Being a Vehicle

The first package arrived about a year ago in September. It came unannounced, hand delivered to my room at the Hotel Principe di Savoia by an eager concierge in uniform. A card and a coffee mug, if I’m not mistaken. I couldn’t be entirely sure if the mysterious sender was a woman or a man. Though there was a certain delicate confidence to the stationary handwriting and the way it was gift-wrapped. The mug was a soft, eggshell ceramic, with the words La Vita e Bella in a modern red script written across. It was the perfect size. (Not one of those bulky American super-cups you have to chug with lightning speed in order to keep the beverage warm.) It was sensible and the friendly words on the card invited me to a shop called Wait and See – “if you have time”.

The second package came a few months later on my birthday, shipped to my house in Brooklyn. A card with red hearts and the letter N, wishing me “a lovely day”, and a white dishcloth envelope with a gold bracelet neatly tucked inside. Once again the delightful nature of the generous patron overwhelmed me and I promised myself to visit Wait and See the next time I was in Milan. But I found out a few weeks ago that fate would collide our paths in a more unexpected, uncanny way.

I had skipped Milan in February. Too cold, I projected. But September is always exciting, so I planned ahead. “Who’d be great to shoot?” I asked a couple of Milanese friends. One recommendation came from J.J. Martin: “You should meet Uberta. You’ll love her. She’s full on!” I liked the sound of that and asked for an introduction. When I finally received her reply, the e-mail address struck a chord. “It’s YOU!!” I e-screamed realizing the domain name was the store’s. “Yes, that”s me,” she replied. And so it came about that on the morning of September 19th, I rode a tiny elevator up to Uberta Zambeletti’s apartment and hugged the woman who had so subtly swayed me.

“So how do you want to do this?” she starts, heading straight for her son’s old bedroom. “I prepared all my looks last night.” Apart from the rest of the sprawling apartment this room is the least impressive, mostly because it has been uninhabited since 17-year old Leone left for school in London, and its walls, windows and furniture are indistinguishable underneath the piles of fabric. But it is the perfect staging area for Uberta’s wonderfully creative concoctions. They are plentiful and the work of someone with temperament and imagination. I don’t recognize a style, nor an era, nor any sort of common influence. She dresses “emotional” she blurts out. “My choices are linked to an aesthetic equilibrium of shapes and colors but very much dictated by the mood of the day, which thankfully tends to be a positive one!” She throws a vintage kimono over a 90s netted dress, and wears a $25 pair of heels she found at a sample sale last year. She flips between a military aviator’s jumpsuit and a 40s sheer funeral dress at the drop of a hatch. It’s fascinating.

The red thread, however, has to be vintage. Because she’s avid about being “a vehicle, a means of perpetuating history, whether it’s my own family’s (I wear my grandfather’s pants and shoes, and both my grandmother’s wardrobes) or unknown people’s. I am fascinated with the history of everything and everyone: I like to explore the ‘backstage of life’ and I love second chances. Vintage clothing to me is all of these elements in a garment. I buy it everywhere I go: I always travel with an extra empty suitcase which inevitably returns full of second-hand finds.” She even sells it at Wait and See, which opened in 2010, “housed in an 18th century former convent, reinterpreted with the warmth of a home, [looking] onto the timeless Via Santa Marta in Milan’s beautiful historical centre,” as the website describes.

“The shop is the result of all my jobs starting from the “Uberta Camerana‘ label I created after graduating from the Royal College through to all my fashion and design consultancies at fashion houses such as Missoni, Etro and Max Mara, and my Creative Director positions in bigger, more commercial companies.” As a child she wanted to be “some form of artist” and if you ask me, succeeded. She’s 100% Italian, born in England, privately schooled in Switzerland, and educated in Paris (fine arts) and London (BA in textile design and MA in knitwear). Leone’s dad died seventeen years ago. When I ask Uberta about her dating experiences since, she answers with mixed feelings: “Hmmm… varied and experimental…. I have learned a lot. Mainly about myself. I have almost remarried three times last few years. In the end I always get cold feet. I’m too used to my freedom.”

As the day progresses, I get a clear sense of Uberta’s determination and energy. She climbs on top of her red mirror table “because no one’s ever done anything like this” and nearly faints because she’s wearing “the most painful shoes ever”, instructs the new intern – it’s her first day – to take behind-the-scenes photos, sends the housekeeper to get me filtered coffee, dangerously balances on the ledge of the kitchen window “so you can see the dress is sheer?” and takes just one, well-deserved cigarette break. “My son forever teases me telling me I’m too intense and too enthusiastic,” she laughs while she rallies up her things in a frenzy. “Through Wait and See I can communicate my love for life and my sense of irony,” she tells me in the back of the taxi. “I love to see people smiling when they come in.” And it’s impossible not to because Wait and See is all kinds of wonderful. The good news? “I am opening in London in June 2015! Sooooo exciting!”


October 10, 2014

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4 Responses to “Being a Vehicle”

  1. avatar

    Oh she’s fantastic. Somehow it is that all of my favorites BY FAR on the site are Italian women. Hmmm…

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