British artist and designer Helen Anderson worked at Sorelle Fontana in the early 1960s. This is her story.

A LIFE IN FASHION: Sorelle Fontana

November 01, 2022

It was a real treat to discover this gossipy interview with Micol Fontana online. I never really knew Micol, although technically she was my former employer. Until her death in 2015 at the ripe old age of 101, Micol was the last of the three brilliant sisters who founded the celebrated couture house of Sorelle Fontana in Rome. Along with her siblings Zoe and Giovanna, she dressed celebrities including Audrey Hepburn (most famously creating her wedding gown), Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Claudia Cardinale. The sisters worked extensively in film too, styling Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa and - perhaps most famously - crafting Anita Ekberg’s gravity-defying “fountain dress” for the 1960 film La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini.

I lived in Rome in 1961 and 1962, as a post-graduate student at the Accademia dei Belle Arti di Roma. Of course, Rome during the golden age of Cinecitta (a.k.a. the Italian Hollywood) was far too much fun – and too expensive – not to pursue a whole array of extracurricular activities. I eked out my modest grant by painting portraits, which opened the doors to wonderful private homes and experiences.
I also spent a LOT of time getting all dressed up to examine the inside of garments in the Roman couture houses, to learn all I could about the specialist hand-finishing techniques employed in the ateliers. I’d always loved designing and making my own clothes (from a very young age) and during this era I would hand-paint my clothes, including Mad Men-style, full-skirted dresses, in oils, since acrylic paints for artists only became widely available from 1963.
Peering through a tiny window of Sorelle Fontana one day, wearing this scarlet dress hand-painted with flowers – and no doubt smelling of oil paint and linseed! – I was absolutely delighted when a “stilista” (assistant designer) ran outside to admire my outfit and ask where I’d bought it. This led to a joyous spell freelancing as an artist at Sorelle Fontana, where I not only hand-painted fabrics onto evening gowns but also created the designs for beaded embroideries. This was such a privilege for a green 21-year-old Brit!
On recent visits to Rome, I was delighted to see that Sorelle Fontana is still going strong (although it was sold in 1992), in its original location near the Spanish Steps. Close by is the Fondazione Micol Fontana – established as a training centre rather than a museum, it seems that some fashion fans have bought their way in for $20! A two-part TV miniseries based on the story of the fashion house, Atelier Fontana - Le sorelle della moda, was broadcast on Rai 1 in 2011. I’d love to see it.


Also in Stories

June Furlong
RIP June Furlong, Liverpool's most famous life model

November 04, 2022

A loving tribute to June, life model and friend of John Lennon and Helen Anderson, who died in 2020. My reflections of some of the funniest moments of our time together with John in our art classes.


My Lennon cap: made to last!
My Lennon cap: made to last!

November 03, 2022

These John Lennon caps are made to last! Helen Anderson's original design, originally created in 1964, worn here by the Beatle in 1975, still with the Ferrari pin he stuck into it when he passed his driving test and bought a powder blue convertible.


Jude Southerland Kessler and Lanea Stagg interview Helen Anderson about her life and her memories of The Beatles, John Lennon and Cynthia Lennon
Interview with Helen Anderson about John Lennon

November 02, 2022

For the inside story on John Lennon and loads of memories from fashion designer Helen Anderson - Lennon's friend and of course the designer of his famous leather cap - listen to this great interview with Jude Southerland Kessler.


How to measure your head for my leather cap

sketch of John Lennon by Helen Anderson 


A message from Helen about sizing: 
Hats are a bit like jackets and dresses: sizes are supposed to be universal but may vary from one manufacturer to another. I can’t guarantee you a perfect fit, but I can do my best to help.

My cap is available in 4 sizes: Small (S), Medium (M), Large (L) and Extra Large (XL). It’s an investment piece, so I encourage you also to invest three minutes to find the perfect fit.

Don’t just guess your size!
John Lennon’s head measured 23.5 inches. He was a size XL (big brain!). Here's how I measured it, back in 1964 - and how you can measure yours now.
  1. Don’t panic if you don’t have a tailor’s tape measure handy. You can also use a length of string or ribbon, and then measure it against a ruler.
  2. Place the string or tape around your head about 3mm above your ear, across the mid-forehead, completely circling your head. Hold the tape firmly, but not super-tightly.
  3. I’d like you to measure your head exactly where the cap will sit. If your measurement falls between sizes, choose the next size up.
Remember: If you have big hair, you’ll probably need the next size up!



You will need to tell me your size at the time you order.


If you are in such a hurry to get hold of a cap that you don’t have time to measure your head, you could also check the size of another hat that fits: hat sizes are universal… in theory. Don’t see your size? Have a special request?

Email Me!