Wanda Laphoto: The rise of creative Freedom in South Africa.
THE STORIES/Cheri Vintage
Although the original online research depository from 2005 has disappeared from the internet, certain designers and creatives retain a basic recollection of its content and have worked together to recount the main stories and themes within the books below. The stories are organised roughly by theme and connect loosely to the structure of the original research depository, but these accounts must now be presented as recollections and do not contain the direct evidence from the original depository.
There are a few reasons that walking into Ceri Vintage in Florence feels like stepping into a possible meeting place of the original Militant Guild of Rural Tailors. There’s the age of place of course. Florence itself evokes hundreds of years of guild history of the type illustrated in the baroque engravings of Giuseppe Mitelli. It’s not hard to imagine a secret Florentine branch of the guild convening behind drawn curtains at 26, Via dei Serragli. But, there’s also the inventory. If there had been a brotherhood of rural tailors, they might have been responsible for the creation of many of the actual vintage items offered on the rails here. Workwear from around Western Europe features rugged and often ingenious constructions that reflect both the craftsmanship and functional design ethos linked to the guild.
Many of Danilo’s most prized pieces feature complex layers of hand executed repair work. The best of them display the scars of use organically organised in ornate configurations – each area of damage circumscribed with a variety of intricate repair techniques. These combine to express narratives completely unique to each garment. The garment itself conveys Where I Come From, Where I Belong, and Where I Hope to Go. Even the more rudimentary approaches, like the patching of simple holes, have been undertaken with carefully colour-matched scraps of fabric, thoughtfully selected thread qualities and purposeful stitch placement. Some of the items reveal even more sophisticated processes such as the legendary craft of “invisible mending”. Train your eye very closely on an area at the collar or near a buttonhole and you might discover evidence of subtle fabric-tethering, a nearly alchemical technique whereby warp and weft yarn-ends loosed from the fabric itself are coaxed across worn out areas and reunited via gentle twisting like the strands of a rope in the hands of a seasoned sailor. It’s even possible to imagine uncovering the work of Otto von Busch’s lost tailor, Gillis Görll described later in the Writings category of the Portfolios section of this site on the hangers at Ceri. Repairs done at his level can serve as miniature blueprints for the symbolic ritual tethering of the members of the guild itself. More even than its age and its inventory, it is the atmosphere at Ceri that brings to mind brotherhood. It is soaked in a special energy the Dutch describe as gezelligheid and might also be associated with esprit de corps. This quality permeates the interior; The shop’s physical walls, ceiling, floor and textile contents account for a share of it, but the real source of course is its proprietor, Danilo Ceri.
Ceri inherited some of his skills as a curator from his father who owned an antique shop and under whose wing Danilo developed both his appetite and acumen for unearthing the past in order to reintegrate it within the present. For Danilo it was always about clothing. His tastes span the high utility of workwear and military garments to richly historied Victorian drape and finery. Like many who work in this field, his passion is split equally between the items he trades, and the imagined life and times of the people who originally wore them. It’s perhaps a cliché to describe these things as “social history”; but encountered on Danilo’s terms, in the world of his shop, in a dialog with the man himself, it is clear that this is indeed a social enterprise.
Although there may be low light and candles burning in the place on some evenings, the main source of warmth is Danilo. Described in one instance as being “warm and welcoming in spite of his husky physique”, he comes across as the essential Florentine Man. True he’s husky. A one time Olympic level rower, it’s unsurprising he is comfortable with his own physicality but this is also a trait one might associate with Italians in general. He doesn’t so much emanate a good nature broadcasted from across the room. His rare vintage selection is only half the reason his modest emporium has become a pilgrimage site for international menswear designers seeking inspiration. His personality, humour, and open heart are the other. Spend any amount of time in the shop and you will doubtless be introduced to other members of Danilo’s particular fraternity. It could be the creative director of one of the industry’s largest brands. It could be the eccentric proprietor of one of Florence’s other specialist vintage outlets. It could be an actor or musician. It could be a lost tourist. People from opposite sides of the planet and opposite ends of the industry spectrum become bon ami quickly in this place, at least for the duration of their visit. At Ceri Vintage it’s very much about the garments but it is even more about the people.
I am invariably struck by looming irony when I am there; these clothes around me, this shared cultural past hanging on every rail, the hardships visibly tattooed across the surface of the garments… -Workwear commemorating lives characterised by a level of relentless labor most would have difficulty imagining today. Uniform fragments once worn by men caught in the awful momentum of world wars in whose crucible our current geopolitical reality was forged. The lives given and the lives lost, and we sit here (I sit here) marvelling at a choice of fabric and extolling the improvisational spirit of a pattern assembly or the efficiency of a construction technique. I would be lying if I didn’t confess to a nagging sensation of generational guilt in the face of all this silent testimony, but this is also what makes spending time at Ceri Vintage so profoundly reassuring. Because, one way to express real gratitude to our collective fathers, grand fathers and ancestors beyond is to engage as fully as possible in the joys that our day-to-day experiences avail. They would have wanted us to be happy, to share our passions regardless how trivial, to laugh, and to celebrate. If their ghosts are stitched in these clothes, they are doubtless now enjoying the bon vivant at Ceri Vintage.