Rooted in the Mediterranean heritage and landscapes of Sicily, Idda Studio is the place where painting meets textile as medium to tell stories of a vibrant land and strong women.
Inspired by the traditions, crafts, symbols and colours of her Sicily, Gabriella, founder of Idda Studio, combines her talent as a painter with the versatility and functionality of fabric, to create wearable works of art.
Hello Gabriella, can you give us a little insight into your universe?
Well, I live in between New York City and the island of Lipari, which is a small volcanic island, part of the aeolian grouping off the coast of Sicily. I grew up between these two different cultures, one being very slow paced and traditional, on a small island surrounded by the Mediterranean. And then the other being the opposite in fast paced New York City. This contrast has always had an influence on me becoming an artist and has a huge impact on the work that I'm making today as well. Lipari is a multi-ethnic island, so there's a lot of history there, dating back to the Greeks who had originally settled there.
What is your background in art and design?
I grew up with family that was always very creative, and I had an eccentric upbringing. My mother is a textile designer and my father is a chef and when I was young we were always doing creative projects or visiting art museums. I became interested in painting at a young age and then went on to study at the Rhode Island School of Design.
What inspired you to launch Idda Studio?
I launched Idda Studio in 2020 but had been working and researching for years before. I started Idda Studio as a way to tell stories and to connect to my Sicilian heritage. I've always been interested in how design and fine art are two very different approaches to creative work, and I wanted a way to take the special quality of a painting and make it purposeful. I really love the idea of fabric because it has a history and tradition that's tied to women in many ways, especially in Sicily. It’s something that can be used on the body, used in the home or hung on the wall like a work of art.
Idda means “her” in Sicilian dialect : how would you describe the “Idda” woman?
Oh, that's a really good question. Yes, Sicilian dialect is a language that is colloquial, so it's mostly spoken and rarely written. And what I found is that, the younger generation, my generation and even younger than me, they're still speaking the language, but so much is getting lost because there's no written form of Sicilian dialect. And now that in Sicily, more and more people are becoming educated, they're not being taught Sicilian dialect.
The word “Idda” means her or she in Sicilian dialect and I named my studio "Idda" as a way to celebrate the strong Sicilian women I know. Sicily is still very traditional when it comes to gender roles and for me the Idda woman represents a woman who respects tradition but is also forward thinking.
Your family is from Lipari in Italy: how did Sicily colours and symbols inspire your vibrant scarves?
My family lives in Lipari. And it's a very colourful and vibrant place. The sunlight is so specific there and different from anywhere else I've been. Lipari is a volcanic island so the earth is painted in bright colours from the natural geology make up such as sulfur, obsidian and pomice.
Sicily has such a rich history and culture. In the main island, there are a lot of the towns filled with Baroque architecture and Classical art. It was once ruled by the Greeks so there are a lot of cross over culturally. So much of this history still exists and visiting is like stepping back in time. This traditional art and architecture has had a huge influence on the work I make for Idda Studio.
You work with textiles: what is the relationship you have with your clothes?
And that's an interesting question I've never been asked. I wear all my scarves and I often have scarves in my hair. And then in the summer, I always wear a pareo when I go to the beach. I mean, I personally love the summer. I love the heat. I love fashion for the summer. I've always felt so comfortable in less clothing, to be honest. When I start to wear coats and layers and boots and hats, I feel like just stuck. So for me, the idea of just throwing on a piece of fabric that you can specifically drape to your own body is the ideal sexy and comfortable wardrobe.
Your textiles are versatile as we can use them as scarves, pareos, wall hangings: how is this important to you?
Oftentimes when people purchase pieces, they ask me questions like “What should I use this for?”, “Is this a pareo?”, “Is this a tablecloth?” And I love when people use them in different ways. For example when people use my pieces as tablecloths for a beautiful dinner to bring friends together or wear them as a scarf or use them as a pareo on the beach. I also love when people treat the designs like paintings and hang them on a wall in their home.
Tell us about the space you create.
Space is very important to me, and a lot of the work I do right now is developing spaces for clients, whether it's painting a specific mural, designing a wallpaper, creating custom fabric or developing ceramic lighting. My partner is an architect as well, so we often collaborate on interior projects. My studio is always a really important space for me, and I'm actually in the process of setting up a studio right now in New York City which will also act as a showroom.
What is your creative process for each new design?
All my Idda Studio fabric designs are limited edition and part of collections. I start each collection with research and often travel and spend time in Sicily to develop the theme of the new collection. I then will outline the products I am producing (whether it’s pillows, scarfs, tablecloths, napkins ect.) and will start with a series of sketches that are then developed into paintings at scale. I then scan the paintings and work on editing the designs so that they are ready to be sent to the fabricator in Italy who then prints them to scale on fabric. The quality of the fabric is very high - on the best ethically sourced silk and cotton fabrics.
How has your own approach to design evolved over the years?
It's evolved so much and I'm still learning every day. To be honest, I used to not design at all. I am a painter at heart, so I literally would paint raw on a canvas. Now I really think about the designs in advance of making them and give myself real restrictions but also try to keep that raw painting energy.
What’s next for you?
Well, I just got back from a really great artist residency at the PocoaPoco, in Oaxaca, Mexico. I spent a month there meeting with local artisans and really learning about natural dyes such as indigo and cochineal. I am really excited to develop this new approach to fabric and experiment with dying. In terms of like what's next for me, I have numerous private commissions I'm working on such as a hand-painted mural, wallpaper design and handmade ceramic lighting I am creating. I am really excited to see my designs live in physical spaces.
Interview by Florence I. J. Franks
All photographs courtesy of Gabriella Picone