From her studio in Glasgow’s bohemian West End, Silvia Pellegrino is at heart an international designer. Growing up in Rome, she honed her fashion skills between her hometown, Amsterdam, London, and LA, before relocating to Scotland in 2010. Her label Chouchou captures an inspired take on contemporary Scottish style. At the core lies a passion for beautiful luxury fabrics: heritage woollen tartans, fine Italian jacquards and silks. A hit with press including British Vogue and Glamour, Chouchou designs fuse Scottish tradition with a sleek Italian style, capturing hearts and imaginations worldwide. Pellegrino is in NYC this week to take part in the world’s biggest Celtic fashion show, From Scotland With Love. Recently, Celtic Life International spoke with the renowned designer about her work.
What is your own heritage/ethnic background?
I was born in the bohemian area of Trastevere in Rome and my family comes from different parts of Italy. On my father’s side the roots are in Sicily whereas my mother’s grandparents come from a beautiful central region of Italy called Umbria. My parents grew up in Rome and after they got married they moved to Sardinia, a stunning island also known as the Caribbean of the Mediterranean where I lived until the age of nineteen. I completed my University studies in Rome. Rome will always be home to me and a place I am extremely fond of. The architecture, the culture and the style as seen on the street will always be a huge influence on all my collections.
What inspired you to get involved with design?
I love this question! I guess as a teenager I started developing my own style with garments and in my early twenties what the shops were offering was not that exciting to me, therefore I decided to channel this dissatisfaction into creativity. I always enjoyed being arty as a child, but my family persuaded me to pursue classic studies and at the age of sixteen I found myself studying ancient Greek and Latin instead! It was only after my graduation in Modern Languages that I decided to give my real dream a shot. In 2003 I applied to the Amsterdam Fashion Institute and, to my delight, was accepted without any artistic qualifications.
What inspired you to start your own business?
There are definitely many factors that have helped this process. First of all, the Amsterdam Fashion Institute is a very business-oriented school which gave me the necessary knowledge and skills to start up. Secondly, my work placement at Kucoon in Los Angeles was such a positive, educational and inspiring experience which gave me a great insight into the industry and the opportunities that are out there. And last, but by no means least, my father’s influence. My dad has been a very successful entrepreneur in his life and I guess since being a kid I have always secretly admired his unique qualities and wished I could be like him one day.
Are these all the same reasons that you keep doing what you do?
The reason why I keep on creating is simply because I love it! I feel so lucky to have found a job I truly love, allowing me to express my feelings, share with the world and, why not, even help people feel good about themselves. This whole idea is what really triggers me and pushed me to do more.
What are the challenges of your profession?
There are definitely many challenges along the road. I guess the biggest challenge for anyone choosing a profession that involves creativity and feelings is finding the fine balance between career and private life. What also is challenging is overcoming fears of all sorts and being able to take risks. I would say at this stage it’s impossible to be a successful entrepreneur without enjoying the the human side and the gambling side. One of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered personally is to be apart from my beloved family who are based in Italy while I live in Scotland.
What are the rewards?
There are definitely many rewards! The freedom to create, the feeling of doing something that can be appreciated and enjoyed by people located anywhere in the world, the ability to travel and see different places, the butterflies you get every time you see one of your designs on a glossy magazine or on the catwalk. The list goes on!
Who is your typical client?
My typical client is a woman who loves unique, beautiful designs that are not widely available and compliment her figure and wardrobe. She can appreciate luxurious, exclusive fabrics and the versatility of our designs. She doesn’t have a particular age though she would usually be aged anywhere between 20 and 45.
How has Celtic fashion/style changed in recent years?
Being an Italian woman living in Scotland, I guess for me the Scottish style has always been a huge source of inspiration. What I appreciate about people’s taste here is the ability to try different things on without worrying too much about other people opinions, this is very different from the Italian culture and I am in love with this sense of freedom. I have noticed that currently there is a huge revival for traditional Scottish fabrics, especially tartans. It makes me so happy as I find them so beautiful and often use them in my designs.
What’s next on your creative agenda?
We have so many projects on the go at the moment! We will be participating in From Scotland With Love, the prestigious annual fashion show at New York Tartan Week. Chouchou will present a brand new collection created in collaboration with John Culbert of Glenisla Kilts and Bob Galbraith of Calzeat. Both represent an extremely high standard of manufacturing in Scotland and it is an honour for Chouchou to work with such knowledgeable individuals to introduce our take on Scottish design on this international stage. We have also recently been invited to the Wedding Fayre in Glasgow’s infamous Lighthouse, a beautiful and inspiring experience which led to an unexpected collaboration we will reveal soon. Bridal is a whole new world to us and we are super excited to be involved in it.
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