The Genteel
April 21, 2021


Photograph courtesy of Ohmydolls Milano.

Alessandra Pepe does not like being described as a fashion blogger. Although she curates the style blog M.O.M.A. (Modern, Original, Material, Awesome), she prefers not to be associated with the stereotypical image of the Italian fashion blogging world. "[In Italy,] the term [blogger] is usually linked to the image of a very attractive girl posting pictures of herself accompanied by a brief description of the outfit she is wearing," she explained to me when I visited her in Milan last month. "For me, blogging means being a good writer and telling interesting stories."

Alessandra prefers not to be associated
with the stereotypical image of the
Italian fashion blogging world.

Image courtesy of Alessandra Pepe.

Despite living and working in Milan, Italy's fashion capital, Pepe's opinion of the city and, indeed, the country's creative scene is particularly pessimistic, "Italy is a dead country; the general atmosphere is grim and distrust is everywhere. Surprisingly, there are still people trying to follow their passions and make a living out of it." These people are highlighted in Handmade for Future, a section on M.O.M.A. which gives a voice to such daring, new designers and supports unique creativity against "mainstream trends erasing diversity through mass produced items." 

When I asked Pepe what the most interesting and original project was that she had discovered through her work, she responded without hesitation, "Ohmydolls Milano, a small shop opened by two crazy sisters. Don't be fooled by the name, it has nothing to do with toys. They design clothing and accessories inspired by graphics of dolls of their own creation." The minds behind the brand are Ilaria and Rosanna Vista and Pepe offered to introduce me to them.

Despite its close proximity to Corso Buenos Aires, one of Milan's busiest shopping districts, the Ohmydolls' showroom is hidden away from the chaos and buzz of the metropolis. The chilly evening air stood still as we entered the small courtyard of the building located at Via Vincenzo Vela 18. "It's like entering a dollhouse," Pepe whispered, bowing her head as she opened the tiny wooden door on the left side of the building. The smell of cherries, strawberries and other delicious smells, disguised in cupcake-shaped soaps, welcomed us into the world of the Vista sisters, before they emerged from their workshop where they were working on their soon to be launched line of jewellery.

Pink, violet and light green pastel coloured walls inspired an air of romanticism within the shop, which was adorned with paintings and posters of the modern and unconventional dolls created by Ilaria. Ilaria, the younger and shyer of the two sisters, studied at Milan's Academy of Fine Arts of Brera and sketched her first doll a year ago, when the shop first opened. "We don't consider ourselves fashion designers and our background is closer to art rather than fashion. Ilaria has always been a very good painter and I myself am an architect, so we decided to join our strengths and translate our love for art to a channel that could reach a different audience other than traditional art lovers," elaborated Rosanna, the more outgoing of the pair.  

 All women are beautiful and they should not be afraid of showing their scars and faults, but wear them with pride.

As we moved into their workshop space, past a curtain made of glittering glass beads, several lampshades were laying on the working table, waiting to be decorated. "As you can see, we don't just focus on clothing. We see women as real life dolls and, as you know, dolls need accessories. This is why we also design soaps, jewels, lampshades, flip-flops, paintings and many other items. The starting point, however, was our line of French panties," described Rosanna as we moved toward a stack of beautifully printed lingerie. "We wanted to recreate a sort of tattoo effect, something to wear on your skin. All women are beautiful and they should not be afraid of showing their scars and faults, but wear them with pride." As she showed me some of the lingerie, I noticed how the Vista sisters applied their modern and unconventional touch to delicate materials, such as silk and lace, to redefine the traditional concept of lingerie. "They might be surrounded by romanticism, pastel colours and fairy tale atmospheres but our dolls have a dark soul: you can see it in some of the elements we include. Scars, keyholes tattooed on their foreheads, they all remind us that perfection doesn't exist and that what could be seen as a fault is actually a story in itself, worth being told and not hidden away."

Indeed, there is something mysterious and melancholic about the graphic dolls that are designed by Ilaria. With their big heads and half-open eyes, which tower over pin-up, tattooed bodies, the characters printed on the Ohmydolls' pieces clash with the traditional and innocent idea of a doll. "Blythe dolls were probably a source of inspiration for our design," said Ilaria. When they were first introduced in the 1970s, Blythe dolls were considered too scary for children due to their disproportionate heads and peepers. Although they did not meet commercial success they later found their place, firstly as collectors' items and now as fashion. 

The Dolls have a dark soul.

Image courtesy of Ohmydolls Milano.

Rosanna also showed me their male t-shirt collections, Ohmytoys and Ohmycircus. "Men also like our products but we cannot really see our [doll] design applied to men's underwear without making it ridiculous, so we prefer to stick to t-shirts only," she said as she unfolded a purple t-shirt featuring a deer holding a stereo between its antlers. "Everything you see here is handmade, which requires a considerable investment of time and money. But we want to offer unique items that reflect the personality of the person who wears them."

The uniqueness of the brand is also enhanced by the fact that Ohmydolls is only present online via a Facebook page. "We like not being mainstream and this is also why there is no sign on the shop's door. We want to be found," they said, adding that they want their products to stay in a niche market. "We are always very surprised to see new faces attending the events we organise. People like us a lot and we have received only compliments so far." The Vista sisters are not only appreciated in Italy, their items are also found in New York City at Red, a small designer's boutique in the East Village. "It happened by word of mouth and we are very happy to work with Red. We are also quite appreciated on the West coast: bikers like our t-shirts and we have been asked to develop tattoo and surfboard designs too."

Pepe and I spent some more time chatting to Ilaria and Rosanna and their enthusiasm for their project was wholly tangible, "In times like these you have to make a choice: either you take a job which means nothing to you or you try to do something that makes your life worthwhile and fulfils you." Ohmydolls and M.O.M.A. are the results of such a leap of faith and, so far, it seems like passion was the right way to go. Even in times like these, in a country like Italy.  



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