Francesca Castiglioni is the founder of Absidem, a luxury leather accessories brand based in Milan that winks at the fetish world. Speaking to her in her own personal kingdom, far from the centre of Milan, we discovered the intriguing story that brought her to conceive this successful project. From a “spiritual crisis” to a new self awareness found in the back of a church.
Absidem was founded in 2014. How did the idea for this brand come about?
I would say that Absidem is a combination of real life experiences, blending the fetish world with an interest in art and fashion.
What kind of experiences influenced the project? Could you tell us something more about that?
It’s quite a long story: I used to play drums in a punk rock band called The Cocos together with Gaia Ramona, my current closest work partner at Absidem. I started playing when I was 12 years old, and when I was older, I met Gaia, who was a DJ at Plastic (a famous club in Milan). We played around Italy a lot and were quite successful. When things were getting too serious, I had a sort of “spiritual crisis” and dumped the band to follow another quite original path closer to the fetish world.
How did you approach this path?
When we were playing, there were some male fans who seemed to like helping us by doing hard work, like unloading instruments and stuff like that. Gradually we understood that these people were interested in being mistreated.
I studied Visual Arts but I’ve always been really into Anthropology. That’s what pushed me to delve deeper into these guys’ real interests and minds. I wanted to know to what extent they were willing to lower their standards. So, after a while, I started working as a mistress.
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Did you like your job?
I was really into it. I’ve never had a high consideration of men in general (my boyfriend is such an exception, and I’m glad I found him since he is someone to be admired), so that was a way to freely pour out these feelings without any boundaries. Moreover, I was always 100% myself and that was appreciated. Forget about bondage and latex rompers: I was always extremely elegant and definitely austere during my working hours. This austerity is a fundamental part of myself and I could never give it away.
And then, what happened? How did you convey this experience in Absidem? 
After four years, I started getting bored of men who just searched for oblivion through these practices. I still consider that world very fascinating but I couldn’t do it anymore.
I wanted to start something new and with all the money I made working as a mistress, I started collecting vintage clothing and furniture. That was ok, but still wasn’t my direction. I told myself to search for something that really represented me and I realized that my previous experiences and knowledge could help me create something completely new. And there it was Absidem: a brand for avant-garde people with strong personalities, who are not afraid of making a statement by wearing glamorous accessories that wink at the fetish world.
Did you do everything by yourself? 
No, I wasn’t alone in this. As soon as the idea came about, I called up my close friends Alessio and Gaia to help me with this new venture. Alessio left after a while. Gaia, who’s a great business woman, stayed and is now working with me as a product manager and still helping me with different aspects of the work. She was very helpful at the very beginning, since she’s the one who coined the name Absidem, which was perfect: it’s a mix of holy and profane, thus it includes both my austerity and my interest in the fetish world. Absidem, in fact, stands for the back of the church and it also includes the acronym BDSM. It’s also a kind of metaphor of what people try to hide: very often you can’t see what’s behind their façade.
"Absidem is a mix of holy and profane, thus it includes both my austerity and my interest in the fetish world."
So how would you describe the Absidem philosophy?
Absidem stands for fashion, fetish and whatever one would like it to be. Basically, playing is the foundation of the Absidem philosophy. I think that anybody has the right to wear something strong while maintaining his or her own elegance, that’s the experience I would like to provide for everyone.
Is it a unisex brand?
Yes, absolutely! Actually, it’s very appreciated by men. I’m now focusing on some lighter materials and design so the products can adapt to feminine body better. I’m aiming for something slightly more delicate for the future collections.
What are your plans for the future? 
Our plan is to continue to do collections, maintaining the raw spirit of the brand, combining it with the experience of Italian artisans and the best luxury materials.
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