2nd Apr | The Life of a Couturier

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I think it is fair to say that we’d all made a bit more of an effort than usual in getting ready for our April meeting. The guest speaker was Brian Piccolo, a self-taught couturier, who himself came immaculately suited and booted to tell us about his life and work.

He brought with him a stunning collection of handmade ladies outfits, from embroidered evening gowns and jackets to a swirling sun-dress. Each and every one of them was unique, created for a particular person and made by Brian from luxurious fabrics bought in high-class specialist shops.

Brian told us that the first piece of clothing that he had made was a blouse for his mother out of a piece of fabric that she had in the house. He was 13 at the time and begged to be allowed a free hand in creating and making the blouse, pestering his mum so she eventually gave in. She was delighted with the result – a made-to-measure one-off garment which fitted her perfectly!

After leaving school at 15 – his dad refusing to let him go to Art College – Brian got a job with the Inland Revenue. It wasn’t long before he was persuading the women he worked with to let “his mother” make items of clothing for them. They all became satisfied customers, unaware that their outfits were Brian’s sole creations!

In 1967 Brian married, and decided to go into the fashion industry full-time. He bought an industrial sewing machine and an overlocker from a Chelmsford factory that was closing down, and worked out of his own high street shop in Frinton. He put an advert in the Braintree & Witham Times, and before long he had built himself a reputation.

Sometimes customers brought in their own material to be made into dresses or outfits, sometimes he went to specialist shops like Joel’s or Robert Allen’s in London for quality and variety of fabrics.

He has created outfits for film stars such as Joan Collins, the Lady Mayoress of London and various politicians’ wives. He says he was never bored with his career as every day was different. Evening and Bridal Wear are his favourite garments to sew, although now that he is retired his current clientele are mainly cabaret artists performing in the Spanish resort where he lives.

Capel Ladies were allowed to pass round the different garments which Brian had brought with him, and we all admired their finish and workmanship. I think several of us secretly imagined how we would look wearing one of those Brian Piccolo creations!

A very enjoyable evening, and Brian kindly donated his fee to the St Helena Hospice in Colchester.

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