MEET THE ARTISANS: CLARA SOTO, FOUNDER & DESIGNER OF DIGEROLAMO
Tell us a bit about Digerolamo, and how the brand got started.
Clara: I think it all started when I was in school and taking an art class where they gave me a project and I set up a big work table in my room with supplies, and I remember for the first time understanding what joy I got from creating a product with my hands. I had no bigger dream or passion than having a big workshop and having the freedom to create. I was 17 and had no idea what I wanted to do, or what product I eventually wanted to make, the only clarity I had was that I wanted to create something in an artisan way.
This inspiration really comes from my family, and is the reason I chose the name Digerolamo. My grandfather is a shoe artisan, and I remember he always had leather patterns in his hands, and watching him make each shoe was something really special for me…my mother is a jewelry artisan and so I think that my work is something that connects me to that part of the family. I don’t define myself as a designer, first and foremost, we are artisans. And my joy comes from the happiness of translating my creativity into something tangible.
So in the creation of your brand Digerolamo you are able to introtroduce yourself with your products and ideas, but also reclaim a part of your family roots..it sounds very personal.
It is completely and totally personal. I think if I didn’t come from this family, and be able to live our materiality through passions, I might not have had such interest, but it was obvious from my upbringing that this would be something I wanted to pursue.
My eureka moment was really the moment when I realized that I gained the most satisfaction of making things myself, and that interest kept evolving by seeing this family of artisans continually making. It is incredibly freeing when you see something you want, and realize you yourself can make it. And that is something I grew up with..this liberating mentality that you can be who you want, and you can make anything you want.
What was it that attracted you to working with leather?
I think people have a natural attraction to certain types of materials
like alchemy or chemistry…
Exactly. There are people that like wood better, people that like metal, people that like hot and cold..part of it is preference but I think it really comes from an instinctual part of you. Leather is almost like clay for me..it starts off with a raw form but I can construct its softness, and change it with my hands and with my tools..it is a very malleable material.
In terms of artisanry, it is personal for you because you trace it back to your family…I like to think that products carry the energy of the people who made it. Those made from mass production carry a different energy because they could be made from a factory or people in bad working conditions, versus something creating purposefully and sold with different intentions than commercial gain. Do you believe in this energy circle?
I completely believe that everything carries the energy of those who create it, of the people that sell it, even the people that buy it. When the client comes in, you can start to see a pattern of people that are attracted to the energy of artisan work. When you see something from a factory with a mistake it is looked as a mistake, if my bags come flawed in any way, there is always a story behind every piece: you think of me making it, each bag is completely unique..there are no flaws in artisanry, there are only stories.
I think when you take one of my bags you can feel the moment of when I came up with the design in my mind, I think you feel the passion and work I put in it as I am making it here at the studio. You completely see all the work that went behind it, and the passion that went into it. There is no other word for it other than passion, and you can see the spark in my eyes when I talk about it…that specialness that I could articulate my energy into a product
What type of woman has a Digerolamo bag?
She is definitely a woman with soul. She chooses something more lasting than trends..when she shops she is looking for something different, bespoke and unique, with a heart. Investing in a product like this you need heart and an appreciation for the work behind it.
I see my clients as travelers. I see them as people who culminate experiences. They come into the shop, they meet me, I am from another place in the world, they could be from italy but maybe they come from somewhere else and are going somewhere else…so i think when they look for a bag that suits their lifestyle.
I think the Digerolamo woman is someone who is curious and mesmerized by the world and its beauty and searches for that in her product. She needs something that can carry her essentials with her on her adventures, something to distinguish herself with a product thats lasting, that can hold all of her most precious things. I think that the woman who buys my product is looking for a lasting product that attributes to her identity.
What I really like about your bags is that they grow with you, as the leather ages it ends up being a part of you…what you said about the nomad was really fitting because alot of your clients are people that are in transition, coming to Florence from somewhere else, going somewhere else, that are in search of something that is lasting, a tangible memory that is functional.
Exactly, and each bag molds into your life. Its creases and fades in regards to its position on your body, and its wear in your daily activities. It is a memory book of your experiences.
How exactly is a Digerolamo bag made?
The first thing I see is the color of the leather skin, it inspires what kind of bag I am making. Whether is is opaque or shiny, it’s texture…then I start thinking of the functionality of the bag, what to put in it…I start making a story of where I would like to take the bag which evolves into which type of woman I imagine carrying it..if she is a bit boho, or chic, and start romanticising this story of a bag and the woman that wears it.
I go to the tanneries to choose the leather and the colors, the thickness of the material, and softness. I always start from the materials because creating is very tactile for me…it always starts with what I have in my hands. Then we take the leather back to the studio and start the design process.
The design comes partly from what I want to wear, and also a bit from who I imagine wearing it. It is a sort of romanticised, dreamy way of designing…integrating my story with the story of someone I have never met. It reflects who I am and who I want to be, as well as who the client is and how they choose to express themselves. When they come they fill a part of my design, so I think its an interaction of energy.
I make a mockup of the bag in a pattern, and from there I make a sample of the bag in the leather I wish to use. This process can take from weeks to months to tweak every detail until I reach satisfaction in the design and the pattern of the bag. I can’t be disconnected from my production because it isn’t a design that I draw, it literally comes from my hands, as my hands make it.
Last question, what has been your personal mantra in this period of opening up your shop and all the craziness that comes with it? What keeps you going?
I think my personal mantra is a constant question: are you loving.
Are you loving the product
Are you loving the process
Are you loving the people you work with
Are you the loving the people that buy it
Am I giving love through what I’m doing
It doesn’t matter if I sell a million bags, at the end if I didn’t enjoy the process of making it, or the energy I am putting into the shop, it isn’t worth it. Love for the people I work with, the people I am creating for, and my product is what pushes me everyday.
Interview by: Veronica Kraemer