Everywhere I go, I meet people who say to me, “My family is from Italy. I think I am Calabrese! Where’s that?”

Well, first of all, Calabria is essentially the “toe” of the boot! But there is much, much more to the story!

Although Catanzaro is the capital of Calabria, Cosenza and Reggio Calabria are equally known to many.

The original inhabitants of Calabria were the Oscan tribes, followed by the ancient Greeks, who settled in about 720BC. Thereafter, the region’s history followed much of what we learned several weeks ago about Southern Italy and the isles of the Mediterranean.

Until the mid-20th century, Calabria was one of the most impoverished areas of Europe and, for this reason, many individuals can trace their ancestry back to someone who emigrated from this region.

Although Calabria is a mountainous region, the region boosts one of the most beautiful coasts with pristine seas. Olive production is a major crop, while many tourists are attracted to the region’s mountains and beaches.

The oldest and largest city is Reggio Calabria, which is known for its spectacular beaches, botanical gardens, Aragonese Castle, and the full-size Riace bronze statutes from ancient Greek times (housed in the National Museum of Magna Grecia).

Now, let me ask you: Can you name anyone or someone whose ancestors come from Calabria? Author Gay Talese, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Gianni Versace, Saint Francis of Paola, actress Maria Grazia Cucinotto of Il Postino, and America’s most famous muscleman Charles Atlas.

But there is one more: designer Francesco Smalto.

Francesco Smalto was born 1930 in Reggio Calabria and, at the age of 11, he was already making the costumes for his town’s puppet theater. Three years later, young Francesco found himself working as an assistant to his uncle who was a tailor.

Francesco Smalto emigrated to Paris in 1951 where he apprenticed at Cristiani and Camps. After a short visit of several months to New York, Francesco finally founded his own label in 1962.

To quote this extremely talented and successful designer: “Fashion, in my opinion, is balance. It’s taking into account the shape of the head, the shoulders, or the stomach.”

Photo & slideshow 2010 s/s collection and backstage, Paris, Copyright Smalto.

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