HOW WE MET

ROMEO GIGLI AND ALESSANDRA FERRI
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The Independent Culture
Fashion designer Romeo Gigli, 46, was born in Castelbolognese, Faenza. In his twenties he travelled the world and started making clothes aged 28. He trained with the New York tailor, Piero Dimitri, before setting up his own label. He lives alone. The ballerina Alessandra Ferri, 32, was born in Milan. She studied at La Scala and at the Royal Ballet School. She was principal dancer with the Royal Ballet before Mikhail Baryshnikov invited her to the American Ballet Theatre. She lives in Milan with her psychoanalyst husband.

ROMEO GIGLI: It was a few years ago: four, maybe. She called my office and asked for some dresses. Alessandra was living in the United States at the time. We had a friend in common, who told me that Alessandra really wanted to meet me, that she had read about me and that every time she looked in fashion magazines, she only liked my work.

I came to meet her in the showroom while she was trying on dresses and fell in love with her. She's so kind and fragile. We discovered we had a few friends in common. Straight away, there was an understanding between us. I immediately called her my Juliet.

Somebody had told me about her Manon and after I met Alessandra, she invited me to go and see the ballet in New York. I flew there just to see her dance. I remember, I arrived during the day and the performance was the same night. I had heard that she was great, but I had thought she was more of a classical dancer. When I saw her, I was dumbstruck like a child in front of a beautiful window. She was unbelievable. She is the greatest dancer in the world. Of course, it's partly due to her technique, but the great approach she has to dance is that she enters completely into the story. She is the heroine. She transforms herself so completely into the character that after the performance, it's difficult for her to be herself again immediately.

Now that she lives in Milan, we don't see each other as often as we would like because she works so hard. The little spare time she has is for her husband. I really work very hard, but she's unbelievable. The last time she came to my house, she had no energy because she sometimes asks too much of her mind and body. She never takes holidays or weekends off. She dances every day for eight or nine hours. She sacrifices everything for her work. She tries to take time out and slow down, but she just loves it too much.

I go to see her when she's at La Scala and every time I try to be one of the first to say "Hello" to her afterwards. Every time, she flies into my arms, and every time, I say to her "You are unbelievable." Once after one of my collections, she also came up to me and threw her arms round me. She was so luminous and that was so absolutely and fantastically gratifying.

When I see Alessandra, we don't talk about books or movies or things I would talk about with a friend I see every day. Our friendship is more about feelings and sensations than practical things. We just talk about our style of life and emotions. I don't even really know what she does in her spare time. We really understand each other and have many things in common. She loves her work and puts a lot of energy into it and I'm the same. We both also have a desire to go very deeply into things we love and can be so immersed in it that the slighest little external problem can really upset us. She is someone who pays attention to everything. When she is in the street, she unconsciously picks up a lot of things from people around her and so do I.

She is an archetypal Romeo Gigli woman. She's going to dance Giselle at La Scala in May and so I'm making a special dress for her for the ads. Sometimes, when I'm thinking about evening dresses, or when I do really light dresses like ballerinas wear, I think about her. She's very Italian because she's full of passion. She has everything I like. She looks fragile, but she is actually really strong. Her indepedence is very important to her. I think that part of the reason she became a dancer was to be independent.

For me, Alessandra was born to dance and there is nothing that makes her happier than when a ballet company asks her to do something different. The worst thing for her is that although she is Italian, she has been recognised as a great dancer in the United States but not at home in Italy. That is only just beginning to change now. As for Alessandra, she's not changed at all since I first met her. Alessandra is always Alessandra.

ALESSANDRA FERRI: I don't remember exactly when we first met. I'm terrible with dates, but it must have been about four or five years ago. It was just after I came back to live in Milan. I got together with a friend of mine. She is a press agent, who works a lot with La Scala. We were talking and I mentioned how much I loved Romeo's work and she said: "Well, I know him. You must meet him." So, she called him up and I went along with her to meet him in his showroom.

I was fascinated by the possibility of seeing and speaking to him. My first impression of Romeo was of somebody who had a great inside. He is a very deep person and has lots of shades to his character, which he doesn't often show. He has lots of inner emotions and is very cultured. At that time, Romeo was very unhappy and very troubled. Things in his life were difficult, but he's changed now and is more serene.

I can't remember what we spoke about. He said, "This is how I would see you", and he tried a few clothes on me. It was like entering a new world, seeing the outlook he has on proportions and colours. We hit it off straight away. We saw each other soon afterwards. We had dinner together and met up in New York and Paris.

Unfortunately, both of us have work which takes up so much of our time. I am working away from Milan a lot which means that we do not see each other that often. However, he comes to my performances and I go to his shows. From time to time, we go to the theatre together, but mainly, we get together for dinner because it's the only time we both have free in the day. We do have friends in common, but usually we see each other privately. I'm not a very outgoing, party person. Romeo is more outgoing and has more parties than I have. When there are lots of people at a party, it's fun and whatever, but I'd rather have a true conversation with somebody when there are fewer people around.

We talk about silly things that have happened to us in the day, or things like melatonin, the new pill that helps you sleep when you have jetlag. We both have trouble sleeping when we travel. He's the guinea pig and is experimenting with it. I'm waiting to see whether it works.

Romeo speaks a lot about Mediterranean countries and North Africa. I've never had his wonderful chance to travel and visit places like he did for 10 years when he was younger. I envy him that. I have rarely travelled just because I wanted to. Since the age of 17, I have mostly done so because of my work. I wish I could go off and travel. Maybe I'll do that when I finish dancing.

I love it when Romeo tells me stories about when he was living in tribes in Africa from which he brought back shields. Or about how he came back from India with I don't know how many thousands of roses for a party. Those are things I would never do and they really stun me.

We're both interested in art. I love classical music and I know Romeo does too. However, it's the sort of friendship which goes beyond talking. If I have any problems, I'd talk to my husband. With Romeo, it's more about having a common sensibility. I think that the strongest thing about the relationship is an understanding of each other's inner world. To me, he's an artist and I'm an artist. We just have something in common. I don't even know what it is. I think it's an attention to inner emotions. A little bit of detachment from everyday things. To understand somebody else's soul transcends whether you like the same food or the same kind of paintings.

Romeo has great passion, which is distinctly Italian, and it shows through in his work and colours. He is also very warm. He hates the adulation attached to the fashion world, but I don't think that it's because he's modest. It's just that he has some depth to his life. The whole other side of fashion, the more banal side, does not interest him.

I have never considered him to be a designer: I've always considered him an artist. Even before, I met him, his clothes always made me dream. I remember one particular dress, which made me fall for him - artistically. I guess it must have been burgundy and I loved it so much. It was just like something I would want to wear on stage, maybe doing Juliet. I didn't buy that dress because I never found it, but I bought others. Many others.

There's always a great sense of history in his clothes. Whenever magazines want to take pictures of me, I always want to wear his clothes because I think that's how I'm represented best. His clothes evoke my work and the life I lead. I think that if I was forced into another designer's clothes, I would not feel myself. It wouldn't be my portrait. I'd feel like a hanger they hang clothes on. I could never see myself in a pair of jeans, a white T-shirt and sneakers. It's just not me. It would be Alessandra playing somebody else. !

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