Classics and Fashion: Alumna Magda Benichou

Born and raised in Berkeley, CA, alumna Magda Benichou graduated from JCU in 2020 with a B.A. in Classical Studies. Magda then went on to earn an M.Litt. in Classical Literature from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in 2022, with a dissertation titled “Classical Receptions in the House of Gucci.” Currently, she runs her own vintage Italian clothing business called Magda Violet.

Magda Benichou

Magda Benichou

What brought you to Rome and JCU?
I transferred to JCU from the New School in NYC. I found out about John Cabot University from an alumna who had been my host sister when I studied abroad in Viterbo (a city near Rome) during high school. JCU offered a classics program, which the New School did not and following a gap year during which I worked for a personal styling startup incubated at Google, I decided to return to Italy and earn my degree.

What made you decide to pursue a B.A. in Classical Studies?
I studied Latin throughout high school and became fascinated by the linguistics. I loved being able to read and interpret ancient texts in their original language, so I ended up pursuing a heavily literary track, picking up Ancient Greek along the way. Studying classics has honed my critical analysis, reading, and writing skills, and provided me with an excellent foundation in the humanities.

Tell us about your experience earning an M.Litt. in Classical Literature from the University of St. Andrews. How did JCU help you prepare for graduate studies?
The M.Litt. program at the University of St. Andrews offers a robust and forward-thinking classical education. The program challenged me to re-examine the classical discipline from a much broader perspective, as is to be expected from higher education, and exposed me to the relatively newfound field of Classical Reception studies. Many seminars focused on disrupting and re-defining the classical “tradition” in light of both contemporary and ancient inequities in the discipline. The program also helped to clarify the potential albeit limited career options for classicists. JCU equipped me with the necessary skills for many of my courses at St. Andrews, particularly the language and philosophy classes.

Tell us about your dissertation “Classical Receptions in the House of Gucci.”
My M.Litt. dissertation offers a detailed classical reception study of Alessandro Michele’s use of classics in the fashion and advertising of Gucci during his reign as Creative Director of the brand (2015-2022). My dissertation exposes many of the implications of Michele’s engagement with classics to market a Italian luxury heritage brand, specifically the promotion of nationalistic identity and the simultaneous commodification of both antiquity and alterity.

What JCU classes and/or professors impacted you the most and why?
I owe most of my classical education to the teachings and guidance of Professor Tom Govero, without whom my time at JCU would not have been the same. His insight into the ancient (and modern!) world is unparalleled and I am eternally grateful for his support at JCU, during my master’s and even now as I navigate postgrad life. I highly recommend his Greek language courses and especially the course on gender, sexuality, and eroticism in Greco-Roman literature.

You recently launched your vintage Italian clothing business Magda Violet. Was it difficult to start a business with a background in classics? What were the main challenges and rewards?
I have always tried to reconcile my interest in both classical antiquity and fashion and would argue that my keen aesthetic sense stems from my classical background. I also source the clothing for my business throughout Italy and have discovered the intricate history of ’Made in Italy’ fashion, including its connections to the Renaissance and antiquity. My M.Litt. dissertation ultimately bridges the gap between the studies of classical antiquity and fashion. Starting a business by myself has been an extremely challenging yet rewarding endeavor. It requires enormous self-discipline and consumes all of my time and energy, but I absolutely love what I do and always cherish returning to Italy.

What are your plans for the future?
I plan to continue expanding my business ( & @shopmagdaviolet on Instagram) but hope to eventually earn my Ph.D. in Classics.