On the evening of December 6, among the crowd of FUA’S (Florence University of the Arts) best and brightest, stood Emily Russell. Many gathered for the Winter Fashion Party fashion party an event that took place at FLY, created specifically to recognize the hard work, dedication and talent of this special student, while simultaneously showcasing the outstanding straw hat collection that she had produced. Two models weaved in and out of the crowd, stylishly sporting Emily’s hats and fascinators, as onlookers gazed with great amusement.

Emily, an American study abroad student from the University of South Carolina, had initially come to Florence to focus her studies in Fashion Merchandising. Her intention was to align her efforts with her goal of becoming a fashion stylist. Out of interest Emily decided to enroll in a FUA course called, Straw Hats and Bags, A Florentine Dynasty. She was soon to discover that she was the only student enrolled in the course for the semester. This was a realization that both excited and worried her. However, not one to back down from a challenge Emily continued with the course, and truly surprised herself as she discovered just how immensely talented she was as a designer – dedicating many hours a day to her creations. “I tapped into a creative part of my brain that I wasn’t previously aware of” said Emily.

With a rich history in Florence, straw hat making has become a dying art in more recent years. The straw hat industry had begun here back in the 1820s when a third of Tuscany was producing Marzuolo wheat. This specific type of wheat proved to be the perfect texture for weaving straw into beautiful creations. This discovery lead to the Florence area becoming the first manufacturer of quality straw hats in Western Europe. These hats quickly became especially popular among the wealthy for their fashionable allure.

Possessing a truly unique appreciation for arts, culture and fashion, it should come as no surprise that Emily would end up creating such skillful creations that breathed new life into this historic Florentine tradition. In fact, Emily’s collection of straw hats and fascinators was inspired by her interest in Renaissance design. “I spent 3.5 hours by myself at the Uffizi Gallery and went to Pitti Palace twice”, Emily recalled. “I also loved going into a lot of churches”. This fascination of Renaissance culture was then infused into Emily’s designs. Specifically, Florentine architecture, the colours of artworks in the Uffizi Gallery and the intricate folds found on ancient sculptures, were mirrored in her work. Still focusing on becoming a fashion stylist, having now had this experience, Emily has returned home knowing that she is capable of things far greater than she could have ever imagine. This is a valuable lesson that we can all learn from. As James Gardner said “Life is an endless process of self-discovery”.