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Florence’s Queen of Embroidery – Loretta Caponi

“When I was in college, serendipity drew me into Loretta Caponi, where I discovered the most beautiful atelier with even more beautiful hand-stitched silk nightgowns and dreamy embroidery and lace. I was mesmerised and enchanted, and knew that all I wanted to do was lounge around in one of these delicate creations while poolside at Il Pellicano”

Marie-Louise Scìo

Loretta Caponi reigns in finery

For nearly nine decades, Florence has a queen- Loretta Caponi, la Regina del Ricamo, renown as the queen of embroidery, for her delicate finery that wooed artists and emirs, European and Hollywood royalty and ebullient bride-to-be’s. Caponi’s story is a love story – to Florence, handcraft and artisans and to a painter.

Born to a modest family from Fiesole in 1924, Caponi was a standout from the very start. Her grandson Guido Conti Caponi, COO of Loretta Caponi, tells how his nonna was extremely gifted both in hand skills and academics, starting school at the age of five while also working in the afternoons at a local tailor.

Loretta Caponi atelier in Florence. Photo courtesy of Loretta Caponi

Passion and skill

“It was quite common to send daughters to learn the art of embroidering and tailoring. My grandmother had agile hands  she would cut and create without any help, only by eyes, no modelling,” tells Guido.

A hard worker, Caponi would finish school at 14 years old to embark on a full-time career in sartoria e ricamo (tailoring and embroidery) and at the same time she met the love of her life  and future husband Dino Caponi, who was quietly making his way in the world as a noted painter.  It was Dino who introduced Loretta to her first private clients, the wives of famous artists and intellectuals living in Rome. 

“My grandmother expressed herself through her embroidery”

With a passion and a preternatural skill for embroidery, Loretta’s creations became cult favourites for their incredible beauty and fine materials- silk and linen, rare lace and of course, Loretta’s bespoke embroidery.  In 1967, she opened her eponymous atelier and one of her first clients was Paola Ruffo di Calabria, Principessa di LIegi and future Queen of Belgium.

As Guido recounts, the Principessa was an unassuming client who would stay all day at the atelier captivated by Caponi’s finery. Befriending Loretta, the princess would then introduce Loretta and her atelier to a network of European and international royalty who were so impressed by the gorgeous bespoke pieces that they ordered intimates, bed and bathroom sets and entire trousseaus in droves. During Jane Fonda’s Barbarella year of 1968, the actress visited Florence, walked into the atelier and opened the doors to Hollywood. And the rest is Caponi history.

Handcraft and Identity

Italian identity and tradition have been core to Loretta Caponi. Almost all fabrics are sourced in Florence and Tuscany (while San Gallo lace is sourced from Switzerland), and the team of artisans are all based Italy. 

“It is a cultural challenge, first of all. For us its very important to keep the tradition as it was it, and to make it evolve by keeping safe the best of the past.  It’s part of roots, part of our Italian culture and if we loose it we lose part of us”, describes Guido.

As part of the atelier’s own tradition, its team of embroiderers and tailors work from home, and have always done so that they (primarily women) could enjoy their independence and their families. 

Handicraft is a continual investment and art that Loretta Caponi decidedly encourages.  Each year, the atelier seeks out apprentices to teach embroidering and cutting techniques. Loretta Caponi is a family affair. Daughter Lucia is the creative director,  and her son Guido is COO. 

“Everything started with the night wear world, and in the past 15 years, people are wearing those [same] styles in a different way,” Guido explains, which is why he’s helped Loretta Caponi expand with bespoke, couture luxury and ready-to-wear for women and men, and explore other regions including Asia. Among the must-haves are bespoke dresses fitted with San Gallo lace, silk pyjamas and beautiful bed linens.  

An archive of artistry

Over the decades, Lucia has quietly amassed an incredible archive of embroideries, luxury night wear and accessories spanning from the Renaissance to mid 20th century. Pièce de resistance include royal intimi from kings and queens across europe including a nightgown and undergarments from Queen Victoria, a pochette from King Victor Emmanuel and a dress from Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Lucia has preserved seven decades of heritage created by Loretta Caponi with 20 thousand pieces of Caponi’s embroidery. Not to mention the 250 square meters of archived fabrics.

21st century new look

Lucia’s first son Duccio Conti Caponi is the designer behind the atelier’s 2018 reboot. Located on the ground floor of Palazzo Aldobrandini  since 1993, the Atelier has been described as “magical” and “a living fantasy”.

Duccio redesigned the space with pieces from Caponi’s heritage furniture collection, created and decorated a wing dedicated to “the world of children” with frescoes by painter Francesca Guicciardini and immortalised Caponi’s iconic embroidery in larger than life tondi on the atelier’s walls. In addition, guests are invited for a sneak peek into the artisan’s workshops to discover magic of embroidery and craftsmanship.

“For us it is not a work place, for us it is home. And even if seems like time has stopped,  it is neither in the past and nor in the future.  It’s a timeless place with craftsmanship moving forward and evolving”. ISSIMO x Loretta Caponi is serendipity. In the years following Marie-Louise’s first encounter with the Atelier, she couldn’t stop dream about creating a line of nightgown dresses. In 2019, the dream became reality as she stepped into the archives and chose vintage prints and styles for this beautiful ISSIMO collab.

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