EXPATS IN FLORENCE
A costume designer celebrating Jane Austen in Florence
BY MELINDA GALLO (ISSUE NO. 129/2010 / OCTOBER 7, 2010)
Margarita Martinez was born in Sydney, Australia and grew up in a surf town south of Melbourne. While other children were out at the beach, Margarita was practicing the piano. Because both of her parents were professional musicians-her Australian mother a pianist and her Spanish father an organist-everyone assumed that she, too, would become a concert pianist. While studying English literature, French and Anglo-Saxon (the earliest form of the English language) at the University of Melbourne, Margarita became interested in theatre and acting. After participating in a number of productions, she decided to apply to Australia's prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Art (www.nida.edu.au), where she was one of only a few applicants accepted into the three-year course of technical production. After graduating, she was hired by Opera Australia to stage-manage opera productions all over the country.
Three years later, Margarita decided to do what many Australians do: take a two-year break from work to travel. She traveled to Europe to study language and absorb the art and history. Italy was her final, and most important, destination because as a child, she had vowed to visit it after seeing Franco Zeffirelli's film Romeo and Juliet.
While in Florence, she met Donald Francis, a distant cousin, who had opened L'Atelier de Danse (www.atelierdedanse.it), where he teaches historic dancing and ballet. For one of Donald's costume balls, Margarita designed and made her own costume. Not only did she find great joy in doing the research and sewing the costume, but she also discovered a hidden talent: creating costumes.
Even though Margarita felt at home in Florence, she returned to Australia when her two years were up, sticking to her original plan and returning to her theatre life in Australia. But in her heart, she knew that one day she would return. That day came two years later, in 1990. She realized that her work, albeit satisfying and challenging, was consuming and not allowing her much time to enjoy life. With a desire ‘to be free' to live her life, she moved to Florence.
Upon her return to Florence, Margarita began to research, design and create her own line of costumes for Donald's costume balls (www.florencecostumes.com). While Donald was focusing on the Napoleonic period, Margarita researched the corresponding time in England when Jane Austen was alive, the Regency era. She was so taken with the period that she and Donald organized the first 'Jane Austen Day' eight years ago. For the event, held in a Tuscan villa, people dressed in period costumes, enjoyed high tea, and took part in Regency dancing. The event was such a success that Margarita and Donald have been organizing one every year since then.
This year, Margarita organized the first two-day event for over a hundred attendees from around the world to enjoy two parties where participants wore costumes from the Napoleonic and Regency periods. On the first day, the participants wore appropriate costumes to a Napoleonic ball held at the Villa del Poggio Imperiale, where Napoleon's sister Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi lived 200 years ago, when she was the Grand Duchess of Tuscany. On the second day, they dressed in Regency costumes and spent the afternoon at another Tuscan villa for high tea, cricket and dancing. On the heels of these successful events, Margarita created the ‘Jane Austen Society, Florence,' which brings people together in the name of the beloved British writer.
Thus, Margarita has not only brought herself to Florence, but also Jane Austen. The life she has created for herself intertwines her passion for theatre, her creativity and her love for the Regency era-all this while still delighting in her life in Florence.