It's not often that we meet people who inspire and move us whilst going about our everyday errands, but that is exactly what happened to me today when I spotted a seamstress' shop as I was collecting my dry cleaning. Since I have been driving around for about a month with a bag full of clothes that need to be adjusted and mended in the back of my car, I thought I would take the opportunity, and so I stopped and rang the bell. A little old lady let me in, and as she took my measurements, began recounting her life story. An hour later, I was still there.
Signora Liliana was born in a seamstress shop just outside Milan, where her father employed 12 women to make and mend clothes designed by important local designers. One of those designers was a little-known but highly talented young man by the name of Valentino Garavani. Known to you and me simply as "Valentino". Liliana showed a talent for clothes making, but was determined not to end up working for her father her whole life, so she pursuaded him to allow her to study at college in exchange for a few hours a week working in his shop. During this time, Valentino - who had become a family friend by this time - noticed Liliana's talent and offered her a job in his Milan shop, making clothes for his haute couture lines. She accepted and worked for him for the next seventeen years. During this time, he announced that he was moving to Paris, and offered to take her with him, but she had married a local man and had a young son, and so remained in Milan, becoming a full-time housewife and mother. Then, one day, the unthinkable happened, and she lost her husband suddenly. Being widowed left her with no job and no money, and a young son to care for. Her father had died a few years previously, leaving his business to Liliana's brother, who very sadly had turned his back on her when she left the family shop, and was determined not to share his inheritance. Just when things were at their worst, and Liliana was struggling to feed herself and her son, a friend stepped in and offered her a job working as a secretary for her lawyer husband in the city centre. She remained in this job until she reached retirement age, which was when she feels that her life really took a turn for the worst. Four years ago, she was waiting to cross the street at traffic lights on a busy roundabout when a motorcylist who was travelling too fast lost control of his bike, mounted the pavement, and knocked her into the path of an oncoming car. She broke several bones, and was left with partial blindness in one eye. It took her a year to recover from her injuries. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, just 18 months later, she was waiting for her son outside the bank, when she felt a pulling motion from behind. Three young men dragged her to the ground and ran off with her handbag, leaving her with a dislocated shoulder and serious bruising. Again it took several months for her to get back on her feet, and when she did, she was left contemplating the paths her life had led her down. Liliana is convinced that her husband is watching over her, through her hardship and misfortune, making sure that she always bounces back. One year ago, her son - now an architect - bought her the small seamstress shop where she spends her days putting into practice the skills that she learnt all those years ago, and browsing through Valentino's books, which are brought to her each season by an ex-colleague whose daughter also works for the designer. The same ex-colleague recently sent her a ticket for one of Valentino's Paris shows. Much as she would love to be re-acquainted with her old employer, she doesn't want to go as she feels she will be disappointed with the way in which the fashion world has changed since she was involved in it. She told me that some days she looks in the mirror, and doesn't recognise herself. She keeps herself busy in the shop, and as she works she thinks back to when she was Valentino's promising young seamstress, looking forward to a lifetime with the man she loved and a family to raise. Her advice to me was simple: enjoy each day as you never know what tomorrow may bring.
Wise words from a wise lady, who really made an impression on an ordinary Saturday afternoon.