VICENZA, Italy — At a time when fashion brands specialising in ‘soft’ luxury have been diversifying their offerings and expanding into ‘hard’ luxury items, like jewellery — a category which has remained resilient, as the growth of other luxury categories has decelerated — it’s perhaps no coincidence that Italian fashion and luxury tycoon Matteo Marzotto has recently become the new executive chairman of Fiera di Vicenza, which stages one of the world’s top gold and jewellery fairs, VicenzaOro.
Under Mr Marzotto, the fair (the spring edition of which took place earlier this month) has sprouted a new fashion dimension, dubbed Origin Passion & Beliefs, devised in partnership with Not Just a Label, a global sales platform and community that represents more than 13,000 young fashion designers, 100 of whom were selected to participate in the event.
“Our idea at Fiera di Vicenza was simple and logical in the same time: we wanted to cross the gap between the jewellery world and the fashion industry by matching together Italian artisans and international fashion world trends,” Mr Marzotto told BoF. “We aimed to create an international hub for the best artisans and craftsmen in Italy to enable them to best promote their products — created in leather, stone, technology and textile — to the top international global accessories business buyers. Alongside, we wanted to match this agenda with a new creativity trend, which we found in the Not Just a Label global sales platform.”
Italy has a rich heritage of artisanal jewellers, going back hundreds of years, which constitutes an important part of what Mr Marzotto describes as the “well done in Italy.” (Notably, he avoids the term “Made in Italy,” which has been tainted by the growth of Chinese-run, sweatshop-like garment factories, many clustered in the Tuscan city of Prato, and legal loopholes that allow global brands that manufacture abroad to add finishing touches to their products in Italy and claim they were produced in the country).
But as the market for branded jewellery heats up, it has generally been luxury companies with highly sophisticated global marketing machines on the scale of Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton which have benefitted the most; less so Italy’s network of traditional artisans. “I believe that to build a successful network, we need to promote ourselves internationally,” explained Mr Marzotto. “Italy, itself, it's a small country and, in the worldwide global business panorama, stands more as a small district. Therefore, we will use the Fiera di Vicenza platform to promote what I describe as the ‘well done in Italy’ to face globalisation as a national team project.”
As for Not Just a Label, “Origin Passion & Beliefs was especially significant as our first offline event, marking a major step forward for the company and our community of designers,” said Stefan Siegel, who left a job in banking to launch the platform in 2007. “For the youngest members of our community, many of whom are recent graduates, Origin provided a chance to meet manufacturing contacts that are tricky for very young designers to locate on their own,” he continued. “The event gave many of them exposure to international press and buyers for the first time.”
“We decided to go because it was a chance to travel to Italy and possibly expand our production base,” said Andy Henson, founder of Sydney-based jewellery and leather accessories brand Henson, on his decision to take part in the Origin event.
“As an American independent jewellery business, I must push the need for partnership and collaboration in order to grow and now I have a platform to make those connections,” said Jules Kim, founder of jewellery brand Bijules. “Through the Origin initiative, I have been able to position Bijules in an environment surrounded by family tradition and revolving business.”
Several of the designers who attended the event found it challenging to engage with the Italian manufacturers who were present, however, not least because some of these suppliers require minimum orders that are above what most fashion start-ups can afford. But there were success stories. In particular, Artsi Ifrach, the Israeli and Moroccan designer behind the Marrakech-based brand Art/c, was personally approached by Giovanni Bonotto, whose textiles manufacturing company, Bonotto, develops fabrics used by some of the world’s top brands. (Art/c was also approached by the influential retailer Luisa Via Roma).
For many of the young designers present, it was the opportunity to connect with each other that was the most powerful part of the experience. “We met a lot of manufacturers and I'm sure some production partnerships will come out of it, but for me it was so amazing to share stories and ideas with so many people, all of whom were at similar stages [with their brands],” said Henson. “One thing that we noticed was that all the designers were so open with each other. Usually at other fairs, people are reluctant to share trade secrets, problems, good stores, showrooms, etcetera. But at Origin, there really was none of that. I think someone coined the phrase ‘fashion designer summer camp’ and that’s what it really felt like.”
Disclosure: Vikram Alexei Kansara travelled to Vicenza as a guest of Not Just a Label and Fiera di Vicenza.