International Herald Tribune
Ecological protest turns ‘waste’ into a fashion statement
September 29, 2004
GROTTAGLIE, Italy Fashion makes statements. Often they are provocative, bewildering, self-referential. But not in the case of Rifiuto Speciale, the hot fashion phenomenon currently gathering momentum in Italy’s southeastern region of Apulia. This is a label that speaks out loud and clear. .
Although the first showing of its collection only took place Sept. 12, Rifiuto Speciale (www.rifiutospeciale.it ) found its voice — and indeed its name — last spring. It burgeoned spontaneously when a grassroots ecological movement turned to printing and distributing T-shirts and appending slogan-em blazoned bags to balconies in the town of Grottaglie due east of Taranto, on the heel of Italy. .
Both items were black, like refuse bags, and had ‘‘Danger’’ printed in red on the front and ‘‘Rifiuto Speciale’’ in white on the back. In Italian ‘‘rifiuti’’ is a plural term meaning refuse, waste, trash; the singular, ‘‘rifiuto,’’ on the other hand, means ‘‘I say no,’’ or ‘‘reject,’’ both as a verb and noun. .
‘‘We had to make a stand, to become eloquent in silence, because for months we had been trying in vain to get answers out of our municipal authorities with regard to the huge quantities of industrial waste that were being dumped in disused quarries not far from the town,’’ said Etta Ragusa, the teacher-turned-activist who heads the local Dump Vigilance Committee. .
‘‘The original permits envisaged 300,000 cubic meters of refuse, much of it highly polluting. Then the extension mysteriously grew to 3,000,000 cubic meters, covering an area of 25 hectares of otherwise beautiful landscape. Though industrial waste is supposed be disposed of in the region where it is produced, most of the trucks unloading came from the north. We were denied access to surveys of soil, water and air pollution. In fact, we couldn’t even ascertain whether they were taking place.’’ .
The first batch of T-shirts and bags were snapped up. The printers declared that their youthful employees working the presses were taking T-shirts home for siblings and friends. They had be come the cool gear of the moment. .
These were not any old T-shirts and bags, but items designed with professional discernment. The initial input came from Antonio Annicchiarico, the locally born architect, stage and costume designer who has worked closely with film directors like Roberto Benigni. He soon brought on board Mariagrazia Miale, another Apulian architect with an eye for fashion. In next to no time Then Cinzia Ruggeri, a prominent Milanese designer who lived in Apulia for many years, signed on as a special consultant., ending a 20-year divorce absence from fashion. .
The outcome of this convergence of ideals and energies is the recently presented spring/summer collection of garments, shoes and jewelry made from rifiuti: rejected fashions, old clothes found in closets or on market stalls, along with metal off cuts from industrial processes. .
‘‘We have snipped, sewn, recomposed and embellished,’’ said Annicchiarico. ‘‘The idea is to show that beauty is not confined to the dictates of the consumer society that actually produces so much waste. There is still space for the individual to be creative — and critical.’’ .
True to the label’s underlying spirit, the remarkable Rifiuto Speciale collection was shown at a still pristine stone quarry near Grottaglie, its glistening white tuff walls acting as a backdrop for two magnificent models: Brigida, 90, and Domenico, 83, both of them ‘‘proud to be dressing up for the occasion.’’ .
As the press release related, attending the event were ‘‘10 sparrows, 5 swallows, 20 ancient olive trees, 4 pine trees and a peregrine falcon, the guest of honor.’’ .
The aesthetics of Rifiuto Speciale tend more toward poetry than propaganda. Yet, underlying the clothes produced, there is a serious and urgent intent. Any profits made from the sale of these garments, from the original T-shirts to the charming, curiously elegant the dresses and , tops, skirts, bags and shoes, will go to a fund to pay for legal and technical advice concerning industrial waste dumping throughout Italy. The amount of interest already engendered suggests that the label will soon be seen in towns across the country. .
Though it focuses on rejection and what society marginalizes, Rifiuto Speciale does not preach. Instead it delights in beauty, and in so doing provokes reflection. .
Kate Singleton is a freelance writer based in Italy.