Buro 24/7 exclusive: Interview with headwear designer, Gracinha Viterbo

Head couture

Buro 24/7 exclusive: Interview with headwear designer, Gracinha Viterbo
The creative director of Viterbo Interior Designs officially launches her headwear line, Gracinha Viterbo Head Couture

There are two reasons why Portuguese designer Gracinha Viterbo is so sought after: Her amazing eye for interior design and her one-of-a-kind statement headpieces. As creative director of her family-owned design firm, Viterbo Interior Designs, Gracinha has been creating award winning luxury residential and commercial spaces for years. But it's her uniquely stylish headpieces (which she is never seen without) that has been garnering a lot of praise recently.

Female members of the Viterbo family have been wearing headpieces for generations. With the vision of keeping this tradition alive, Gracinha started designing her own turbans adorned with vintage brooches and feathers. But what started out as a personal side project has now grown into a brand that seeks to bring a stylish point of difference to the way women dress. We speak to Gracinha as she launches the website for Gracinha Vertibo Head Couture to discuss her personal goal of finding a soul mate for every headpiece she creates. 

Are women not all one-of-a-kind? I love fashion, but even more so when it's personalised. For me, headwear is a very personal accessory and brings out one's style identity. 

Your headwear has always been your style signature. When did you start wearing turbans?
Headwear has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It's a long family tradition that's been passed down from generation to generation since the 1900's. I grew up with stories of my great grandmother's 400 hat collection, which 100 were turbans. From Poiret to Schiaparelli, and also some anonymous designers, her collection was scattered after she passed away. I grew up playing with some of it in my family home attic, not knowing the treasures I had in my hand.

A portrait of Viterbo's great grandmother

At age 10, I was given the nickname Miss Bandeaulette (French for head band) in school because I always had something in my hair. It became a part of my identity. As I entered my teens, long and short scarves became my thing; and while I was living in London and studying at St Martin's college, I became more open to trying new things. I started to wear all kinds of headwear with different haircuts. When I started working on interior design projects, my taste for accessories also evolved with time based on the designs of curtains, furnishing and pillows I worked on.

Tell us the story behind Gracinha Viterbo Head Couture and how it all began?
I've always preferred to create trends rather than follow them. And I've always enjoyed styling myself with my headpieces. Starting up my own line was only a natural step when friends and clients starting making orders for the headpieces I wore every single day. But the real turning point for me was when I met Suzy Menkes at the International New York Times conference two years ago. She approached me and said, "Over the last few days, while I was sitting on stage with the bright lights shining, I couldn't see anyone in the audience except your headpieces. They were the one thing that caught my eye." That moment was truly a milestone for me. Not forgetting the 24 people who stopped me on the streets of Paris to ask where they could buy my headpieces. I decided to start selling them because I really wanted the headpieces to find soul mates. They were designed for the intention of empowering, feeling one-of-a-kind, and simply being yourself.

Instagram: @gracinhaviterbo_head_couture

Why did you decide to launch an online store?
I started out making turbans for myself, friends and clients. I didn't sell any of them then. There were given as gifts. People who noticed the headpieces started asking where they were sold and I used to say, "You don't find my head couture pieces, they find you". I've set up private viewings before for friends and clients which never reached the second day because the headpieces were sold out within the first viewing. This year, I launched a month long private viewing with a hundred models in my Singapore home and received overwhelming response again. I then knew it was time to share my love for headpieces with the world. 

Why turbans in particular?
I chose turbans because they were the headpieces I remember playing with as a child in the attic. The details of the turbans such as the feathers, silks and embroidery are vivid memories I have of the headpieces my great grandmother used to own.

What do you think makes your turbans and head scarves different form others? 
They are all one-of-a-kind designs made with exquisite fabrics and accessories. Each piece is made to be a collector's item — with its own name, identity card and reference number.

You source your fabrics from around the world. What have been some of your favourite materials to work with and why?
One of my favourite stories and finds was in Cambodia last year. A friend who lives in Paris, and who I travelled to Cambodia with, introduced me to a French couple who had been living in Cambodia for 20 years. They owned a silk mill and employed 15 women who they trained and saved from terrible conditions. Visiting the silk mill made me fall in love with the place, the story behind the silk and the fabric itself. I love how it's a poetic place where time doesn't exist. Like the fabrics, I want my headpieces to carry a story and meaning.

We hear your turbans are all one-0f-a-kind and never repeated. Why so?
Are women not all one-of-a-kind? I love fashion, but even more so when it's personalised. For me, headwear is a very personal accessory and brings out one's style identity.

Gracinha Viterbo Head Couture

Every turban has an ornamental element from feathers to vintage brooches. What inspired you to add these accessories to your design? 
I'm all about the details so naturally each turban is embellished with something special. I find these accessories at antique shops, flea markets and secret places; some of which are even forgotten treasures from my travels. And I use real jewels for bespoke designs. Some of these accessories reveal a story that only the owner of the turban will know about.

Your turbans are designed to be extremely versatile. How many ways can it be worn? 
At least four to five ways. There are many ways to style them and the best way to find out how is to visit out site and Instagram account, @gracinhaviterbo_head_couture.  

With such versatility in its form and the way it's worn, have your clients ever taught you new styling tricks? 
I love that my clients always surprise me with the different ways they style the headpieces. I recently named a head band knot, Dora after Buro 24/7 Singapore's fashion editor who personalised it by tying a knot in the front. I've also got another client who incorporated the Resort head bands into her workout attire. 

What is the craziest headgear you've ever worn in your life? Can you describe how it looked and how it made you feel? 
While waiting to get my hair blow-dried at the salon, I started experimenting with the black towel on my head. I actually like what I came up with so much that I asked if I could keep the towel so I could use it as a headpiece on that day. Some of my headpiece are actually modelled after that towel.  

Why do you think  people like wearing hats?
It helps with bad hair days. It also frames the face. I see hats as a way to look at yourself through your eyes. They empower people, make them feel special — you're not just another person in a room. It's really unfortunate that I've seen ladies being mocked for wearing a headpiece, but that is just an example of how it can also intimidate others. But I'd rather focus on the positive and how it makes people feel confident.

Do you remember the first headpiece you designed?
The first headpiece I ever designed was for my son. It was beret made with 100 percent love.  

Who in your life do you think has worn the best hats? 
My daughter, Alice. She was born into the tradition and simply styles and wears them in the most unique ways. A mini collection is set to launch soon because of her.

Gracinha Viterbo & Alice Viterbo

Click here to shop Gracinha Viterbo Head Couture headpieces.

To read Buro 24/7 Singapore articles contributed by Gracinha Viterbo, click here

Text: Dora Aljoofri-Shrestha

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