16 febbraio 2023
by Guendalina Dainelli

Antonia's spell

Doge's Ball 
Doge's Ball 

Joie de vivre is the theme for this year. The 'Doge's Ball’ turns 30, and it is hard to imagine an expression that best describes the spirit of its patroness. Antonia Sautter is a true Venetian, an entrepreneur, a stylist, and the art director of the world’s most famous masquerade ball. She is a celebrity in Venice, Italy and beyond. February 18 is just around the corner and her schedule is almost too full to handle. "I can hardly stop and catch my breath. Regularly, there are 30 people on my staff, but this time pf year, there are 500 of us working on one single magical night. There are hired hands, stage technicians, and makeup artists. There are as many as 73 costume dressers.”

The 'Ballo del Doge' is 30 years old, and it is hard to imagine an expression that better describes the spirit of its patroness: Antonia Sautter, Venetian doc, entrepreneur, stylist and art director of the world's most famous masked ball

The thirtieth edition of the Doge's Ball will be held on February 18 at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia, a building dating back to the year 1310. Haute couture, fine materials, and a reproduction of ancient techniques are the formula for success, including music, scenography, entertainment and grande cuisine. Around Venice, with its secular taste for fashion, opulence and flaunting of frivolousness. Everywhere, the Carnival, with its masks, ambiguity, mystery, and suspension of the rules.

“I am both a craftsman and a conductor. I am a dream weaver and a dream catcher. I owe it all to my mother; she was my playmate, a fairy and a very creative woman who loved to paint, cut, and sew. We would leaf through leather-bound encyclopedias to find the strangest characters and reproduce them with needle and thread. We did Marie Antoinette, Mata Hari, Balinese dancers and so many more.”

Then came the BBC crew…

“This is a story I love to tell because it is a metaphor for life. Some trains you have to catch just as they pass through. A BBC crew happened upon my little store about 30 years ago. I was making masks, laces, and corsets. Longtime Monty Python member Terry Jones walked in, attracted by the colorful handicrafts in the window. He was making a documentary on the Fourth Crusade, in which the Republic of Venice played a major role. They were looking for local contacts to supervise the organization. I studied foreign languages at Ca' Foscari and worked in the US, so I could speak good English. After thinking about it for one night, I asked them for the job. I made the clothes and worked hard. That’s how it all got started."

Federica Pellegrini posted photos of the fitting of an elaborate ivory dress and feathered headpiece ahead of the upcoming ball. Any other big names among your guests?

"I’d never tell. The Carnival is about the freedom of wearing a mask. For one night, I give the gift of carefree anonymity. We do have important guests from around the world, people in politics and entertainment. Whoever shows up is required to sign a release form. We have our in-house photographers and videographers. The guests are not allowed to bring their own, and we do ask that everybody leave their cell phones at home.

However, as you can imagine, during an artistic production like the Doge's Ball it is impossible to control everything. I will mention a very young and handsome David Bowie, and a regal and luminous Vivienne Westwood playing Queen Elizabeth I of England. She had an extraordinary personality, and I was very sorry to hear she recently passed away."

You have a very strict dress code. Has anyone ever been stopped at the entrance?

"Sure, that happened. It's a masked ball, you need to wear a historical costume. It says so in the invitation. It’s not about cosplay or anything of the sort. We have about 1500 costumes at our atelier, all handmade, which can be rented. The fitting alone is an unforgettable event. It is hard to part with any of the costumes if somebody decides to purchase them, but we produce many throughout the year. I design them personally together with some loyal collaborators. Each piece is unique and takes many days of work."

What is the most original you made?

“A foreign celebrity wanted to dress up as a Pope, so we recreated the vestments of the Borgia Pope from the Italian Renaissance."

What is the best compliment you've ever received?

"It came from an important Frenchman, very elegant in eighteenth-century attire and accompanied by a splendid Marie Antoinette. We met on the pier in Pisani Moretta after the curtain fell at the end of the evening. I was exhausted, looking at the Grand Canal as it was dawning. He said to me, "Vous êtes la page qui on n’a pas envie de tourner," that is, you are the page one doesn’t wish to turn. They were the very last guests, who didn’t want to break the spell by going home.”

How does your exclusive and expensive event deal with the all-inclusive world of internet?

"I'm ready for the big step. I love modernity even as I delve into the past, the realm that surrounds me every day, and the historical fashion I create. Naturally, the event is intellectual property that must be protected, but I'm open to considering the virtual world. I'm sure it would be a fun and completely new adventure."

A new dream for the dream weaver?

"I do dream about taking my ball to an incredible city like Dubai. I would like to share the all-Italian magic of the Venice Carnival, the most refined in the world. I am very fascinated by the golden opulence of the Middle East. The Thousand and One Nights of Scheherazade could inspire a brand new and magnificent ball."

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