Story by Brittany Taylor

Max Mara is an Italian fashion house that dresses celebrities from Katie Holmes to Emily Blunt. While this international company has stores in 90 countries across the globe, at least one secret to the company’s success can be found in a small town in central Italy.

In the ancient city of Cagli, behind an old, wooden door with an iron lion knocker, a middle-aged woman sews precut fabric for Max Mara. Rosalba Calimeris emerges from 23A on Via Tiranni. Her spiraled, jet-black hair fills the doorway. Grasping her trademark cigarette with her cherry-red, bedazzled nails, she flashes half a smile.

Sequestered among sky-high piles of fabric and tables of sewing machines, Rosabla apologizes for the small space. “I live in confusion,” she says. “When everything is in order, I cannot find anything.” Bags of fabric, buttons and thread are stacked to the ceiling. Wrinkled from both use and time, Rosalba’s ring-covered fingers reveal wear from years of smoking and running her hands to the needle’s constant beat.

A self-taught tailor native to Cagli, Rosalba is humble about her talents. “I began to sew because there was nothing else I knew how to do,” she says. She learned her artisanship by studying patterns. If her work did not turn out, she would try again and again. She initially worked at a factory, making the same sweater repeatedly in different colors every day. A Max Mara employee discovered her talents in 1995 and offered her a position. Now, Monday through Friday, she glides between one of her 15 sewing machines. Every week she receives pre-cut fabric for shirts, skirts, dresses and open jackets. She holds up, and says, “I simply sew.”

For 16 years, Rosabla has been turning out hundreds of pieces per year. Despite her fashion sense, Rosalba has never left Cagli to visit Milan or attended a fashion show. “I like my work here. I have no need to go there,” she says. “It is quieter (here).”

Rosalba loves working for Max Mara, but her favorite pastime is spending her weekends making pieces for her family and friends. She wants to make them perfect. Rosalba even works on Sundays, recently completing three different pieces for friends within three hours.

She chuckles when she contemplates her free time. “I do not take vacations,” she says and pauses, adding: “My only vacation is when I am sick.” Rosalba has never owned her own sewing shop nor does she want to. She is too old to take on such a task, she says. “There is not too much time left.”

Instead, Rosalba stays on Via Tiranni all day, quietly working while many people amble through cosmopolitan cities wearing clothes she sewed. ¬†She is happy with her work, she says as she reaches for another cigarette. “I am never finished learning from this job. In fashion, nothing is ever the same. You are selling it, and it is always different.”
As she returns to work, a waft of smoke escapes from under the door of Rosabla’s workshop, the only sign of the seamstress at work.

Rosalba Calimeris working a shirt for a friend.

Rosalba Calimeris busy working on a shirt for a friend.

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