The Italian Almanac


Italian News - November 2

Four inmates of the Vercelli women's prison near Milan have turned themselves into fashion designers, creating a line of garments inspired by post-war jail uniforms. The 'jailwear' line consists of a mixture of T-shirts, reversible sweatshirts, loose trousers and mini skirts. All are in the neutral colours traditional in prisons: grey, cream and khaki.

Many of the sweatshirts have a stripy prison design on one side but can also be turned inside out so they become simple greys or blacks, in keeping with the dominant colours for city fashions. About 50 creations were modelled on a Milan catwalk this week, in a show which marked the undisputed high point of their creators' just launched careers.

In 2002, as part of an experimental work experience programme, they were put in front of three sewing machines and a button-hole cutter and told to make something. Initial misgivings quickly gave way to enthusiasm which grew rapidly as the four inmates - all in prison for long stretches - began to see their 'tailoring' hours as their reason for living.

One of the four designers, a Rom woman whose name was withheld for security reasons, even gave up a day release option in order to carry on working on the spring/summer collection in the run-up to the Milan show. The clothes they have come up with are being marketed under the 'Codice a sbarre' label with a logo incorporating the black and white vertical lines of a retail bar code. 'Codice a sbarre', which means bar code, is a playful reference to the prison bars.

The clothes bear many of the hallmarks of prison attire. For example, they only use plastic zips because in jail metal ones weren't allowed; they fall into the category of dangerous objects.