MILAN, Italy — Italian fashion is experiencing a “beautiful” moment. That’s how many insiders are describing the attention being lavished on the country’s fashion system. But this moment is happening during a period of intense change. From slowing sales and succession planning to the rise in demand for fashion immediacy, there is much for the Italian fashion industry to sort through.
That a spotlight has turned to Milan and to Italy, as a whole, can be largely attributed to the phenomenal success of Gucci, a brand that has recently emerged from years of decline to report sales growth following the appointment of chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri and creative director Alessandro Michele, who showed his latest collection in a cloud of pink smoke on Wednesday afternoon. Buyers, press and industry insiders have fallen in love with Michele’s radical new vision for the brand, a romantic and dreamy aesthetic that helped it report a sales increase of 7.4 percent in the second quarter of this year, up from 3.1 percent in the first quarter.
But the attention on Gucci has also proved to be a boon to Italy’s younger brands, which are benefitting from the renewed focus on Milan Fashion Week.
“Italy … is now at an amazing point, because we are living in a renaissance,” Massimo Giorgetti, founder of contemporary label MSGM and creative director of Pucci, told BoF. “There are a lot of opportunities. And the meaning of this period is a big deal because we are communicating the importance and value of Italy. So it’s a beautiful message, and it’s a beautiful moment.”
It is a sentiment echoed by Marco de Vincenzo, who spent more than 13 years working for Fendi before launching his eponymous label in 2009. LVMH acquired a minority stake of around 45 percent in the brand in 2014. “Something is changing. And season by season, the attention is very high,” said de Vincenzo. “Everyone is talking about Gucci and the power of this big brand under a new creative direction, and it’s important to understand [the impact that] the light on big brands has on us.”
“The energy is changing and the press are in Milan,” he continued. “They are waiting for something new, even during our fashion week. Because for a long time nobody was interested in Milan, except to watch the shows of Prada, Gucci and Fendi.”
Indeed, the two designers are part of a new generation of Italian brands with the potential to build their own businesses into Italy’s next generation of megabrands.
MSGM, which is jointly owned by Giorgetti and Italian fashion group Paoloni, said its annual turnover is around €45 million ($50 million), excluding its licensed childrenswear business. It has been reported that LVMH paid an estimated €10 million to €20 million for its minority stake in Marco de Vincenzo back in 2014. The designer revealed that his sales have tripled each year, but declined to disclose specific details.
They need to support the new generation. Because the brands that are holding up Italy right now are older. You need novelty to keep people coming.
Likewise, Florence-based luxury footwear brand Aquazzura is growing rapidly and achieving global recognition from buyers and press. Aquazzura, which has 350 stockists worldwide, including Barneys, Net-a-Porter and Matchesfashion.com, has tripled its business and production of shoes over the past two years, making it one of the fastest growing self-financed luxury footwear businesses to emerge in recent years. Market sources estimate Aquazzura's annual revenue to be over €50 million ($55.8 million), though the company declined to disclose financial figures.
The access these brands have to Italy’s unique combination of high-quality local production and artisanal skills means driving growth should be easier for native labels than for brands in other international markets like London, New York and Paris, where local luxury goods production is scarce.
But the focus on Italy comes during a a period of transformation in the wider global fashion industry, with a variety of experiments attempting to work out how to adapt to the immediacy of communication in the digital age and counterbalance the effects of a slowdown in demand from Chinese luxury shoppers.
Everyone is trying to gauge what the future of fashion will look like, says Carlo Capasa, president of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana. “In fashion, we are going through a big change. [These changes] are suggesting that we should find new ways for the future.”
But the designers who spoke to BoF for this article all agreed that there was little to no help when they first began their businesses, with support often coming from foreign press and buyers before Italian organisations began to pay attention to them.
“It’s late for us,” says de Vincenzo, speaking of the help given to emerging designers in the industry as a whole. “I’m not sure that things have changed a lot. What has changed is the mindset … the knowledge to change is important [especially in Italy] because, for 20 years, nobody even understood what the problem was.”
Edgardo Osorio and Ricardo D’Almeida Figueiredo, co-founders of Aquazzura, also say they received little help when they started their business, despite their efforts to be part of the official Milan Fashion Week calendar, which is overseen by the Camera della Moda. The brand now shows its collections in Paris rather than Milan, after being asked for €15,000 ($17,000) just to be part of Milan's activities.
“They needs to support the new,” says Osorio. “They need to support the new Dolce, the new generation. Because the brands that are holding up Italy right now are older … You need novelty to keep people coming and keep people inspired.”
“One thing that is not helping the situation at all is the Italian government, which sets the most absurd rules for hiring people. It’s next to impossible with ridiculous labour laws and the expense that comes with hiring people, with next to zero benefits or help for being a new business owner,” adds JJ Martin, who runs her own Milan-based vintage fashion e-commerce and retail business, LaDoubleJ.
“But Milan is having a renaissance,” adds Osorio. “With Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. I do believe there is a future and there is a big opportunity. I just think they need not to only cater to the megabrands.”
On Wednesday, at an opening lunch for Milan Fashion Week, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told guests in a speech that his government was ready to work on promoting and investing in fashion and its industries.
“We will do a lot and we will do it together, but what I ask you is to give us a hand to allow our country to discover a ‘Made in Italy’ that is at least as fascinating as that of your productions,” said Renzi to a crowd of international and Italian media, executives and press. “The ‘Made in Italy’ we need is the ‘Made in Italy’ made up of values, culture, ideals, passion ... those that underlie the artisans who make your extraordinary works … but also those that are at the basis of our feeling a united people.”
Capasa acknowledges the need to focus on the key issues of sustainability, emerging designers and e-commerce over the next few years, and is in the midst of executing a new strategy. “They are the most important things we want to achieve and our efforts in the future will all be related to these main projects that we have,” he tells BoF.
“Besides this, we are working with all the other fashion organisations in Italy, with the goal of trying to make a new vision of what a fashion week should be,” Capasa continues. “From one side, keeping our shows more exclusive, but also creating a more energetic atmosphere — where many other things happen and where there is more evidence of the relationship with the fashion system… This is what we want to realise for the future.”
Editor’s Note: This article was revised on 22 September, 2016. An earlier version of this article misstated the amount requested by the Camera della Moda for Milan Fashion Week.