Boutique businesses are booming in Philadelphia. We the people have finally begun to move our attention away from cheap, ready-to-wear chains like H&M and Forever21 and are now more concerned with the who, what, where, and why factors in our clothing. Established local shops like Knit Wit and Joan Shepp have been thriving for decades, but there’s a fashionable newcomer in town who’s doing things differently.
Bianca De Pietro is a 25-year-old Philadelphia University graduate who opened up Toile (which is French for "linen cloth" or "canvas") along Frankford Avenue just under a year ago. Located right next to favorite vintage shop Jinxed, Bianca’s store joined a roster of other specialty shops that currently line the popular street, but she’s offering a service that no one else is: 100% custom, in-house clothing designs. While the front of the store is adorn with beautiful clothing and accessory items from domestic designers, featuring 15 local designers, the back of the store is a workspace where she creates her own line, tagged Bianca Rachele, and constructs couture evening wear, wedding gowns, and other high-fashion pieces. Not to mention, everything is relatively low-priced considering the construction behind each item.
Having the store and workspace all within one makes it easy for her to carry out her mission. “It's not satisfying designing for a big company because you don't know where it's going or who is wearing it,” she says. “I like feeling the satisfaction of making someone happy. I like having and making one of a kind things." Bianca is her own boss – working the store counter during business hours and retreating to the back after closing time to continue working on client's pieces until early morning hours. "I have my own inspirations for my personal designs, but having a store makes me more inspired by people and their different body types and knowing and working with the customers." She realizes that at such a young age, this might seem like a lot but she's a self proclaimed workaholic and is used to the pressure and deadlines.
De Pietro was certainly raised on fashion – it's in her DNA. Her Italian grandfather was a tailor who would go door-to-door selling his suit-making services to locals. He would take up a week-long residency in a person's home and before the weekend, the client would have a fine new suit to hang in their closet. Her grandmother was an indulgent fashionista. She would regularly gives Bianca stacks of Italian Vogues and bags of child’s couture clothing. "One time she wore a sheer evening gown with feathers at the bottom of it for my school's Grandparent's Day in third grade," she recalls. Grandmother also educated her on all of the important Italian designers, so her passion was ignited at a very young age. "I was also the girl wearing prom dresses in school photos."
While her journey began in the Bronx, it was Philadelphia that really allowed her to create something for herself. In New York she attended a performing arts school and studied dance. She soon switched to theater tech, where she believes a lot of her influence for design comes from. She then eyed Philadelphia University as her next move since she was positive about pursuing a career in fashion. The institution taught her challenging technical skills and provided incredible textile facilities such as weaving looms and dying & finishing labs. After graduating from there, she moved back to New York and rented a studio space. At the time she was juggling creating her own collection, working freelance jobs, managing a vintage shop, and doing bridal alterations for a salon. While folks from Nylon magazine caught on to her unique looks, it wasn't enough to propell her ahead of the competition. De Pietro would take frequent trips back to Philly, and when she realized her friends were paying the same amount for their homes as she was for her studio, she decided that living here was the only way to maintain a manageable lifestyle while being able to pursue a successful career.
In addition to her own work, Bianca is heavily invested in collaborating with her peers. She hosts First Friday trunk show events that bring together designers and local artists. She also works together with other Philadelphia boutiques such as Adorn (1314 Frankford Ave.) and Ritual Ritual (716 N 3rd St.). In the future, she'd like to focus more on avante garde work, which is her driving inspiration.