sense. Looking around at the Italian style, the way of life, the architecture, the mannerisms, the beauty, it all made me understand who I was so much more. Things that I used to suppress, such as my love for excessive detail in design, for the anti-minimalism that is rare in Australia, now felt more accessible to me.
How has your heritage shaped your creative journey to date?
Being a true nostalgic, my heritage has formed the backbone of my style. Very rarely do I try and predict trends. I much rather research Italian history for inspiration, and visiting Italy was a further turning point in developing this sense of nostalgia, seeing it all first-hand.
My love of story has also played a huge part. Hearing my nonna’s stories of her own wedding gown having a 5 metre train and being the talk of the village must’ve subconsciously taken root, with me becoming synonymous for larger-than-life trains. Even the ingrained need for my family to always show la bella figura, has cemented itself in my consciousness, and now I don’t rest until my brides are guaranteed to make that bella figura they so long for.
I have always been very architecturally minded, and my gowns most definitely reflect that. I constantly find myself trying to deconstruct laces and reposition them to recreate the baroque shapes perfected centuries ago in Italy through the architecture. I still find it so incredible that the Italian style has endured all these centuries and can move me so, even though the world has changed beyond comprehension.
Have you always known you wanted to pursue a career in couture?
Funnily enough, I had always known I’d end up making bridal couture. I was sewing bridal gowns on barbie dolls at the age of 5. I had sewn so many barbie brides by my 10th birthday that I named my company ‘Bambola Bridal Wear’. But then, growing up in a traditional family, I became aware of the masculine social norms and started to suppress my passion, reserving it for behind closed doors. I completed an education degree and taught in primary schools for 7 years, but the pull of my passion for sewing was stronger and quickly consumed me, leaving me no choice but to leave teaching.
What place does Italian culture have in your creative process?
I would say my innate knowledge of la bella figura is both my greatest asset and largest cause of stress as a designer. Whenever I design a gown, I’m always thinking: ‘Would her mum, her nonna, her zia like it?’ I’m always catering to not only the bride, but all the guests, to ensure it’s a crowd pleaser.
Often a gown will already look beautiful, but I’ll spend the last days before the wedding, adding some extra feature to really make it stand out. I design for a very elegant, respectable clientele and they only come to me for my unmistakably Italian aesthetic. I think my gowns are reflective of Italian culture, in that they are certainly not described as minimalist or simple, but fit in quite well with lavish European style weddings that Italians are so used to.
How would you describe your style?
I would say it’s above all classic. Nostalgic of the golden age of couture and of baroque sensibilities. It’s a mixture of the Medici-esque opulence, with strongly architectural shapes. My embellishments are most certainly a nod to the level of ornamentation in the Italian Renaissance, with a ‘more-is-more’ approach, although I do try and do this tastefully.
I’m obsessed with recreating baroque shapes and curves that intersect and rotate to create emotion. My signature gowns all have this in common. You could easily trace the lines of how I place the lace and it wouldn’t take long to find some of the exact same shapes in the archives of Baroque architecture.
Explain the name 'Signor Mont'.
Signor Mont is a combination of a few things. Firstly, and most importantly, he is a mythical figure, an old couturier, from the past. He is like the spirit I channel through my work, summoning the master couturiers of days gone by through every trial and error discovery of corsetry I make. He is like my guiding angel, helping me revive an art that has been largely lost, the art of making women elegant and fitting them impeccably.
Signor Mont is also a nod to my days as a teacher, Mr Montesano. In Italian, Signor Montesano, shortened to Mont.
Thirdly, Signor Mont is my mask. I am quite a shy person, surprising to anyone who follows my social media. Signor Mont is like my alter-ego, a confidence I bring out, and it gives me a public identity that helps me to marry my shy side with the designer that seeks to be known.
What are you most proud of to date?
Without doubt my sister’s wedding gown. We collected 170 year old hand made Burano Lace and commissioned an image of the church she married in to be made by the matriarch of one of the last remaining Burano Lace houses still operating on the Italian island. The gown would have thousands of hours-worth of irreplaceable handmade lace, made by women in around the 1850s in Italy. The thought that so many artisans have touched my sister’s gown over 2 centuries moves me to tears, as well as the fact that I was the artisan to put it all together. With scenes of a gondola on the canal, birds, animals, lovers, musical instruments and countless other images and motifs, I cannot imagine another gown containing the same level of curation of laces all handmade in Italy today.
What's so unique about your voice in today's society?
Although I have discussed la bella figura, I’d say my lack of regard for it in my own life is something that makes me memorable and sometimes infamous. I think in a time when posting your highlights reel to Instagram has become the norm, being authentic, through your insecurities, the beautiful imperfections, the not so amazing parts of life, is the best way to stand out. And how wonderful it is when people accept you for this, as they love you as you come, authentically.
I think my style, which also forms my voice, is a revolt against the modern minimalism which has come to dominate. I make no secret of my rejection of minimalism, particularly in wedding gowns. Whilst restraint is important, to me, laziness and a lack of effort is not. Maybe it’s the European mentality that has been cemented since birth. You go to effort for such things, no easy way out of laziness, punto e basta.