by Leo Damian
In my twenties I was a model and actor living in Rome. I was staying in a part of Rome called Trastevere which is on the west side of the Tiber River near a small bridge called Ponte Sisto. Trastevere is a quiet part of Rome. A beautiful neighborhood where you could really feel like living as a local. My apartment was a beautiful, very old building with a stone facade and stone staircase. My kitchen overlooked the quaint street. When I opened the windows in the kitchen, I could hear passers by chatting in Italian as I cooked. Even to this day, I love to cook with my mother as she gives me direction in Italian. In addition to the kitchen, my apartment had one bedroom and a living room. Actually quite large for Rome standards.

There were many small restaurants and markets around me. On the weekend there was an open market set up on one of the larger nearby roads. I would dress up in some elegant slacks and a button up shirt, and walk up and down the market to buy fruits, vegetables, meat and fish all fresh from the vendors. Not only were the sites Roman but the sounds were Roman and the smells were Roman. The scent of herbs in the air was not only a pleasure to smell but I could in some way, actually feel the scent. Fruits and vegetables decorated the tables with rich vibrant colors. Colors that someday would inspire my clothing.

Occasionally I would make a special discovery in Trastevere. When I was a child spending time with my relatives near Pisa, I would enjoy a no-salt Tuscan bread. This bread is divine. The best place to find it is in Florence, but it is copied in other places. I love the no-salt bread because it goes so well with salty prosciutto and parmesan cheese. Whenever I would visit relatives in Pisa or Florence, I would make sure to get this bread, and top it with Prosciutto, Parmesan cheese, ripe tomato, and green olive oil. One day, I found this bread in the Trastevere open market. With my shopping bag filled full of produce, meats, fish, and my no-salt bread, I was ready for the kitchen.

Along with the wonderful food, there were stalls in the market with wonderful fabric. The colors were vibrant. I love the way the Romans dressed elegant and poignant. I remember the women in draping colorful fabrics, stylish shoes, dark sunglasses carrying their own bag of groceries home. The men, always in finely pressed slacks and a sharp button down shirt of interesting colors.

At night, I would wander and explore the small streets all around my apartment. I would dress up for a night out. I loved to discover new restaurants, or trattorias and try something new as often as possible. One of my favorite discoveries was a very small place that had no seats, no dining room, not even a counter. It was just a hole in the side of a building that you would place your order, and pick up your food. This place had only one dish, bruschetta.

They were open very late into the evening. I remember several times enjoying an evening at a club till 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and then walking to this small joint only to find a line of 20 people waiting to order their bruschetta.

During the day, they made the most beautiful loaves of bread. Then at night they would open their little hole in the wall for customers. They would cut a large slice of their bread and put it into a wood burning oven to char toast. Right next to the oven was a large vat of chopped tomatoes with garlic and fresh herbs. When you ordered your bruschetta the man at the grill would take the toasted bread, brush it with olive oil, and put a heaping scoop of tomato mixture on top of the bread. Then they would wrap it with a piece of paper and hand it to you. Such a simple dish, bread and tomatoes, but absolutely unbelievably delicious.

Just near the bruschetta restaurant there was a store that specialized in hand made sweaters and jackets. I loved their work. A lot of hand stitching decorating beautiful sweaters, jackets and pullovers. I purchased two pieces in that store over the time I lived in Rome. Those two pieces lived with me for many years. One of the pieces was a little zip up jacket. It was a very comfortable piece and I wore it often. One fortunate afternoon I wore that little jacket to an audition for a modeling job. I ended up getting the job. It was for a very famous company, and it ended up being a very large job giving me work for many months. That little jacket brought me lots of luck.

From that job I met a man who was an important figure in the film studios in Rome called CineCitta. He and I became close friends, and I was fortunate to have spent many dinners with him. He always saw me as an Italian as my mother and father are both Italian. My mother is from the North of Italy near Trieste and my father from the Southern area near Naples. I spoke a little Italian just enough to make him feel that I was a local transplanted to the United States, and now replanted back to Rome. He helped me get auditions for many small acting jobs. I got a job in the lead role of a romance magazine. It was a picture style story in a magazine and I was the lead character. Between my job as a model for that famous brand and acting in the romance magazine, I built quite a following in Italy and beyond. I could travel to Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and was recognized for my work. The job gave me access to very beautiful clothing. Often the production company gave me pieces to wear on my time off. I found myself studying these garment creations, and I slowly built my repertoire of design.

One day, my friend from the studios called me. He said he had something very very important for me. I went to his office and sat at his desk and he told me the specifics. He told me the time and location of the audition. He said that this audition was very special. On the day of the audition, I got dressed in my best Italian clothing and shoes. I remember wearing camel colored pants and a dark green pullover shirt with my favorite zip up jacket. I found myself in the plaza of the Pantheon. The Pantheon is surrounded by apartments and office buildings. My audition was in one of those buildings in the square. I went to the building, buzzed the door and they let me in. I climbed the stairs to the second story and knocked on the door. When the door opened a very famous director stood there in the doorway and greeted me. He had two seats set up in front of the window. He motioned that I go sit in one of the seats. I sat in the seat and looked outside and saw the Pantheon. He sat in the seat opposite me. He gave me a little script to read and we proceeded to do an audition. It was surreal. Here I was in this room at a window overlooking the Pantheon with this famous director reading a part for a movie. Later that evening I got a call from my friend at the studio. He told me I got the part.

A few weeks later I was given a plane ticket to travel to Morocco where I worked on the film. It was the beginning of my road of auditions to more acting roles both in Europe and the United States.

More and more in those years, I made note of fashion designs that struck a cord deep inside me, and drew my ideas on paper. I knew that someday they would help me build my own brand inspired by my early years.

I was fortunate enough to be able to afford to travel all over Italy and I was particularly inspired by the cities by the sea. Genoa, Pisa, Naples, Sicily...all had beautiful marinas with gorgeous ships, beautiful architecture, incredible food, and of course wonderful fashion. I’ve always had a very special part of me that was attracted to the sea, and when I put my love of the sea together with my love of fashion, something clicked.

Years later this inspiration brought me to create Nabrini. Many memories help me design my next garment. Just like the ropes on a sailboat in one of the many marinas, each stitch in my clothing puts together a story. A story I hope you feel when you wear Nabrini.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Share this

Popular posts