Best Wardrobes in Britain ~ Natalia Barbieri ~ In Conversation with WhoWhatWear.com

Interview extracted from www.whowhatwear.com by Hannah Almassi.

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Welcome to the latest highly exciting instalment of Who What Wear UK’s Best Wardrobes in Britain. It’s where we do exactly what it says on the tin: delve into the most fantastical, awe-inspiring and downright influential wardrobes in this fair country of ours. We’re honing in on the women who cause the street style photographers to press their shutters as much as the characters you don’t yet know—the ones who fly under the radar with secretly incredible clothing collections.

I meet a lot of industry people on a weekly basis and have done so for the past 10 years. Some just stick in your mind for their kindness, approachability, talent and—I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it—their innate sense of style. One such woman is Natalia Barbieri: a shoe guru, one part of the duo behind the footwear brand Bionda Castana and a consultant for some of the coolest names in the business of dressing our feet. Mention her to anyone else in the industry and they’ll instantly coo over her wardrobe as much as they’ll enthuse over her outgoing, friendly attitude. Even in her third trimester of pregnancy, she looks bloody marvellous. Which is why we headed to Natalia’s London flat to dive into her closet and get some savvy maternity fashion advice. Keep reading to see our exclusive shoot and interview.

PHOTO: PHILL TAYLOR    ZARA DRESS; BIONDA CASTANA SHOES; UNCOMMON MATTERS EARRING

PHOTO: PHILL TAYLOR

ZARA DRESS; BIONDA CASTANA SHOES; UNCOMMON MATTERS EARRING

Do you have any early fashion memories?

When you’ve got Mediterranean parents who are pretty chic, your first fashion memory is them. We didn’t have much money, but they always managed to look so chic. Similarly, [other] family members were always the same, but really I think my inspiration was from my brother. That sounds so random, but he was really into the big Italian brands in the ’90s (the Valentino bomber jacket or Moschino T-shirts). Those kinds of brands were always his thing. I was influenced a lot by that, in fact, so I was actually quite tomboyish in my style.

Also, my mum, although, she wasn’t creative by trade. I thought I was going to be a dancer, and my mum would always be there making my costumes. Similarly, she would make my clothes too. So those were really my fashion moments from an early age. Some outfits were more extravagant than others.

And were you involved in that design process with her?

Kind of, yeah. Most of the time, the patterns weren’t quite right, so you’d have something to moan about. Or, I don’t know—she would bring home random Clarks shoes and you’d have to refuse those! I really loved sitting with her and helping her with sequins or beads, that kind of stuff. I was always rather about that than the process itself. I was always better at the fabrications and combinations and making it but not making that final product [myself], which is kind of what I do now!

PHOTO: PHILL TAYLOR    TIBI JUMPER; TOPSHOP SKIRT; CHLOE GOSSELIN SHOES; UNCOMMON MATTERS EARRING

PHOTO: PHILL TAYLOR

TIBI JUMPER; TOPSHOP SKIRT; CHLOE GOSSELIN SHOES; UNCOMMON MATTERS EARRING

How would you describe your personal style?

It’s colourful! On a day to day, it’s an oversized bold jumper, denim, but then I tell my story through my footwear. If I’m getting ready and going out, I tend to wear quite bold colours because it’s just something that’s come with age, I think, where I don’t really care. I don’t want to always be in camel and white and blue, which was maybe my early 20s when I lived in Spain for a bit, as it was very much how you needed to dress to fit in.

I think also the other thing was when I was growing up, it was always the [idea of] “Sunday best” and leaving your best clothes until Sunday, but I realise now that every day is special so I just want to wear all my good stuff all of the time. But yes, I don’t source my clothes from any one brand. If I do like something (like the Mehry Mu bags), I have quite a few of them. Or if I find the right fit in something (like the Topshop slip skirt), I’ll buy them in all five colours because I know that they’re useful.

So how has being pregnant changed your style?

I guess you just need to be oversized and comfortable but not constricted to what’s put on the shelf labelled “maternity” because you still want to feel like you. I would easily have bought those items that I’ve now bought in an L in my size normally. It just feels a bit more trendy and it fits. It won’t fit maybe next week, but it fits me now! I still wear the slip dresses I wore before I just get them a size bigger. I still fit things on my arms, so there are tuxedo jackets that are still perfect. I just have to wear them with something different. You can always get away with an oversized blouse. So, in theory, when people see me out, I’m wearing the same thing I was wearing before. They can’t always tell that I’m carrying.

PHOTO: PHILL TAYLOR    JOHANNA ORTIZ SHIRT; TOPSHOP SKIRT; UNCOMMON MATTERS EARRING

PHOTO: PHILL TAYLOR

JOHANNA ORTIZ SHIRT; TOPSHOP SKIRT; UNCOMMON MATTERS EARRING

What are your shopping habits? Do you shop often? Alone or with people?

I don’t browse in general. For me, shopping is not a sport. I don’t shop all the time; there needs to be a reason for it. I am quite particular about that stuff and I don’t just buy to buy. When I am online shopping, I already know what I’m looking for. I’ve already either seen it on a website likes yours or I just have through Insta, or I do specific searches. I can’t trawl. I just get fed up.

I also know what brands suit me at this point (I love contemporary brands like Rejina Pyo or Isa Arfen). I very rarely return in the sense that when I see it, I know it’s me, and I don’t buy a lot of things. Also, the online shopping thing is because I like shopping on my own so that just suits me fine. I’m just in my own little world doing my own thing. If I’m in a store, I’m not paying attention at all—I’m good at helping others!


Is there anything in particular that you always buy on repeat?

Slip dresses. I think it’s because when it’s winter, you can wear a long-sleeved [top] underneath or a roll-neck over it, and now, I just feel like it just kind of works with my shape and it’s easy. That’s my “can’t live without it” item, and naturally, I’ve got a full-blown shoe wardrobe!

PHOTO: PHILL TAYLOR    GANNI CARDIGAN; ZARA DRESS; UNCOMMON MATTERS EARRING

PHOTO: PHILL TAYLOR

GANNI CARDIGAN; ZARA DRESS; UNCOMMON MATTERS EARRING


What are you most sentimental about in your closet?

Sentimental stuff for me is more jewellery-based. I think that’s probably what most people would say. There are a few things: jewellery that mum would give or grandmothers’ wedding rings when they passed.

Funnily enough, the thing that got me into loving shoes was that my brother would travel to Italy before the Euro [was introduced] and buy all of his wares for a better price than it would be here. He brought home for me a pair of blue stamped crocodile Sergio Rossi pumps, which were like the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in my life. I’ve still got them. So that’s what got me thinking about footwear. I’d just hold them and look at them in a different way from just shoving them on! So that’s sentimental because it sort of shapes what happened later and now.

Do you have any modern-day style icons you reference?

It’s yes and no, really. I feel like we all look so different in a way that you can’t really compare yourself. She doesn’t have the same hair as me or build as me and is a different size, but whenever I look at Giorgia Tordini on Instagram, I’m like, “This woman is ’90s Italian chic brought to life.” Know what I mean? When you’d go to Milan back then, everyone was just glamorously beautiful, and she can do no wrong for me! In those 10-denier stockings and pumps and tight leather under-the-knee skirt and blouse, she just looks incredible. She’s so chic and cool and modern. She really ticks a lot of boxes. But then I also like that contemporary look from Linda Tol, with white and camel and beige. I’ve got some items that carry me in that direction, but Giorgia’s a bit of a dream really.

PHOTO: PHILL TAYLOR    PICTURED: DRESSES FROM REJINA PYO AND ALESSANDRA RICH; BAGS FROM MEHRY MU; CHLOE GOSSELIN SHOES

PHOTO: PHILL TAYLOR

PICTURED: DRESSES FROM REJINA PYO AND ALESSANDRA RICH; BAGS FROM MEHRY MU; CHLOE GOSSELIN SHOES

Do you have a different wardrobe or look for work?

To be honest, not really. Working in the world we’re in, we kind of get a bit of a pass to be as crazy as we want, whenever we want. When we had our [old Bionda Castana] store, I’d be there 7 a.m. in the morning on the tube probably looking like a complete out of place human being in comparison to everyone else going to their jobs. But I kind of love it because we have meetings with equally expressive human beings that are wearing really beautiful pieces and you don’t feel like you stick out.

If there’s a day where you’re packing boxes, you are in a white tee and high-waisted jeans. Even if I’m at home on my own until whatever time (or if I’ve just got Skype calls), putting your makeup on and looking the part influences my creativity rather than being in my PJs. That just doesn’t work.

PICTURED: DRESSES FROM GUL HURGEL

PICTURED: DRESSES FROM GUL HURGEL

With Bionda’s relaunch, you have a different and more sustainable approach (the brand is releasing a concise capsule collection of shoes for preorder online every month). So what’s the easy first-step advice you’d give to other people looking to be more conscious in their shopping habits?

Find out where your clothes are coming from. That’s very important. Lots of brands now—even high-street ones like H&M—are being conscious about where the clothes are coming from and telling the customer that information as well. It’s going to take a lot of time to undo a lot of wrongdoings, but you’ve got to start somewhere. There’s a face to those people [manufacturing] now. We did a documentary about our factory owners and people love watching that—you can see their dedication and that the shoes are made from a place of love and not just magicked up. There are humans behind it.

Re-wear, buy sensibly and don’t just emotionally buy. That can be curbed, really. We don’t need that many things. With how we’re doing things now with Bionda Castana, it’s so important that we’re not just giving all newness all the time—things don’t have to be on-trend all the time. Some of these styles I’ve had for seven or eight years and they’re still totally current because fashion’s come around. If you don’t love it, don’t get it. Be more aware of that—even if it’s just to save money!

PICTURED: BAGS FROM MEHRY MU

PICTURED: BAGS FROM MEHRY MU

Natalia Barbieri