In a magical oasis on the edge of the noise and bustle of Florence’s historic center, you can find a glittering green-blue seahorse hanging on a ribbon just a foot away from a pink calla lily lapel pin. Fiery chili pepper necklaces vie with ruby red cherry earrings and spotted ladybug pins. On the upholstered “husband” bench, beaded needlepoint pillows provide support for the viewing of one after another of the jewel-toned purses and evening clutches.
This is the world of the Aprosio & Co., the dream child of designer Ornella Aprosio, master artisan of the tiniest of crystal and glass beads.
The art of beadwork was very popular at the beginning of the 20th century, reaching its height with the “flapper” styles of the 1920s, but with the worldwide depression of the 1930s the lighthearted designs disappeared and the artisans couldn’t sell their creations.
A Rome native, Ornella Aprosio began her career as a professional bead designer in 1993. Before that she was a restorer of antique clothing, including evening gowns dating back to the 1920s, thus giving her expertise in working with complex beadwork. There were no teachers for beaded jewelry, so she had to experiment with each of her early pieces.
Now, besides creating her own unique pieces, Ornella employs about thirty artisans. Her bi-level store with its ivy-covered courtyard is located in the Palazzo Frescobaldi on Via Santo Spirito. The shop is graced by the presence of Monsieur Maquis, Ornella’s dog, and a suitably aloof cat. A couple of months ago she opened another location across the river on Via della Spada.
Although some of the simpler pieces are affordable to all, Aprosio’s wares are not inexpensive. The prices reflect the skill and time required to produce each piece by hand, as well as the fine materials she personally chooses – Venice’s Murano micro glass beads (known as conteria) from Venice and Bohemian crystal beads from the Czech Republic.
Ornella’s designs are made one by one by her specially trained artisans and therefore have variations that make each piece unique. The three dimensional quality of the more complex pieces and the depth of color and shine are created with the different methods of construction; some are crocheted, others knitted, the cushions use needlepoint, and the scarves have beads woven into fabric.
The different shapes, glitter (matte glass Italian conteria, sparkling Bohemian crystal seed beads) and colors of the beads highlight the details and expertise of the designs. Ranging from classic shapes – simple soft stretchy bracelets, a classic knotted necklace and brightly colored ball ear posts – to the more extravagant complex pieces – bumble bee pins, art deco evening bags, and orchid necklaces – that can take up to weeks to create, Aprosio has something for every taste.
The spider’s web, celebrated for the natural perfection of design is an Italian symbol of good luck and fortune, was integrated in Aprosio’s logo. And spiders, beetles, lizards, ladybugs, snakes and bats show that Ornella has a quirky sense of humor. The thought of an Aprosio gold and black striped bee with silver wings perched on the shoulder of a little black cocktail dress is the perfect image of the brand.
Shop, showroom and office
Via Santo Spirito 11 (Palazzo Frescobaldi)
Tel:+39 055 2654077
Via della Spada, 38r
Opening hours: Monday to Friday: 9.30 – 19.30, Saturday: 10.00 – 13.30 / 15.00 – 19.30