Launched in 2015, let us introduce you to the timeless Italian brand C'era una volta! Created from a passion for art, luxury fashion, and architecture and the favorite brand of both our Communications Director, Caroline, and the influencer @vertparadis_ at the winter edition of Playtime Paris, C'era una volta is a brand we wanted to get to know better! So we sat down with founder Emanuela Nurra to ask her how she started her brand, where her inspiration comes from, and how she envisions her label evolving!
Join us as we immerse ourselves in the romantic world of C'era una volta!
Can you please share your personal journey and how you came to start the brand C’era una volta?
I grew up in Sardinia surrounded by lace and embroidery, with a mother who did hand embroidery and a grandmother who made knitted outfits for our family occasions, such as marriages and hand embroidered nightgowns. From this childhood I had a passion for drawing and clothes, as well as a sharp eye for detail, so after high school I studied art in University and fashion in Florence, Italy. After graduating, I worked as a designer at a firm that had several fashion brands like Zara as clients. Then I moved to London to improve my English and get experience working in luxury fashion. I got a retail job with Dior where I learned a lot about visual merchandising. Then, still in LVMH, I moved to Fendi as a ready-to-wear specialist and would brief the team on the collections and how to sell them. This experience was incredible, and helped me develop my skills like attention to detail and the importance of fabric quality. Then came my move to Asia!
What made you decide to move to Asia?
I met my husband in Italy while I was living in London, and I followed him to Japan where he was based for work.
I wanted to continue working in luxury fashion, so I completed an intensive Japanese course and once we moved to Paris few years later, I was hired at Dolce & Gabbana's flagship. I was able to work with foreign clients as well as Japanese clients, who really appreciated that I was Italian like the brand but able to speak Japanese!
My dream then was to work in Haute Couture for Givenchy, so I got a position at their store in the Rue St. Honoré in Paris where I worked for a year and a half before moving back to Asia for my husband's work. The thought of returning to Asia made me so happy.
My husband and I looked at this as a new opportunity, and a chance to live somewhere that was evolving and changing. Paris would always be there to return to if we wished! So my husband, our daughter, and I moved to Shanghai, where we quickly learned Chinese.
At the time, it was difficult to find kids clothes I like for my daughters , so I decided to design them!
I found some amazing markets for fabrics that I enjoyed searching through for the best materials, I found a tailor who made the dresses I designed, and started creating dresses for my daughters! Friends, parents of my daughters' classmates, even people in the street started asking me where I found these beautiful clothes and saying how wonderfully my daughters were always dressed, so I began to take orders and make dresses for other girls. This grew into my brand C'era una volta, which means "Once upon a time" in Italian. I wanted to use this phrase as the name for my label because it is one we hear so often as children while we listen to stories and it represents the Italian DNA of my brand.
Also, one of the first dresses I made was a princess-inspired nightgown for my daughter, which became the only thing she would wear to go to sleep! Something that was really important to me and is also at the center of C'era una volta is that I make my collections with great quality, they are affordable luxury and accessible to everyone. I began selling my collections in a showroom in Shanghai that I shared with a designer of children's bedroom home decor, where we created a magnificent children's universe.
One day in 2016, in my favorite bakery, I met an Italian expat named Paola by chance. We became friends straightaway. The first time she discovered the collection, she bought everything for her little daughter. She had an amazing background in luxury kidswear and told me I must sell my beautiful designs worldwide, and from then on she became my business partner. We are the perfect team, and it was amazing to find someone who believes in my brand as much as I do. We became the mothers of C’era una volta.
I focus on the design and creation of the collections, while Paola takes care of the commercial development and bringing C'era una volta to the international market.
We showed our AW19 collection at Playtime for the first time in Paris and we showed it at Pitti Bimbo after that. Our experience at Playtime Paris was amazing, it really helped us to expand C'era una volta, especially in the US market. We now we have about 50 stores between Europe, USA, China, Korea and Japan.
We had a very positive return at the winter edition of Playtime Paris this year as well, with great responses from influencers and buyers!
What is your daily life like as an Italian living in Seoul, and soon, Tokyo?
Japan has always been one of my top sources of inspiration, I love the beauty of Japan, their cleanliness, and architecture.
Every day, I like to get up early and go for a long walk where I can get inspired and observe street style.
My work consists of many different steps, from working at home to draw and create moodboards to selecting fabrics and shopping boutiques and vintage stores in the city. I never leave home without my notebook, and am always taking notes and photos of people in the street, of places I enjoy like museum exhibits, architecture, even movies!
At night, I write down and draw out all my ideas.
Most importantly, I work closely with our tailors over FaceTime, ensuring every garment is just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. I teach them the importance of the attention to details, and how important it is to put love and passion in what we do, to have the perfect, durable product. Each piece is created in the Italian way, in my idea of timeless luxury.
Where does your inspiration come from for your collections at C’era una volta?
I'm very influenced by Japanese and Korean silhouettes and cultures, mixed with a romantic, Italian and French influence as a mother of two Italian/French girls.
At the base of every dress I design, there is one, that my mother or grandmother made me as a child, especially dresses that were made for special occasions like holidays, birthdays, and communions. My daughters are also a source of inspiration for my design, as are street style, my daily life and emotions, the feedback I receive from my clients, architecture, and art. I spend a lot of time walking around, visiting museums, and collecting art, making it a great source of inspiration for my designs. All of my collections are meant to dress children as they are, and are as comfortable as they are beautiful. They can be worn for special occasions, or simply to go play in the park! My travels have also inspired me a lot, with my AW22 collection taking inspiration from France and Italy and SS22 collection being inspired by a trip back to Sardinia, my hometown .
As I moved to Tokyo, my next winter collection is inspired completely by Japan.
I design my garments to be timeless, enabling them to be passed on from generation to generation, or bought second hand, while remaining stylish and beautiful. I like to make my garments a bit oversized so that they can be grown into and worn for a longer time, and use natural fibers, like cotton, linen, and wool that are durable and comfortable. That’s our sustainability: create a high quality, timeless product that last forever. From the materials I use to the forms of the garments, all of my collections for C'era una volta are really an immersion into my personal world and life, drawing inspiration from everything that's around me.
What’s next for C’era una volta? How would you like to see it evolve in the next 5 years?
We want to expand C'era una volta, not only in Asia where both Paola and I are based, but also Europe and of course into the French market, probably with the help of an agent who can help us develop our presence in this market.
I would also like to show how I share my experiences, time, and work with my daughters. My daughters are both so creative and they love helping me choose and group fabrics, draw new garments, and spend time together. I think it could be great to share with other parents to encourage them to feed the flame of inspiration in their own children, and to show that family time can be spent doing anything, whether it's cooking, playing , or working together on a project.
My goal is to continue dressing children in the beauty of my collections and bringing the idea of dressing children like children to everyone around the world. Time passes so quickly, it's important to me that children are able to enjoy childhood, while being well dressed and free to move and play.
Thank you so much to Emanuela for taking the time to answer our questions and share her amazing story with us!
We can't wait to see C'era una volta again at Playtime Paris and discover Emanuela's SS23 collection!