Brand to Know: Thin, Simple Turtlenecks, Inspired by a Designer’s Grandmother
The designer Giuliana Leila Raggiani attended Parsons School of Design and Central Saint Martins, but when it came to launching her own knitwear line, Giu Giu, in 2013, she drew inspiration from an unlikely source: her Sicilian grandmother, Palmira Giglia.
Giglia — who coined Giu Giu, Raggiani’s childhood nickname that would become her brand moniker — passed away in 2014. During her lifetime, she opened several Italian clothing boutiques in the Boston area under the name Settebello, which she ran from 1967 through the early ’90s. She also designed Vaccaro, the store’s line of in-house knits and leather goods sold mainly in the U.S. and produced in Italy, whose signature design was a tight turtleneck in a rainbow of colors. After a successful run — at one point, she operated four stores simultaneously — Giglia eventually decided to close her business and focus on her passion for art collecting, antiques and gardening.
Raggiani, now 27, grew up around the family business, going to buying appointments with her grandmother and spending time at the store — and has since held positions at Anthropologie, Alexander Wang and Calvin Klein. Her own fall/winter 2015 collection was picked up by Steven Alan and Assembly New York and included textured knit polo shirts, pants and cardigans.
Vaccaro’s body-hugging turtlenecks serve as the inspiration for Raggiani’s collection today. Two weeks before Giglia’s death in 2014, Raggiani’s mother mailed her an old Vaccaro turtleneck that used to belong to her grandmother. It inspired Raggiani to create her own iteration of the knit — a tight, ribbed turtleneck that comes in a variety of colors — which she calls the “Nonna” sweater. It has become a Giu Giu trademark, a fusion of Giglia’s classic style with Raggiani’s modern sensibility.
Beyond the “Nonna,” another constant in Giu Giu’s collections is the influence of the designer’s dance background. As a former dancer trained at the Boston Ballet, Raggiani is heavily influenced by movement. She hopes the brand’s simplicity will attract varied fans: “There can be a young and rebellious guy living in Tokyo, or a sweet 60-year-old Bostonian woman, both wearing the same piece, but living different lives and carrying different stories,” she says. Since it launched in 2013, the brand has already garnered the attention of Scarlett Johansson and Kanye West, who in May purchased every style Raggiani had in stock.
The spring/summer 2017 collection is her most personal yet: Raggiani calls its look book a “loose self-portrait; a fusion between my Nonna, a part of who I am today and myself.” It was shot in Los Angeles at spots frequented by the designer, like Gjusta and Tortoise General Store, using her close friend, the model Bella Isles. As ever, Raggiani had Giglia in mind: “We sort of formed the story as if she was living in L.A., combined with who I have become,” she says.
The collection features a variety of knits, from minimal track pants and pencil skirts to turtleneck dresses and rompers. A mix of velour and copper accents were taken from Raggiani’s nostalgic fascination with shopping in department stores of her childhood, like Jordan Marsh and Filenes — “I’m really into that nostalgic feeling of ‘shopping’ … the smell, the layout, marble surfaces and bad florescent lighting,” she says — and Moroccan geometric rugs. This season’s Nonna turtleneck will come in a new color: a bright vermilion called “Pomodoro,” which she has named after “the best smelling plant” in her grandmother’s garden — “and the magic behind her secret sauce.”