The Spark of an Idea: A Story

The search for fresh design ideas often leads us to the most unexpected of places. And as most creative people know, the best ideas are usually hidden in either the most obvious or the least expected places.

On my recent visit to Italy, I spontaneously ventured to San Gimignano, a small hill town in Tuscany, located just south of Florence. While appreciating its medieval architecture, something I wasn’t expecting caught my eye—an off-duty ambulance team navigating through one of the streets of this delightful town. It was a group of Italian paramedics – but instead of typical drab uniforms, they were dressed in stylish ocean blue sweaters with fluorescent green stripes across the long sleeves, expertly matched with fluorescent green pants. It was an image fit for a cutting-edge fashion magazine, if only I’d had the guts and forethought to take it. On the other hand, even better than a photograph, it could also have been an idea for a future prêt a porter collection worthy of Prada or another high-end fashion brand. Or even better, in the popular world of brand collaborations, an collab idea for San Gimignano Hospital and let’s say, the revolutionary Japanese fashion house Undercover or the French fashion brand Vetements. Perhaps the collaboration could benefit a cause both the hospital and the fashion house share an affinity for. Sign me up, I say!

As my excursion through San Gimignano continued, I couldn’t help but keep my eye out for ambulance service teams. Next time around, I’d definitely be more than ready to use my camera and capture these stylishly uniformed paramedics. Regretfully, none of the ambulance teams I spotted after my first sighting were wearing ‘my uniforms’ of blue sweaters with fluorescent green stripes. As my anticipation kept growing, I accidentally found myself at the front door of San Gimignano Emergency Services. To my astonishment, a group of uniformed paramedics was sitting around, taking a likely well-deserved break. I cautiously walked in, with my camera in hand, ready to capture what I’d wished I’d captured on my first sighting: ‘my uniforms’. Alas, once again, none of the paramedics were wearing them. They were however, looking at me eagerly, curious to find out the reason for my visit.

Not speaking their language, I pointed to their uniforms and then at a few other uniforms piled up behind where they were sitting. I was hoping to find out whether they had the uniform I was looking for stored somewhere — one that I could photograph or maybe even purchase? Not surprisingly, my attempts to communicate this fairly complicated idea were fruitless. The paramedics looked at me and then at each other for what seemed embarrassingly like forever. Finally, one of them got up, eagerly indicating that he understood. Hallelujah!

He pointed at his two colleagues who were sitting beside him to get up and to pose for me. Oh no, I thought to myself! They think I want to take their photograph, being a tourist of strange fancies. Stunned and polite, I pointed my camera at them and snapped the picture. They laughed with a relieved expression of ‘mission accomplished’, while I walked out feeling mortified, but with a heartfelt photograph in my camera of two paramedics in the wrong uniforms.

The moral of the story? Always have your camera handy. And should you ever see a collection of hats, sneakers or dinnerware using a combination of ocean blue and fluorescent yellow stripes, you’ll know where the idea came from. Should you be touring Tuscany in the future, keep your eyes open for the paramedics in ocean blue uniforms. It may inspire something quite different in you.

OFF-WHITE c/o VIRGIL ABLOH™, FW 2015
emergency vehicle, UK­­
Undercover, SS 2016
Police patrol, U.K.
undercover, ss 2016
Emergency Workers, Italy
The friendly Paramedics of San Gimignano Emergency Services
San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy