Trick of the Eye: A Legacy Rich As Velvet

Roberto di Camerino & Salvador Dalí. C. early 1970's

     In regards to the ongoing fashion conundrum of wearing something perceived to be new that actually is not quite so new, why don’t you compromise the hassle by actually acquiring a piece that has progressed to a higher state above being classified as terribly outdated or too trendy? As it relates to the social status driven aspect of handbags, the fashionista’s modern day weapon of choice to defend one’s rank of financial success, it is better to carry your essentials while carrying out your essential errands with a piece that appears to be of excellent quality, functional, and classic, but with an ‘avant-garde” twist. Does the perfect nuance exist in such a bag? Why, if it was created from a house in which its foundations were built on those principles, then yes and look no further than Roberta di Camerino.

Ilustration of Roberta di Camerino as published in Il Gazzettino. Illustration of Gabrielle Chanel by Cecil Beaton.

   Roberta di Camerino (Born Giuliana Coen) challenged the very core of a handbag’s place in the modern female wardrobe by conjuring a delightful medley of elements from her divine inspiration inducing surroundings. Such as Gabrielle Chanel’s apartment above 31 Rue Cambon contained an infinite supply of ideas seductively calling the couturier for reinterpretation in the form of antique Chinese coromandel screens, 19th century wrought gold chandeliers with interlocking motifs, to a religious Russian Icon at her bedside table gifted by former lover and modernist early 20th century composer Igor Stravinsky, Roberta too was inspired, by her beloved abode of Venice Italy.

    Instead of material bric-a-brac, Roberta wanted to incorporate the sense of the perpetually present history the canal stricken city bestowed upon all who delightfully gaze upon it: The gilded Baroque scroll of Gondolas gliding underneath the Rialto Bridge, the high-relief “Soprarizzo” cut velvet hand woven on 18th century looms, to the “Trompe L’oeil" (Trick of the Eye) facades of the Scuola di San Marco structure from the early Italian renaissance. It is of details such as these reconfigured through Roberta’s masterful hands that created the first ever “It” bag.

Princess Grace of Monaco photographed on the November 1956 Issue of the Italian publication L'Europeo wearing the "Bagonghi" while on an official state visit to Rome.

    In particular, the “Trompe L’oeil” detail combined with her nontraditional use of color and branding is what makes Roberta’s designs so striking yet so discreetly distinct. Before the inception of her brightly hued color blocked velvet bags, the handbag was meant to complement one’s ensemble, not blatantly accent it. Before Roberta's sumptuous creations in the 1940's, it further disappeared into the background when composed in a somber black or brown hue to match the wearer’s shoes. For example, with her most successful bag “The Bagonghi”, she transformed the traditional doctor’s shape by adding elements of pzazz such as utilizing unconventional color theory with faux buckle illustrated details along with an astute sense of marketing by having a branded cursive “R” either woven to the external fabric or on a metal plaque; the latter being a novel idea akin to the father of haute couture Charles Frederic Worth labeling the first ever garment, starting logo mania decades before the likes of Gucci and Louis Vuitton in the handbag sector.

Roberta di Camerino advertisement. C. 1960's

    Trailblazing one’s arena of expertise does not come without cost. While in a fitting with Coco Chanel in the 1950’s , Roberta was crying upon receiving a Telephone call from her husband in Venice hearing news that fakes of her designs were flooding the market. Chanel, arguably the most decorated veteran of being a successful original in the history of 20th century fashion approached the weeping handbag designer to console her and save her tears for another day, by frankly stating “Cry the day they don’t copy you”. Since then, she would go on to receive a Neiman Marcus Oscar for her work in 1956, utilize the handwoven basket motif of “Inter-woven” leather long before Bottega Veneta marketed it, and incorporating the use of “trompe l’oeil” in clothing collections of the postwar Giorgini fashion shows at The Palazzo Pitti in Florence half a century before the likes of Miuccia Prada and Alessandro Michele for Gucci at Milan fashion week.

To come back full circle, this particular example from the house of Roberta di Camerino has all the bells and whistles of her extraordinary design elements but further updated to be functional in the hands free 21st century as a shoulder tote. It’s roomy, has an adjustable strap, and with the rustic charm of patina to the velvet’s pile, like having a portable 15th century renaissance tapestry to strike conversation at any given time. Although Roberta’s legacy is forever remembered in the minds of fashion history and vintage enthusiasts, her name and work is rarely spoken out loud among today’s fashion victims or seen day to day on the street. Before adding to cart on an LVMH or Kering Group’s designer site another $3K handbag that has been taunting you, ask yourself this: Is the design original? Will it last beyond this season? Is it sustainable? For if you ask these questions upon this beautifully executed piece, you will receive a simple answer for each: Yes, yes, and oh... Yes.


Detail of Roberta's clever use of "Trick of the Eye" with weaving the motif of buckled belts instead of actually using the real thing.


When you are wearing the archetype, you will not fall prey to the whims of corporate fashion marketing. You've just simply switched roles. With the original, you've "tricked" the eyes of all.

‘Roberta di Camerino Velvet Tote $395 - Available at’

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