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Melbourne label Sorrentino Studios’ thoughtful, androgynous collection is inspired by the elements

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHELLE PITIRIS

WORDS BY IZZY WIGHT

“I really want to communicate the great quality and care that goes into my designs, and how much love I pour into each piece.”

When I think of clothing inspired by the sea, my mind immediately thinks of kaftans, rashies, Ipanema sandals (remember those?) and puka shell necklaces. ‘Blue Water High chic’, if you will. Because I begrudgingly never blossomed into the beach girl I was simply destined to be, my interpretation of ocean-influenced fashion might be a little limited.

I’ve recently learnt – thanks to Bel Sorrentino’s conscious Melbourne label Sorrentino Studios – ready-to-wear inspired by the elements can be so much more than that. Coming from a Chinese-Italian background, Bel picked up sewing and embroidery with the help of both her loving grandmas. Realising her love of design, she completed a Bachelor of Fashion Design at RMIT, working full time before falling into her own project – funnily enough, thanks to COVID.


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In the span of a year, Bel quickly graduated from homemade masks to an entire debut ready-to-wear collection, titled Element 1.0.  Continuing to be inspired by the fluidity of open water, Bel recently released her androgynous sophomore project, Element 2.0.

Tell us about you. What’s your fashion background?

 

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My name is Bel Sorrentino and I was born and raised in Melbourne. My mum is Chinese and my dad is Italian, so I was lucky enough to be raised in a very multicultural household. This experience has given me an interest in the art, music and design of many different cultures.

I was taught how to hand sew by my Chinese grandma (po po) when I was around five. I loved patching clothes with her to preserve the longevity of garments (she was very resourceful and hated wastage/throwing things away if they could be mended!). We didn’t speak the same language, so crafting was how we communicated.

My Italian grandma (nonna) also taught me how to hand embroidery from a young age, so I was always surrounded by creative people. I didn’t actually learn how to machine sew or construct clothing using patterns until late high school (year 11 and 12) – I was terrible at sewing but just kept practising! I graduated from RMIT with a Bachelor of Fashion Design (Honours) and worked full time for just over one year until I started my label Sorrentino Studios in December 2020.

How did the label get started? Talk us through the process and the challenges.

It was actually one of my aunties that first asked me to make her a mask, way back in March 2020 when COVID hit. I got the pattern and started practising making them for family and friends. When masks became mandated in July, my DMs blew up – everyone suddenly needed masks. The demand was so high, it pushed me to get a website set up with online ordering, inventory, stock levels, etc.

Around the same time masks were going gangbusters, my close friend and ARIA Award-winning photographer Michelle Pitiris – who I’d been collaborating with for years on a number of unique pieces for Australian entertainers – was pushing me to bite the bullet and go my own way. Together we came up with the idea to start with four collections based on the four elements (earth, water, fire and wind).

The fact that I hated my job at the time (it didn’t align with my values) gave me further incentive to use all that lockdown time to create a solid foundation for Sorrentino Studios.

What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? How has this evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now?

 

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I wanted to experiment with different ideas and develop a strong aesthetic for the brand. I also wanted to create images that told a story and added to the concept behind the collections, which is why I collaborated with Michelle… I’ve found it so valuable seeing what resonates with customers. I really want to communicate the great quality and care that goes into my designs, and how much love I pour into each piece.

How would you describe Sorrentino Studios to someone who’s never seen it before?

I would describe it first and foremost as sustainable. In terms of aesthetic, it’s androgynous and multifunctional, with statement garments that can be styled several ways by detaching pieces, rotating, crossing over, layering and reversing. I love the idea of pieces you can style in a number of ways – so it feels like you’ve got two or three garments in one. It’s empowering for the customer; they get a lot of value out of the one piece in their wardrobe.

Where did the name come from?

 

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Sorrentino is actually my last name. My dad migrated here from Napoli, Italy and my nonno (grandpa) had his own made-to-order leather goods business back in the ’80s! My nonno did all the pattern-making and cutting and Nonna did all the sewing – so the name was a no-brainer for me!

What are you most proud of in your work on your label?

I’m proud that each piece is handcrafted by me – including design conception, cutting, sewing and some pattern-making. Each piece is made to order and sent out from my studio in Balaclava. This allows customers to make customisations and add their measurements for a made-to-measure fit.

What about the Australian fashion industry needs to change?

 

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I think we have a lack of transparency in the industry that allows businesses to greenwash like crazy. The lack of care for the environment and garment workers is frustrating, and I hope the rise of slow fashion – with a focus on longevity, thoughtful design and better fit – will help create a more sustainable and circular fashion industry.

Who is in your wardrobe right now?

Most of my wardrobe is second-hand vintage – I’ve always loved finding something unique and giving it new life. I also love supporting small labels! I almost never leave the house without wearing my handmade Courtney Hogan earrings, and I have my eye on an Après Studio halter top – it’s sold out but I’m hoping for a recut.

How can we buy one of your pieces?

 

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You can find Sorrentino Studios online through our website. I also offer studio fittings, where you can book in to try on the collection. We’re also stocked at Sucker on Sydney Road in Brunswick and at Bizarre Bazaar in Wellington, New Zealand.

Anything else to add?

We’re launching our new collection, Element 2.0 on March 1. The collection is inspired by water. The looks are characterised by fluidity and adaptability; one piece can be worn multiple different ways across all genders. The looks feature aquatic tones and oceanic design motifs.

Explore more of Sorrentino Studios here.

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