A. &L. Tirocchi: A Time Capsule Discovered


Susan Hay
Curator of Costume and Textiles
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design

A. & L. Tirocchi shop labels
Tirocchi Archive

"My dress made a great hit - and one lady said 'Oh - that's Paris, all right,'"wrote Lucy Wall to Anna Tirocchi [fig. 1] around 1920. "I said 'Our Anna made it for me.' It made a great sensation and I love it myself."(1)

The writer of the letter was Mrs. Ashbel T. Wall [fig. 2], who lived in a large mansion on George Street across from the pastoral green of Brown University on Providence's historic East Side [fig. 3]. The sensational dress in question was possibly the "black silver pocadots evening gown"trimmed with silver ribbon, half-ball jet for the neck, and steel tassels for the back; or the black and gold brocaded evening gown with jet, two dress ornaments for the shoulders, and fringe front and back; both of which she had ordered from the dressmaking shop of the Tirocchi sisters in 1920 and which she had worn during the winter social season.

The recipient of this letter was Miss Anna Tirocchi - Madam Tirocchi, as she was called - proprietress, with her sister Laura Tirocchi Cella [fig. 4], of A. &L. Tirocchi. Many fashionable women besides Mrs. Wall came to order their exclusive clothing from this Providence establishment, located in an elaborate Victorian Italianate house on fashionable Broadway [frontispiece]. A. &L. Tirocchi operated there between 1915 and 1947, catering to wealthy clients, many of whom, like Lucy Wall, were wives and daughters of newly successful industrialists from Providence, Rhode Island, and Fall River, Massachusetts. This shop and its unusual owners bridged three socio-cultural groups: their employees (from southern Italy), themselves (from near Rome), and their powerful and wealthy clients, such as Mrs. Wall, whose husband ran a company that manufactured gold and silver plate for Providence's burgeoning jewelry industry.

This book and the exhibition it accompanies are based on a unique collection in the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (hereafter referred to as RISD), of early twentieth-century textiles and garments selected from the Tirocchi shop, along with all of the shop's records. When Anna Tirocchi died in 1947, Laura Tirocchi Cella wrapped everything in tissue paper and carefully put it all away, together with the business papers. These were not to be disturbed until 1989, when curators from the RISD Museum were invited by Laura's son, Dr. Louis J. Cella, Jr., inheritor of the house, to make their choice of objects for the Museum.



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