Jo Conti is a costume designer, who has worked in opera, television commercials, light entertainment and drama. She is also the owner of Conti’s Ice Cream, an iconic Lampeter institution.

Conti comes from a well-known Welsh-Italian family, which originated from Bardi, about forty miles south-west of Parma. Aged only thirteen, her grandfather Artillio came to Wales to bring wood to sell to the mining industry. Originally, he and his brothers, Giacomo and Alfredo, worked for other Italians, but eventually saved up enough money to open a café in Ystradgynlais. At that time, coffee and ice cream were almost unheard of. Seeing a gap in the market, the brothers saw the potential to serve them in a café environment. The cafés were an instant success; at the high point there were seventeen Conti’s cafes across South and West Wales. The café in Lampeter opened in 1933. Jo Conti grew up in Lampeter and attended Lampeter Comprehensive School. She says, ‘The café has been a massive part of my life since I was little. I remember being nine and peering over the counter, watching my parents work. It was a great place to grow up, everyone was so friendly and my family knew everyone. It was the heart of the town.’ 

Jo Conti’s first degree was a BA in Fashion Design from Kingston University. Since then, she has taken a course in fashion illustration at Central Saint Martin’s and a degree in Media Studies from University of Wales Lampeter. Her original career was as a fashion designer and illustrator. However, having won a Welsh Designer of the Year award, she was given a runway show at the Savoy Hotel in central London. One of those who noticed her collection was Dame Sian Phillips. In consequence, Conti’s designs were used in a Welsh language detective series, Yr Heliwr (The Hunter), starring Phillip Madoc. The following year, two television producers asked Conti to design an opera series they were working on, to be filmed in Verbier, in south-western Switzerland. Since then, she has worked on a range of productions, including the Welsh soap opera, Pobol y Cwm, the children’s series Sali Mali, and commercials for Smirnoff Vodka and Bushmills Whiskey. She works regularly for the long-running BBC hospital drama, Casualty. During the summer months, she also designs for Jamie Johnson, a popular CBBC programme based on a series of books by Dan Freedman. The programme, about an aspiring young football player, has now finished its fifth series. As well as dealing with a number of difficult issues, it has featured cameos from celebrities including Gary Lineker, Jürgen Klopp and Marcus Rashford. Although she is not a football fan, Conti comments ‘I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed the experience of working on this programme.’ 

As costume designer, Conti is responsible for creating all the costumes for the actors appearing in a film or television production. She will produce the initial designs and carry the concepts through to the finished garments. She will establish the look of each character; costumes provide subtle clues about people’s lives and personalities. Despite the reverence for period costume, it can be far harder to produce contemporary dress. There are a huge wealth of potential choices and the audience are familiar with the clothing they wear themselves. It is a demanding job; days typically start early and finish late.  

Conti is also an experienced jewellery designer and book illustrator. In particular, she has illustrated Mabinogion legends: from the Red Book of Hergest, (Llanerch Press, 1992)   

Going  back to her childhood environment, Jo Conti and her son Tom took over the family business in Lampeter in 2012. By then it was the last remaining Conti’s café and one of the very few survivors of the Italian cafés founded before the Second World War. Jo and Tom have worked hard to restore the café to its former glory. It is now a thriving meeting place for the community, serving good local produce as well as Conti’s famous ice cream. In addition, there is a second Conti’s at the nearby National Trust site, Llanerchaeron. The ice cream, once only available in Lampeter and made to a closely guarded family recipe, is available in many cafés and restaurants across South and Mid Wales.  


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