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AltaRoma Wasn’t Built in a Day

Can AltaRoma help redefine the ‘eternal’ city’s role in the Italian fashion system?
Rome | Source: Shutterstock
  • Rosario Morabito

ROME, Italy — The curtains came down today on the 26th edition of AltaRomaAltaModa, Rome's fashion week. Following a political drama that threatened to put the platform in jeopardy last December, when the city's local authorities abruptly decided to withdraw financial support, the event traditionally devoted to Italian haute couture ultimately went ahead, taking place in the Zaha Hadid-designed Maxxi museum, with a schedule designed to help make the city relevant to fashion again.

Only two years ago, AltaRoma seemed to have found a working formula, capitalising on the city's heritage of craftsmanship and attracting praise from journalists like Suzy Menkes. So what happened? The answer is multifaceted. On the one hand, Rome lost its prominence in international fashion many years ago, when it failed to grasp how the haute couture market was evolving, losing some of its brightest brands (such as Valentino, which has been showing in Paris since the early 1990s). Industry insiders soon began to question the value of having more than one couture hub. And with Milan defending its position as a leading ready-to-wear destination, Rome fell into a sort of oblivion, a stage for anachronistic gowns.

Still, these gowns are beautifully made. Indeed, if there is something still powerful about Rome's fashion scene, it is the availability of expert seamstresses capable of incredible craftwork, which goes some way towards explaining why many big brands still keep their home bases here, despite showing in other cities. As well as Fendi, whose palazzo dominates Rome's retail heart, Valentino has an equally legendary headquarters near the Spanish Steps. So does Gucci (or, at least, it did under Frida Giannini).

Things began to advance about a decade ago, when AltaRoma, in partnership with Vogue Italia, put a spotlight on new talents through a scouting contest called Who Is On Next. "In recent years, Rome has become a point of reference for the new generation of designers, Italian or not, thanks to this initiative that has its foundation in Made in Italy," said Sara Maino, senior fashion editor at Vogue Italia and editor of Vogue Talents. "Who Is On Next became one of the world's most prestigious contests, launching talents like Marco De Vincenzo, Stella Jean, MSGM, Nicholas Kirkwood, Aquilano Rimondi and more."

This time around, the hot tickets were new names like Piccione.Piccione, Greta Boldini and Quattromani. There was also fresh air at the Rome Academy of Costume and Fashion graduate show, where the menswear, in particular, felt contemporary and new (like the “Lolito” collection by the promising Nicolas Martin Garcia).

Over the past ten years, AltaRoma has woven new relationships and produced new events, enriching its calendar in search of a new identity to connect the city’s heritage with contemporary fashion. Projects like Room Service, organised by former Roman model turned talent scout Simonetta Gianfelici, helped to put young designers directly in touch with buyers and private clients. Other initiatives, like A.I., Artisanal Intelligence, have focused on showing how Rome’s heritage of craftsmanship can be leveraged to meet today’s market needs.

“Right now, Rome is pretty central in Italy’s fashion geography,” says Professor Maria Luisa Frisa, a fashion critic and curator. “This is an international city where everyone is willing to come, and which welcomes you with a pretty high quality of life. It is inspirational to designers in a way that allows them to focus on creative projects surrounded by amazing tools like stunning locations, but also contemporary art galleries and museums.”

In this context, what was meant to be the end for AltaRoma might well give birth to a credible new beginning. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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