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The Italian fashion designer changing perceptions toward people with disabilities

Fashion Designer Emilia Torcini at her atelier in Tuscany, Italy
Fashion Designer Emilia Torcini at her atelier in Tuscany, Italy   -   Copyright  Giuseppe Mangione   -  
By Nazneen Zahan  & Gia Marie Amella, Giuseppe Mangione

SCENES shines a spotlight on youth around the world that are breaking down barriers and creating change. The character-driven short films will inspire and amaze, as these young change-makers tell their remarkable stories.

At the 2021 Milan Fashion Week, Emilia Torcini presented a collection that challenged the stigma surrounding people with disabilities. Entitled 'Disability is not a limit, you are the limit', the 25-year-old designer wanted to draw attention to the difficulties people with disabilities face.

"For me, inclusivity means being yourself and accepting what's different because being different is beautiful. In fact, my collection is for anyone who likes being themselves," Emilia says.

Giuseppe Mangione
Emilia's disability hasn't prevented her from chasing her dream in fashionGiuseppe Mangione

Born prematurely, Emilia and one of her triplet brothers, Valente, were diagnosed with infantile cerebral palsy. "My brothers and I have a strong, close bond because we're triplets. I have infantile cerebral palsy, which makes it difficult for me to walk. Fortunately, Costante doesn't have it, but Valente is unable to walk or speak, though he's the heart of our house and the soul of our whole family," Emilia explains.

Growing up, Emilia and her brother were victims of bullying and discrimination. "In the past, people looked at me as if I were the problem. They didn't see me as Emilia but as a disability. They didn't look at the person I was," she told Scenes.

Frustrations into creativity

Growing up, Emilia watched her fashion designer mother sew dresses, which inspired her to channel her frustrations and become creative.

"I watched her in awe as she sewed on the sewing machine. I was afraid because the needle moved so fast, but at the same time, I was fascinated because this needle eventually created something unique," she recounts.

Giuseppe Mangione
Emilia enrolled as a fashion design student at Modartech Institute in Pontedera, TuscanyGiuseppe Mangione

In 2019, Emilia enrolled as a fashion design student at Modartech Institute in Pontedera, Tuscany. "I remember meeting Emilia three years ago, and there was something inside of her. Something strong that was trying to push its way out, to make others take notice," explains Chiara Mosti, Emilia's instructor at the institute.

Emilia's love of fashion has always allowed her to express herself in a unique way. As a result of her limited mobility, Emilia prioritises comfort but always ensures her outfits have a twist of the avant-garde. "If I want to wear a blouse, it's because I am me. There, we can truly discover the person, the character, without a mask. I think that's one of the great things about fashion, which can be expressed from a 360-degree view," she states.

'Disability is not a limit. You are a limit.'

Emilia designed her graduation collection to address preconceptions and stereotypes rooted in society. The five-piece collection of the 'Disability is not a limit, you are a limit' tells a story. Her first piece focuses on caricatures of United States president Franklin Roosevelt, who suffered from Polio. Roosevelt inspired Emilia as he refused to be filmed in a wheelchair and feared people would judge his disability rather than his leadership abilities. Emilia concludes her collection with the story of her own life.

The British sartorial style influences Emilia's garments. Tailored smart suits, leather brogues and silk cravats. She also incorporates orthopaedic corsets, ankle braces and other musculoskeletal devices into her designs. "These products aren't designed to be attractive, and many times people are ashamed to wear them," Emilia states. "From a stylist's point-of-view, I wanted to give my own interpretation, transforming an orthopaedic corset into an object of design."

Giuseppe Mangione
Emilia designed her graduation collection, 'Disability is not a limit, you are a limit', to address preconceptions and stereotypes rooted in society.Giuseppe Mangione

Designed using sustainable fabrics, Emilia's collection is suitable for both men and women.

"These soft and warm fabrics make people feel at ease in their own skins. Especially the alpaca yarn. It's soft and doesn't irritate the skin. One has to feel protected in clothes, to feel comfortable inside one's own body," she says.

Emilia wanted to remind people of the art of craftsmanship. She hand-painted orthopaedic corsets with water-based inks. Due to fast fashion trends, she believes it is at risk of being forgotten. "This is to give importance to artisans who are sadly disappearing. In my opinion, they have inestimable value," she says.

Giuseppe Mangione
Emilia's collection has helped her and others with disabilities find their voice in a quest for social inclusionGiuseppe Mangione

2021 Vogue Talents Award

Emilia's collection, 'Disability is not a limit, you are a limit,' won the 2021 Vogue Talents Award. Young designers from the most prestigious fashion schools in Italy showcased their final designs at the event. Submitted designs were evaluated based on display, creativity, relevance, and innovation.

"To see my collection parading down the runway and behind the scenes was truly surreal. It didn't seem real to me to see my first collection parade before the National Chamber of Fashion, the heart of the Italian fashion industry," she recalls. "Thanks to this collection, people opened their eyes."

For Emilia, the collection was cathartic in its own way. Although the experience was painful, it helped her and others with disabilities find their voice in a quest for social inclusion.

Journalist • Nazneen Zahan