10 Questions for Maria Leoni-Sceti of Sonia Petroff
All Images: Sonia Petroff
Vintage fashion doesn’t equal old. We meet the Founder of Sonia Petroff, Maria Leoni-Sceti, to find out how she is reimagining vintage couture into pieces women will love for years.
It may be relatively new on your radar, but you’ll certainly recognise Sonia Petroffs iconic pieces. Sonia rose to prominence in the 1950s as a Couture accessories designer. Her accessories, designed for Parisian Couture houses including Valentino and Balmain, were the ultimate in glamour and timeless style. Her illustrious career lasted until her retirement in the 1980s. Upon her death in 2015, her archive was left to her nephew Elio and his wife Maria. Feeling the desperate responsibility to carry on Sonia’s legacy, Maria began Sonia Petroff.
With a strong affinity to Italy and craftsmanship, Maria felt it was important to honor Sonia’s work by having everything made by the country’s talented artisans. She believes it is crucial to support the work done by these creators and so during Italy’s lockdown, the artisans were able to continue their work from home. The pieces are made in small batches to ensure a minimal amount of waste, with materials being sourced as locally as possible to minimise the companies carbon footprint. Most importantly, Maria views the pieces as real treasures. The vintage, timeless feel of the collections mean they never go out of fashion. Plus Sonia Petroff gladly offer lifetime repairs to keep your treasures in your wardrobe for longer.
As testament to the brands longevity, they recently announced that their iconic belts are being stocked at Matchesfashion.com. We spoke to Maria to find out more about preserving heritage and she uses heirlooms as inspiration to create modern style.
The Vendeur: What inspired you to carry on Sonia’s legacy instead of beginning a completely new venture?
Maria Leoni-Sceti: I was looking for my next challenge in life and when I happened to inherit over 800 Sonia’s beautiful designs, it seemed like an omen to me. Sonia was an incredibly creative designer whose career spanned more than four decades. However I didn’t feel as though she got the true recognition she deserved in her lifetime and I wanted to ensure that her legacy was continued and paid tribute to her designs. While at the same time giving them a contemporary edge. It’s truly a collaboration written in the stars.
TV: Sonia Petroff is modelled on a slow fashion cycle, can you tell us more about what this means and why you believe it’s the best way for a fashion brand to operate?
M L-S: Slow fashion for me means premium quality that will last for years to come. Timeless designs through bold, statement pieces that will make an impact. Yet so elegant they don’t go out of style and are ageless. Not only the designs themselves, but ensuring that they are striking the right balance between fun and sophisticated. And of course they can be worn by women of all ages. With these three qualities, they will last a lifetime and transcend seasons. In fact, I don’t date my collections, but prefer to number them.
TV: Why is Italian craftsmanship integral to the brand?
M L-S: Sonia lived in Rome for over forty years and had all her pieces made by local Italian artisans and I wanted to do the same. Not only to be true to the heritage of the brand, but “Made in Italy“ is recognised all over the world as being superior for a reason. The Italian artisans are expert leaders in their fields in terms of having the finest quality of materials and also the level of detail, love and perfectionism they put into their handiwork.
TV: Your crafts people only produce in small batches. Why have you chosen this method as opposed to mass production? Especially when you only add to the collections twice a year?
M L-S: What’s important for me is creating beautiful designs that women enjoy wearing. My pieces are for women who recognise the quality and uniqueness of the designs and have fun styling them – women who want something original, something that not everyone has. Producing in small batches means that I can completely oversee the supply chain and ensure full transparency and the highest quality product for my customers whilst minimising waste.
TV: During the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve heard of the devastating impacts that brand’s can have on their supply chains when cancelling orders. How did Sonia Petroff proceed during this time?
M L-S: At first it was terrifying and I would say close to devastating. My artisans were amongst the first in Europe that were ordered to shut down and I didn’t know what we would do. This was when I realised that yet another benefit of not being a seasonal brand was that my orders weren’t cancelled as they could be delivered slightly later. We weren’t confined by limited selling periods and windows. Sonia Petroff was one of the only brands to not cancel our orders with the workshops. This ensured the atelier’s survival through the pandemic. Many other companies had their S/S2020 orders cancelled sadly, but mine were just pushed back by a couple months as what was intended for S/S2020 will just roll over into F/W2020.
TV: What’s your favorite thing about working so closely with your artisans?
M L-S: I have spent an enormous amount of time in Italy the past thirty five years so working with these wonderful people feels like second nature for me. There is a real feeling of a big, loving Italian family! I love their sense of pride and the passion they put into everything they’re working on. I particularly love working with them to come up with creative solutions to bring mine and Sonia’s ideas from a design into reality.
TV: The pieces have a vintage, timeless quality to them. Do you think this is an important aspect when encouraging women to keep and wear their clothes (and accessories) for longer?
M L-S: Absolutely! Having the vintage, timeless quality means that with just one unique statement belt, dozens of looks can be created. A statement belt is the perfect accent piece for a simple mono-colour outfit. It can be paired with a white t-shirt and jeans or a multi-coloured silk evening dress. The limit is merely in one’s imagination as to how to wear it! The same goes for a fun brooch, necklace or bracelet, all elements included in our collections.
TV: How do Sonia’s previous collections and pieces inform the products you create now?
M L-S: From Sonia’s original design I try to keep one piece as close to the original as possible. However I have modernised the belts for example, so that the size can be adjusted. This original piece I then use as my inspiration for a capsule collection which branches out with 2-3 variations. For example, starting with the original Eye necklace, I then created earrings and a bracelet based on the original design.
TV: Many brands believe their responsibility ends at the sale of an item. What does Sonia Petroff do to ensure that their customers keep their pieces for as long as possible?
M L-S: We absolutely want our pieces to be worn for many years to come and stand by our quality craftsmanship. If by chance something becomes faulty, we offer a lifetime repair guarantee.
TV: Can you tell us more about your partnership with Room to Read?
M L-S: I am so proud of the fact that I have been involved with Room to Read since it was founded almost 20 years ago. They are focused on girls’ education and eradicating illiteracy in Asia and Africa by building schools, libraries and publishing local language books in 16 different countries. I would not be who I am today had I not been given the gift of education and Sonia Petroff would not been able to launch her own brand in the 60’s had she not had the privilege of an education. We at Sonia Petroff strongly believe that education should be a right for all women. We therefore donate a percentage from every sale to Room to Read’s girls’ education program
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