MILAN–“People ask me what they should wear all the time. And I say a kimono! I mean… you wear an evening gown and you top it off with a kimono and it is the most elegant thing you could put on,” said Uberta Zambeletti, the owner of Wait and See.
In Milan terms, Uberta, a designer and entrepreneur who once turned down a job from Giorgio Armani to work on her own knitwear collection, is one of the city’s major proponents of emerging talent, handmade fashions and upcycled vintage. Since opening Wait and See only five years ago, her store has become a landmark of Milan’s 5Vie district, an upscale neighborhood that lies between the Milan Stock Exchange and the city’s fourth-century Sant Ambrogio basilica.
With an array that spans from Japanese kimonos to silk ponchos made by Copenhagen-based brand Rabens and sweaters from young knitwear brand Sartoria Vico, Wait and See is an international fashion destination for unbridled fashion creativity.
BACO’s Editor in Chief Sofia Celeste sits down with Uberta and chats with her about her career trajectory and her personal style.
SC: Wow, why did you turn down Armani?
UZ: I was living in London and it was during the economic crisis. I was offered a job at Armani after I graduated from the Royal College of Art. I decided not to take it because I was in love. All my teachers told me I was mad. But I didn’t want to go to Milan. If I have something in my mind, I go with it. That’s how I am. I didn’t care about the crisis and thank God I didn’t, because all of this happened.
SC: How did you start your design career?
UZ: I was a textile knitwear designer. I developed these fabrics with these special knitting machines and my fabrics were requested by Paul Smith and Romeo Gigli for their collections, but I decided I didn’t want to mass produce them. I didn’t want my own fabrics on someone else’s runway. My parents lent me very little money. And one day my designs were in the window at Joseph. I cried obviously. My first show was in a deconsecrated church where I was living in Battersea. My friends said it was the boonies. But all the press came to my show. I made beautiful handmade invitations and they all came. Even the BBC. I was 26 years old.
SC: How did Wait and See start?
UZ: I had been living in Milan for many years, working as a buyer and as a consultant for many brands like Missoni, Etro and Max Mara. I decided to open my own store in 5Vie because I wanted to be a destination in a central area.
SC: How do you incorporate vintage into the business?
UZ: I love vintage, I buy anywhere and everywhere I go. Whenever I travel I always travel with an empty suitcase. I only buy things I like. The whole store doesn’t have a single piece that I don’t like down to the last earring. I am the only buyer and I don’t compromise.
SC: Do you do any trend forecasting?
UZ: It all comes down to the knowledge of the years I carry. I worked in the Rinascente group for 3 years. That helped me understand the commercial side of things like having to negotiate price. One of my strengths is that I am really creative. I know fashion, and I know what women want, and I have a solid commercial base based on my experience.
SC: So when you go on a buying trip, how do you decide what brands to sell in your store?
UZ: I buy what I like and I know it is going to sell. While most buyers buy for brands and allocate a budget for each brand, I don’t. I see about 250 brands per season, and I never set a quantity. I select about 100 pieces at the beginning and I divide everything I see. I look at all the trousers I have seen regardless of the brand. I take photos of everything and that gets filtered into a software that I created. When I see all the collections in the various categories,. I look at all the pants I have seen and I make sure that there are no duplicates.
SC: How do you make vintage modern and saleable?
UZ: I mix it. Literal stuff bores me. I always look for the lateral way of thinking. I like to contrast something vintage with something totally different. If you buy something from the 1950’s, put it with sneakers or boots. You don’t put it with ballerinas from the same era.
SC: Tell us about what you are wearing today.
UZ: I am wearing an aviator jumpsuit and handmade bracelets and clay charm inthe form of a naked woman made by BDDW, a New York design shop that recently opened in 5Vie.
SC: How would you describe your personal style?
UZ: I love aviator suits. That’s something I have always worn. I wear a lot of handmade stuff and vintage. I am moody [in a fashion sense]. I dress according to how I feel.
UZ: Never say never. It’s so final.
UZ: Red. Lipstick. I am always wearing something red. Whether it is my lingerie or my lipstick.
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: BACO Style: Uberta Zambeletti of Wait and See, Cavalli e Nastri: Masterpiece Vintage, Romain Brau’s Enchanting Vintage, Silvana Venturini’s American Dream, Angelo Caroli: Signor Vintage, Paolo Crescimbeni: The Culture of Travel, Artisanal Luster of Vintage