Westmont Magazine Designing Fashions in Florence
Each day, Kelsey Giusta ’03 wanders through the shady, sheltered streets of Florence and crosses its sunny plazas. Blissfully settled in a city that celebrates art, she greets friends in her youthful Italian. “The textures of the walls, the rich history and the diverse people fascinate me,” she says.
“I came to Italy very excited to create art and live in another country,” she says. “I kept thinking, ‘Is this a dream?’” An art major at Westmont, she won a scholarship to attend Studio Art Center International, where she has pursued print-making passionately. “I created mass amounts of prints and learned all new techniques,” she says. During a year of intense study, she made 30 different zinc plates and nearly 1,000 monoprints.
Her love for the printmaking process dates to her first class with Tony Askew. She came to Westmont — the college her parents and oldest brother attended — to study painting. But she quickly changed her emphasis to printmaking and planned to pursue a master’s of fine arts degree after graduating.
Kelsey’s art took another unexpected direction in Florence. Spending 40 hours a week in art classes and working in her studio whenever possible, she became adept at another medium: silkscreening. She soon discovered she could do endless things with it. An urge to experiment — and to replenish her tired wardrobe — led her to apply silkscreen prints to her clothes. Borrowing a sewing machine she didn’t know how to use, she stitched her designs to a skirt. Fascinated by the reverse button, she ran the needle back and forth, using seven bobbins of thread in all.
“I called it my mangled skirt because there was so much thread, and it was so haphazard,” she says. The first day she wore it, women stopped her on the street to find out where they could get one. Friends who worked in a jewelry store liked the skirt, too, and asked Kelsey to make them some clothes. That’s how a buyer for an exclusive Florence boutique discovered her and commissioned her designs.
The artist who had never studied fashion design started sewing in her spare time to make clothes to sell. When she saw the boutique’s prices, she decided to charge 330 euros for a skirt. It sold the first day. She now has the largest rack in the store.
Kelsey works out of a small studio in her bedroom, using an old sewing machine she fixed herself. “I buy a lot of basic clothes that I cut up and alter,” she says. “I print my etchings on silks and sew them on the clothing. It’s very mangled and haphazard; every single piece is one of kind, making it possible to ask a high price.
“I can only thank God for the passion I have for creating,” she says. She plans to stay in Italy for the time being and support herself by sewing. One day, she hopes to return to school and get her master’s degree.
“I never imagined I would be living in Florence and selling clothes,” she says. “It has been such a surprise and quite an adventure. I am learning so much every day. The business side is especially challenging.”
Kelsey continues to paint and make prints. Her work has appeared in several art shows, including two exhibits at the Uffizi Center with the art organization Florecimiento. She had a solo show at a gallery in a Florence garden , and a gallery in Sardinia featured several of her prints.
“I am not sure where this is taking me,” she say. “I know that I love what I am doing and it fulfills my creative outlet. I am trying to trust God and take things one day at a time.”