Not far from the bustle of the business of Torino is a typical double front door to a courtyard where one of the buttons reads ‘Sartoria Artistica Teatro’, the world’s most outstanding and glorious haberdashery of Giovanni Benso.
Enter on call and up three steps to the left you are met by a 50’ish man of sartorial and theatrical elegance. He wears a striped lounge coat that probably can have no second. Go through the first old fashioned security door with toggled iron locks and into the close theatre of Giovanni Battista Benso and you are pleasantly ‘accosted’ by a magnificent lady’s outfit from a bygone era, maybe 400 years ago.
Wherever you look up to the roof are hung items of costume from theatre and opera, costumes that have seen ceremony and performance of grand scale. Yet this is much more than a costume museum, it is a grand fashion studio that makes ’haute couture’ appear ordinary.
Giovanni Benso takes great pleasure in showing along the ’hallway’ many sets of drawers from the dressmakers studio, each drawer meticulously arranged with thread and bobbins in order of material and colour. And sitting on top of one such set, at table height is an ancient dressmaker’s hand-operated Singer sewing machine, still operational and in use. Through the door at the end of the small hall we see to the left hundreds of tailor’s boxes each having elegant buttons sewn on to the front.
Giovanni Benso says proudly ‘Abbiamo piu di 100,000 bottoni’ and you realize suddenly that he does not want to sell even one. Here is a grand collector, a man joyful in his glorious haberdashery. He proudly displays buttons of galalite, a plastic material, made from milk, 100 years ago and now probably extinct, and other buttons of mother of pearl embedded in polished bakelite.
Up to the right behind you as you enter the room is another collection, this one of buckles carefully categorised by a visiting German enthusiast. And then there are plumes, feathers, boas and all form of adornment for a lady’s or dandy’s outfit.
In every room there are stack upon stack of hats, caps, berets, boaters, top hats (even one being collapsible), slouch hats, fedors, fez, trilby, pillbox, sombreros, cowboy style, helmets, homburg, Beafeater – all the styles for a Madhatter’s tea party but without the mercury poisoning in their felt-store. And there is such a felt-store, in the back corner of one studio, rack upon rack of felts and every material needed for a milliner to sate the most fastidious client.
And notwithstanding the haberdasher’s treasure trove, the ’house of Giovanni Benso’ is also the museum for the most magnificent costumes, some of which he allows to be borrowed for grand parties such as Carnival.
And how is the god of commerce satisfied? The most original of outfits for men and ladies of distinction can be found on the sewing tables in the dressmaking studio. We will wait for another visit to describe the thrill of watching such a creation and to tell you how princes and princesses from the new and old world have found this sartorial costumery and been sated by Giovanni Benso.