Fashion designer Ritienne Zammit’s most recent collection is an ode to our capital. Anna Marie Galea finds a lot that celebrates the city’s beating heart.

I’ve always felt that Ritienne Zammit’s collections have something of the wistful surrounding them. Whether she went bold in transparent plastic and studs, or quasi-nostalgic in prints and accessories that would be more at home in one of our churches, there is always a dream.

It’s a wish of sorts, a reaching out into the void between what is real and surreal. Ever since Zammit launched her first collection five years ago, I have watched her go from strength to strength and from dream to dream. Yet the more her work evolves, the easier it is to see where her heart lies. I love Valletta’s mission statement is a simple one: Zammit simply wanted to create a living, breathing ode to a place that she describes as a “palimpsest of hidden mysteries”.

But why Valletta? “There is no place on Earth like Valletta. Valletta can’t just be seen as a whole, but as a tapestry of detail upon detail. It’s amazing to see all the marks that the city bears from its 451-year-old history.” In order to be able to represent the city, which she describes as “stealing her heart every day”, Zammit spent months and months sifting through archives and choosing what she felt would fit best into her collection.

“I knew that I wanted black and white in the collection, because it reminded me of all the old photos I found of cabaret girls, sailors and the burnt-down theatre, to name a few. These are all motifs running through the timeline of the city’s history.”

While black and white were two of the most significant colours used, Zammit also focused on the baroque architecture of what she considers to be the jewel of Valletta, St John’s Co-cathedral.

Zammit also focused on the baroque architecture of what she considers to be the jewel of Valletta, St John’s Co-Cathedral

“I really loved the idea of having black and white as a canvas and that canvas being set off by other colours. The turquoise blue ribbons that could be seen on some of the pieces are the same shade as the blueish tinge that you see around the edges of the white lapidi (tombstones) in St John’s. The themes I chose included the cathedral itself and the history of Valletta as a whole. I wanted a colour composition that didn’t incorporate too many prints, and which made sense as a whole. It’s easier for artwork to pop on black and white dresses, and when I put candy colours against that backdrop, everything just fit.”

While in the past Zammit has had a social commentary at the base of her collection, this time she wanted to convey her long-held appreciation for a city brimming with character.

“Not only does every wall tell a story, but it actually gives character to us as people.

“In my opinion, Valletta inhabitants have a very specific character, and once you are able to see and understand them, you will be able to understand your own roots.

“I wanted this collection to be much more natural and fun. I love Valletta is a collection that really brought out my lighter side. I feel it is a collection of celebration. I wanted to celebrate the beating heart of a city that gives life to all of us.”

In keeping with her usual method, Zammit chose not to focus on using just one material for her pieces and instead integrated a variety of materials, which included silks, chiffon, lace, gabardine and leather.

“Since I only make one big collection a year, I’ve learned the importance of keeping my clothes seasonless. I ended up using a lot of Victorian elements which hark back to the substantial period of time that Malta was under British rule.

“It was also during that time that a lot of Valletta’s architecture changed. I like using different elements that are congruent to the different periods Valletta went through.”

When it came to scouting the different locations Zammit uses in her photos, this in itself was a something of a feat that she was able to perform by visiting different parts of Valletta on a daily basis and at different times of the day, in order to be able to make sure that she showed off the city in its best possible light.

“I always start from the location. If the location doesn’t inspire me, then there’s just no point in even visiting it to begin with. I knew that I wanted all the photos that we took to be landscape photos because in my opinion, they are far more effective. I also wanted to choose landmarks that identified the city and brought out its uniqueness. Ultimately, this collection is really and truly about bringing out the best in Valletta and showing off our shining, beloved city in its best light.”

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