Giada Forte: Knitwear Designer Extraordinaire

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Photography by Federico Ferrari

We unravel the story, and woman, behind forte_forte, an Italian brand whose heritage is firmly rooted in knitwear expertise

TextOlivia SingerPhotographyFederico FerrariPhotographic EditorHolly Hay

From the moment I first speak to Giada Forte, it is clear that the very fabric of her being is inexorably interwoven with knitwear. Her parents owned a knitwear factory (responsible for producing fabrics for the likes of Prada and Christian Dior); her grandmother battled against post-war unemployment by starting a company of local seamstresses; her earliest memories are of sewing machines and making knitted scarves for her dolls. So utterly besotted is she by the fabrication that she left Italy for Nottingham, to study at the same school that two of her mother’s colleagues had attended (one being Adam Jones, who spent five years as Kenzo’s knitwear designer and then seven years as Christian Dior’s head of knitwear). “I was fascinated by them both,” she remembers. “They were very talented in knitwear, and had both studied in Nottingham, so that’s why I chose to go there!” Leaving Veneto in Italy, with only a limited knowledge of English, to go and study at Nottingham Trent is a fairly resolute indication of Forte’s dedication to her craft – and it is one that has only grown with time.

After Forte got her degree – an experience which, despite her early issues with the language barrier (“the first six months was actually a nightmare”) only fuelled her passion for textiles and their “precious technical processes” – she started working as a designer for the sorts of brands she had fantasised about – brands renowned for their knits, like Kenzo and Benetton. But, by the early noughties, she had decided to take a sabbatical from the fashion industry and return home. “I’d had enough,” she laughs, “in these big companies there is always this pressure, or judgement.” Her brother Paolo, too, had just moved back from New York, where he’d been setting up the marketing and commercial offices for various Italian fashion houses – and suddenly “we found ourselves together, here in Italy, back at home, both of us.” 

It was during this period in 2002 that their eponymous brand, forte_forte, was conceived. “I don’t know why but just instinctively we had this desire to try and make something very personal,” she recalls. “I started to hand-embroider T-shirts and make dresses from gauze, or cotton, or cashmere – and we had fun, travelling around to all these different stores together.” They took residence in their mother’s houses in lieu of an office, and she would wash the garments for them and hang them to dry in her garden; her best friend, then a retired pattern-cutter, resumed her trade. “So, for the first years everything remained very artisanal and familiar,” says Forte – and you can scarcely imagine an enterprise more familial than a brother and sister driving around the country with pieces they had made at their mother's kitchen table. “After all this time working in the fashion industry, it was just something very natural and free,” she says – and in spite of the brand’s impressive expansion in the 14 years since its humble beginnings, the spirit of it remains so.

“All the creative parts of the brand still start with the materials that we use,” she explains of their contemporary incarnation, which extends far beyond the kitchen table. “I still try to focus on what my feelings and my instincts give to me.” Case in point: the S/S17 collection, rooted in a trip to the Yucatan area of Mexico – but in its particular energy rather than a literal interpretation of its aesthetic or heritage. “You know, there’s lots of product created in the world these days, but what drives our brand is the emotional feeling that people recognise when they buy the clothes. When you buy forte_forte, it’s as if, somehow, you buy something that already belonged to you.” It is this sentiment that lies at the very heart of forte_forte, which describes itself as “emotional clothing, handcrafted beauty.” While those words might seem inauthentic coming from any other source, when they come from Forte they feel completely convincing; when you hear her story, even more so. In an industry that often thrives on inaccessibility, hers is a spirit that thrives on intimacy – a sentiment that is truly refreshing to behold.