Style/FASHION: "The Little Atelier Around the Corner"
I already looked it up, it means “workshop.” Pronounced: ah-tel-yay, should you care to read the word aloud. A workshop for artisans, if you choose to read the description a little further.
What you won’t read in your dictionary is anything about the woman who owns the little atelier just beyond the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Bryant Street in Buffalo, New York. Sebastiana Piras is more likely to be described in a book about landscapes, where physical beauty includes subtle contradictions that arrest the eye. Like a landscape, she is the result of more than what you see.
What you do see is the straightforward face of a woman born into certainty. Her features are clean and strong, her skin is clear, the color of cappuccino. Her eyes are determined, unadorned, as is her mouth, full and sensuous, a beautiful framework for a smile that demands to be watched. Her body is trim but womanly, her gestures, her stance, her walk, again, that certainty. When she speaks, her words represent her lack of pretension or bunk.
Born and raised in Sardinia, Italy, Sebastiana Piras is living proof that a woman’s greatest power is born from her sense of self. To further that belief, Sebastiana embodies the notion that Style is what happens when Self is expressed. The clothing Piras creates in her tiny workshop is rich with her expression.
“My entire family now lives in Brescia, a town that comes between Verona and Milano,” Sebastiana explains, “but it’s Sardinia that you see in my fabrics, my clothing, everything.” Sebastiana is referring to her family’s countryside home where her father farmed artichokes, pomegranates, oranges, lemons, giant calla lilies, all framed by walls of stone and sprawling green pastures, her palette further informed by an endless blue sky that seemed to find no horizon. It’s those colors, the milky whites and brilliant oranges, the succulent reds and fertile greens that infiltrate Sebastiana’s silks and cottons, her woolens the color of stone and sky, or however else the elements happen to appear.
"All colors are beautiful and should be seen together, like in nature,” she says with an obvious shrug.
Sebastiana opened her narrow storefront at 425 Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo only three years ago. Before that, she sewed fashions in California, Jamaica, London, and Italy.
Jamaica proved to be nothing more than a memorable vacation when Sebastiana and sewing partner, Gisela, realized their only sewing machine didn’t meet Jamaica’s electrical requirements. Three months later, Sebastiana found herself in California, where she teamed up with an antique dealer.
“I took all the upholstered headboards from the 1940’s and 50’s and recovered them with Italian silks and cottons. I did the same with old sofas and chairs; the combination of old furniture with modern fabrics was very shocking, very beautiful,” she remembers.
It was in California that Sebastiana met her future husband, a man with whom she managed to carry on a long distance relationship when she later moved to London to attend a college for hat construction. In London, Sebastiana designed and sold custom hats in Greenwich Market and Covent Garden. The first of those hats sits on the floor of her Buffalo boutique, one of the only items in the small showroom that is not for sale.
Sebastiana pulls a pair of silk pajama bottoms from a rack, removes them so I can hold the seemingly delicate fabric to my skin–like touching warm water on a warm day. When I ask how she came to choose such a stunning fabric for lounge wear, her answer reminds me of the topiary artist who, when asked how he went about creating a giraffe from a shrub, responded, “I simply cut away everything that isn’t a giraffe.” Likewise, Sebastiana sees a bolt of fabric and “I know exactly what it will become.”
Como, Italy is famous for its beauty, its water, and its excellent silk. It’s also where Sebastiana purchases the lion’s share of her fabrics, the very fabric of those weightless pajama bottoms, and pillow cases.
“This is what I sleep on,” she offers with that smile. “I cover my pillows with it so I can feel it on my face while I sleep–it’s so b’yoootiful!” she passionately coos. And if that isn’t reason enough to own your own Como silk pajama bottoms, then consider Sebastiana’s claim that they actually soften with every washing, that they are completely wrinkle-free when promptly removed from the dryer.
The bulk of Sebastiana’s clothing is constructed from natural Italian fibres like cotton, silk and wool, occasionally a few blended fibres thrown in for trendability or durability. Her styles are often simple, but with evidence of European elegance and couture influences. Look for Sebastiana’s expert construction and signature details, like her hemline. Even a simple skirt might reveal Sebastiana’s signature panel, a separate brief length of fabric that is added along the horizon of a garment’s hem. Sometimes the panel is added to the hem of a jacket or pants, even blouses.
Like Sebastiana’s countryside, neck scarves are patchworked from silks of varying colors and textures–fascinating combinations that oftentimes recall the bold contemporary elegance of Versace, and the famous swirls of 1960’s Emilio Pucci.
A selection of wrap skirts, dresses and slacks mimic Burburry’s famous plaids. Peasant blouses sell urgently, as do Sebastiana’s fast-flying silk shoulder wraps. Modern influences are combined with European traditions, every piece of clothing is personally sewn. More times than not, Sebastiana sews without use of a pattern or guide, occasionally with no sense of the garment she is creating even while cutting the fabric.
The workshop is extremely #intimate, nothing but a drape of silk taffeta to separate the workshop from the equally small showroom. Beyond the front door of the tall thin windowed storefront, you’ll find three racks of clothing, several shelves of hats and scarves. Beyond the racks you’ll see bolts of fabrics promising what you might find next week or next month–soon velvets and wools for those who swear by her hats. Beyond the bolts of fabric you’ll find what rarely leaves Sebastiana’s sight, more precious than her Como silk, is 7 year old Maximiliano.
Maximiliano was born to Sebastiana and Gregory Fisher seven years ago. In 2001, young Max was the local celebrity for Cerebral Palsy, a condition that might be said to compromise the young boy, if not for the immutable support he receives from his parents. There wasn’t a time I met with Sebastiana that Maximiliano was absent. She is as easy with him as she is with herself.
She is a woman who shares what she knows with all whom she loves, her expressions formulated in the countryside that follows her wherever she travels, that remain for however long she lingers. Whether in London, California, or Buffalo, New York, it’s the Italian countryside that permeates the Piras-Fisher label, the countryside that defines Sebastiana Piras.
Piras . Fisher Atelier and Sabastiana are located at 425 Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, New York 716.308.4772 or 716.332.6935