May 15, 2008 / 2:29 PM / 9 years ago

Inmates showcase designs at prison show

<p>A model displays a creation of Giorgio Armani during a fashion show in San Vittore prison in Milan, May 14, 2008. A group of fashion designers have created a local cooperative called "Sartoria San Vittore" to help prisoners learn job skills. Female inmates have learned tailoring skills from cooperative members and have made costumes for theatre and television. The Armani outfit was given to the prisoners to use in their fashion show. It was not made by the prisoners. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini</p>

MILAN (Reuters) - The models are strutting past and the celebrities are carefully eyeing the collections, but it’s not at every fashion show that you see prison guards by the catwalk.

Security was tight as usual at Milan’s San Vittore prison on Wednesday, where female inmates, launching their own womenswear line, showcased a collection of three white wedding dresses in a glamorous fashion show in the jail’s courtyard.

Having learnt tailoring skills from a local cooperative that aims to help women behind bars, prisoners and former inmates displayed stylish dresses alongside creations by Italian big names like Giorgio Armani, Prada and Alberta Ferretti.

“It is like a dream has come true,” said Ecuadorian Mariuxi, who left San Vittore after a three-year drugs sentence and works for the Cooperative Alice, which runs the project.

“It is work that brings happiness after an ugly period.”

The women received loud applause for the dresses they made, designed by Rosita Onofri, who collaborates with the cooperative. One had white flowers stitched on, while a knitted-like bodice topped another. Hats decorated with flowers and cool white-framed sunglasses added a stylish touch.

<p>A model displays a creation during a fashion show in San Vittore prison in Milan, May 14, 2008. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini</p>

Both prisoners and former San Vittore inmates work for the Cooperative Alice in Milan, and have already made costumes for theatre and television as well as clothes for small shops.

They already sell a line of T-shirts under the ‘Jail Cats’ brand with a motif of cats or prison bars on the cooperative’s website. Wednesday’s show was a preview to the “Sartoria SanVittore” line they will launch in the autumn.

Slideshow (2 Images)

“For them, it is a beautiful moment,” Alessandro Brevi, of the Cooperative Alice said, adding that the show, the cooperative’s fifth, was a call for distribution. “Initially we start with the website, then -- who knows -- maybe Paris.”

The cooperative has operated for some 16 years in Milan’s jails and the scheme aims to help women acquire skills for life outside prison. It takes former inmates to work at its office, making it easier for them to find a job once out of jail.

For the women, some of whom also have chores in the prison kitchen, the project is an exciting prospect. They clapped to messages of support from Italian TV stars and wowed at dresses by top designers, with cries of “Mamma Mia!” for some creations.

“It is important for social work, fashion and business,” said Tiziana Maiolo, of the Milan city council, adding that two fashion houses had taken on some of the women for work. “Who knows if one of them isn’t the new Prada.”

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