Is the Italian fashion industry doomed?
Between Dolce & Gabbana's recent legal woes (which have led to them threatening to close their business) and the sales of major Italian brands to French or other foreign firms, it can feel like the Italian fashion scene is in a state of attrition. And whereas in New York or London there seems to be a never-ending stream of designers ready to step up to the plate, it seems more challenging to name even just a few new Italian designers. Factor in a very tough economy, and the future of the Italian fashion industry starts to look quite perilous.
But it's not all bad news. There's a new wave of Italian fashion designers who are optimistic about the future of Italy's fashion industry--a future they're actively shaping with their brands. And some of the old guard is stepping in to help: Giorgio Armani just picked new designer Stella Jean to present in his exclusive showspace this upcoming fashion week in Milan.
We picked six of our favorite up-and-coming Italian designers to get the inside scoop on what it's like to start a fashion business in Italy, how they feel the industry is changing, and what still needs to be done for young talent. These guys (and girls!) are definitely worth making time for on the fashion week schedule.
Francesca Liberatore has wanted to go into fashion design since, well, forever--with two parents who worked in the art world (both are professors at Italy's Accademia di Belle Arti, and her father is a sculptor), she grew up surrounded by creative energy.
She studied at the legendary Central Saint Martins in London, followed by stints with Jean Paul Gaultier and Viktor & Rolf--not a bad start. Liberatore briefly took over Brioni womenswear before she started teaching in fashion schools as well as launching her own line. In 2009, she won the Next Generation competition from the Camera Nazionale Moda Italiana--sort of like an Italian CFDA--which helped her show her collections in Milan, thanks to partnerships with companies like Swarovski Elements.
It's the kind of attention that should have launched Liberatore into the international eye--but she says it's difficult without the proper support. "Italian businessmen are not so curious, brave and farsighted, to look around, searching for new talent, consciously selecting them and investing in new projects," Liberatore tells me over email, adding that there's "too much politics" involved.
"I think that in Italy there are a lot of great passionate professionals in this field," she continues, "especially in know-how and creativity, but on the other side, the past generation gave too much space to connected people, mediocre [people], that brought Italian fashion into this state of 'apathy.'"
And while Liberatore thinks that the Italian fashion scene "needs a change," she's more than happy to stick around and help make a difference. "I hope I can stay here because I love my Italian background, Italy, and the way Italian people can succeed," she says.
MSGM by Massimo Giorgetti
At age 16, the ridiculously good looking Massimo Giorgetti was in his second year of accounting school--an experience he calls "a nightmare"--but spending more time with fashion magazines than math books. So when the chance to model came calling just a year later, he jumped at the opportunity and never looked back.
Through modeling, he learned sewing techniques, and settled into fashion design by age 24. After launching MSGM in 2008, none other than Vogue Italia chose the designer as a finalist for its "Who's on Next" competition in 2010; Giorgetti says he is "very grateful" to Franca Sozzani and her team for supporting young talent. Pitti Uomo also invited him to show MSGM at the most recent Pitti Italics, a program they've launched to showcase new designers.
For Giorgetti, the problem isn't a lack of creativity or resources. "Launching a new line in Italy is easier in terms of production, especially thanks to the know-how that distinguishes us," he told me. "It’s much more difficult, however, to establish it. Countries such as France and the UK are much more used to supporting young talents."
Indeed, he says that there are two sides to Italian fashion: The established designers and journalists who "don’t take young designers into consideration and they don’t help them, or motivate them," and a second, newer generation who is working hard to support new talent.
Giorgetti expressed a lot of pride in the Italian fashion community, and hopes that Italy will recognize the fashion industry as one of the "most important voices" in the economy. In the meantime, he plans to keep growing MSGM slowly to maintain its "cool look and freshness." (And trust us, it has both in spades.)
Growing up in the countryside of Milan, Andrea Incontri was awed by visits with his mother to "The City" where she would pick up clothes and textiles at high-end retailer La Rinascente. Considering his grandparents also owned a tailoring shop in Italy's fashion capital during the 1950s, a career in fashion seems like a natural step.
With a background in accessories, Incontri launched his line in 2009--his first clients were his friends. Since those early days, he's branched out to menswear, and recently he added womenswear. Incontri is proud to still be 100% independent and works only with Italian artisans.
While Incontri says it's difficult to start a fashion line with "a high quality standard" anywhere, he does agree that Italy is perhaps behind its international counterparts. "Italy is a conservative and traditional country that is often skeptical of new ideas," he tells me. "But I’m positive, something is changing."
"I see a rebirth for the beauty of pure Italian Style," he continues. "I hope to be lucky enough to be a part of this story."
Sara Battaglia grew up putting on fashion shows with her sister, sewing the clothes themselves to present to their family on Barbies. In the bio on her website, her favorite quote was something she told her father as a kid: "Daddy, I know what I want to do when I grow up. I want to be Salvador Dalì."
Battaglia may no longer work with her sister (who you may have already guessed is fashion editor Giovanna Battaglia) but she does still have a passion for art and design. After she grew bored with design school, she apprenticed with a few accessories brands before launching her own. It wasn't easy; Battaglia says when one company failed to deliver her samples on time, she had to go to the factory herself and help cut leather for the bags.
But for Battaglia, the hard work and the occasional missteps are what inspire her. "I think that with this difficult economic [environment], it is essential for the Italian fashion system to start dreaming again like in the '80s and thinking that everything is possible," she told me in an email. "We are very lucky to have fantastic craftsmanship and a great know-how, we need to use it correctly!"
She also admits that she's lucky to have great connections within the industry--having an editor-cum-street style star for a sister definitely can't hurt--who have been supportive of her. And she believes that the international fashion industry is familiar with the "quality and tradition" of Italian design. "They have to know that whatever happens we will come through with it!" she says of upcoming designers.
Battaglia shared that she hopes to expand her line beyond handbags--and considering how adorable this Vine is of her cat in one of her designs, may we suggest cat-gear to start?
Menswear designer Andrea Pompilio knew he wanted to be a fashion designer at eight years old--his grandmother owned a boutique he says he "grew up inside," and with an architect father and a mother who painted, it seems natural he would inherit a creative itch.
Pompilio only just launched his line two years ago, but he has already caught the attention of major Italian power players--namely, Giorgio Armani. He was the first designer invited by Armani to show in his theater at Via Bergognone during last month's Men's Fashion Week in Milan. "Mr. Armani's invitation came three weeks before the show, taking all of us by surprise," he says of the experience. "A very pleasant one, by the way!" Armani also sent Pompilio a personal note before the show wishing him luck.
And he's not just grateful to Armani--Pompilio says he owes a lot to the emergence of Pitti Uomo. "Pitti has been a great springboard for my brand, all the team has been really supportive," he tells me. "Pitti has definitely become one of the top trade shows worldwide over the past few years and I'm really glad I took part in this unstoppable rise."
The tatted designer believes that Italy is no different from any other country, but does feel like there's more competition. In terms of improving the lot of fledgling talent, he would change very little. "I think more could be done by established brands," he offers, "but I think we’re on the right path."
As for his own path, Pompilio presented his first women's capsule collection this past January, which he hopes to soon turn into a full women's line (um, please!).
Born an hour outside of Milan in nearby Brescia, Mauro Gasperi knew he wanted to become a fashion designer after graduating from an artistic high school. He took his talents to Florence's Polimoda, Italy's prestigious design school, before scoring jobs with companies like D&G.
In 2008, he launched his own line alongside a flagship boutique in his hometown. A year later, the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana selected Gasperi to take part in its own version of the Fashion Incubator--which he won. He used the win to show at Milan Fashion Week and take his line abroad, though he says that he wishes the Italian Fashion Incubator project was better known.
He also expressed a lot of frustration with the Italian government for not recognizing the potential impact of new fashion designers on the economy, something which he believes has placed them behind their foreign counterparts. After his Fashion Incubator win, he immediately focused his business outside the country because he felt the "Made in Italy" label was easier to sell abroad.
But Gasperi is also really optimistic about the future. "I really believe in Italian fashion," he says, "especially for the foreign market. With Valentino, Armani and so on, we have great names of designers here in Italy, so I think Italian fashion will last forever."
"I hope, step by step, to be more known and to have the chance to be always inside Milan Fashion Week on the catwalk among other young designers," he added, "and to be one of the Italian designers who can influence a woman with one of my looks." He's currently planning on enlarging his flagship store, as well as opening a second in Asia.