Italian costumes for Swiss wine festival strike sour note

Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, during the 1999 edition of the Fête des Vignerons. Keystone / Patrick Aviolat

With 100 days to go before the huge Fête des Vignerons wine festival overlooking Lake Geneva, news that the 6,000 costumes are being made in Italy has triggered criticism in Switzerland.

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It is a Herculean task to produce the costumes for the Fête des Vignerons – in terms of both quantity and quality. The costumes must be able to withstand a lot over the three weeks of the festival, which this year runs from July 18 to August 11.

The wine festival, held in Vevey, western Switzerland, is registered as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage and takes place not more than five times a century.

This year it is being directed and choreographed by Daniele Finzi Pasca from Italian-speaking canton Ticino. He has engaged the Italian costume designer Giovanna Buzzi, with whom he worked during the Olympic ceremonies in Turin and Sochi.

To meet the challenge, Buzzi is relying on a network of 150 studios, many of which are in Italy.

“I wanted special details for each group of costumes, even if it’s all integrated as a whole,” Buzzi told Le Matin Dimanche. “All of the work has been divided so that the result is nearly perfect. For example, the shoes pass through five different studios until they are finished.”

Criticism

Not everyone is pleased that the 6,000 costumes – a total of around 25,000 items of clothing – are being made in Italy.

“I’m disappointed that Swiss strengths and expertise were not used to produce at least some of these costumes,” Mireille Dessingy, president of the costume designers’ association of French-speaking Switzerland, told Swiss public radio, RTS.

Frédéric Hohl, managing director of the Fête des Vignerons, replied that “of course we looked into it because it would have been easier to produce them here. But we had no choice, we didn’t have the manpower”.

This is not a new development. At the past two Fête des Vignerons in 1976 and 1999 a large portion of the costumes were produced in France, which also drew criticism.

The four seasons in the vineyard

At the heart of the Fête des Vignerons is the daily show in the 20,000-seat arena. “The performance shows a year in the life of a vineyard, represented by 20 scenes, beginning and ending with the harvest,” reads the event’s website.

The choreography will be performed by 5,500 actors and actresses from the region in costumes. This year will be the first time that more women (2,700) than men (1,700) perform in the show. Around 1,000 children will also take part.

The inspirations for the 70 different costumes were previous Fête des Vignerons, with a particular interest in the watercolours of Ernest Biéler in 1905 and 1927, and the traditional Vaud and Fribourg costumes. The costumes of animals, insects and birds are novelties related to the dramaturgy of Daniele Finzi Pasca’s show.

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