Italian Luxury Brands Offer a Helping Hand

Against Italy’s gloomy economic backdrop, several Italian luxury brands are dedicating resources to restore monuments, preserve the country’s cultural heritage and offer social support.

Diego and Andrea della Valle at Rome's Coliseum | Source: Tod's

ROME, Italy — With Italy in a state of recession that’s likely to persist through the end of the year, a number of Italian luxury brands are stepping forward to restore monuments, jumpstart local economies and help furnish the country’s public spaces with contemporary art.

Diego della Valle, founder and chief executive of Tod’s, has often said that it’s the duty of Italy’s business leaders to do their part to preserve the country’s national treasures, many of which have suffered disrepair and dilapidation due to tight budgets. Making good on his call to action, Mr della Valle is footing the €25 million (about $33 million at current exchange rates) bill for the much-needed restoration of Rome’s iconic Coliseum, expected to take two and a half years to complete.

“I hope that this sponsorship will stimulate tourism towards our country, creating employment opportunities in a sector where we surely are undisputed world leaders,” said della Valle, adding that the move would “strengthen our culture abroad.” Although the project has been delayed by a legal dispute, Tod’s is “confident” that the project will commence shortly, said a spokesperson.

Earlier this year, Fendi, which launched in Rome in 1925 as a fur and leather merchant, donated €2.1 million to the Italian capital to restore the Trevi Fountain, as well as other noted fountains around the city. The “Fendi for Fountains” project will include an exhibition of rare images of the fountain and a coffee table book of photographs by Fendi’s creative director, Karl Lagerfeld. “It is our duty to pay tribute to the city of Rome, which has given so much to us, it is part of Fendi’s creative heritage,” said Silvia Venturini Fendi.

As well as restoring historical monuments, fashion companies like Trussardi are also celebrating and enlivening Italy’s numerous public spaces with innovative exhibits of contemporary art. “We invented an itinerant institution that would take art directly onto the streets, into the public squares, and all the most beautiful spots in our city, Milan, forgotten landmarks and amazing places that have remained inaccessible for far too long,” said Beatrice Trussardi, president and chief executive of Trussardi Group and Fondazione Trussardi, the Italian company’s not-for-profit art foundation, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary at the Venice Biennale.

“The foundation works on the creation of temporary events to demonstrate that art can give a new identity and international visibility to the city,” Trussardi continued. Indeed, the institution hosts twice-yearly, site-specific exhibitions in historical buildings and spaces in Milan, such as the Palazzo Litta, Palazzo Dugnani and Palazzo Citterio.

Fondazione Prada, a foundation co-chaired by Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli, and dedicated to supporting contemporary art and culture, has also helped to maintain and enliven Italy’s historic buildings. Indeed, the foundation has embarked on a multi-year restoration project that will turn Venice’s waterfront palazzo, the ornately decorated Ca’ Corner della Regina, into a new exhibition space. It also plans to unveil a re-designed exhibition space in Milan in 2015.

Italian fashion labels are directly addressing the hardships of ordinary Italian citizens who have been hard-hit by the economic recession as well. Renzo Rosso, chief executive of the holding company OTB (Only The Brave), which owns Diesel, Maison Martin Margiela, Marni and Viktor & Rolf, has been a longstanding proponent of direct aid.

Rosso established the OTB Foundation four years ago as a microcredit not-for-profit group aimed at supporting people, both in Africa and, here, in his native Italy, specifically in the Emilia-Romagna region. To date, 10 percent of the money invested in the foundation, exceeding €1.1 million since its inception, has gone towards helping Italian families either find work or build small businesses.

“My father educated me to be nice with people in general and help people in general. I’ve done [this] all my life, but without showing myself. But one day I met his highness the Dalai Lama and he pushed me and convinced me to do something more visible. ‘Renzo’, he said, ‘use your name and your brand name too, because thanks to your visibility, you can inspire people to follow,’” explained Rosso, in a video on the OTB Foundation website.

Similarly, in April, della Valle, a native of Italy’s coastal Marche region, pledged to donate one percent of Tod’s annual net profits, or about €2 million for 2012, to kickstart a grassroots recovery in Italy. Although the precise administration of the funds has not yet been determined, della Valle has indicated that the majority of the money will go towards helping young people find gainful employment and other demographics in need, like the elderly.