Giuliana Di Camerino, Italian (1920 - )

A native of Venice, got into the luxury goods business as few other designers have: through dire necessity. A Jew, she was forced to flee Mussolini's Italy in November 1943. With her husband, a banker, she escaped via rail to Lugano, Switzerland.

They had no income, and so Mrs. Camerino began to sew and managed to make herself a leather satchel. A woman on the street liked it enough to buy it on the spot. ''In this moment, people knew we needed to have money,'' Mrs. Camerino said last week in a telephone interview from Switzerland, where she lives for part of the year. Soon after this sale, a local leather goods store hired her to make bags.

Following the war, she returned to Venice to start her business, naming it Roberta di Camerino after the 1933 musical ''Roberta.''

Mrs. Camerino, who won't reveal her age, is not one to be self-effacing. Of the striped velvet bags she made in the 40's and 50's, she said, ''To put together three different colors in this period was a revolution.'' Of her first fashion show in Venice in 1949, one that used theatrics, she maintained, ''It was the first fashion show done like a production.'' (In reality, it was not.)

Still, it is hard to dispute Mrs. Camerino's claim of being copied by other, better-known designers. ''In the bag business, everyone's going to say that,'' said Candy Pratts Price, the former accessories director of Vogue, but she added, it would be difficult to contend that Mrs. Camerino's bag shapes have not been widely imitated. One can see the designer's influence in the velvet, jewel-tone bags that Prada showed a few seasons ago. Mrs. Camerino recalled that her friend Coco Chanel, no stranger to being knocked off, once told her she would shed tears the day no one copied her. - From NY Times Style Section Article, 1999

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