MILAN, Italy — It was the power lunch to top all power lunches. Gathered in the historic Palazzo Reale, they came from every corner of the Italian fashion industry to lunch with Matteo Renzi, Italy's dynamic — and sometimes controversial — prime minister on the opening day of Milan Fashion Week.
Seated between Vogue editors Anna Wintour and Franca Sozzani, Mr Renzi seemed confident and comfortable amongst the fashion cognoscenti, having first learned about the industry during his time as mayor of Florence. "When I was a mayor, I was privileged to become familiar with the beauty of Palazzo Pitti's Sala Bianca. I remember when Beppe Modenese told me about the early fashion shows held in Italy and in Florence," he said.
In that one room were the people who drive the entire Italian fashion industry: Giorgio Armani. Donatella Versace. Brunello Cucinelli. Alberta Ferretti. Marco Bizzarri. Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri. Renzo Rosso. Stefano Sassi. Carla Sozzani. Ermenegildo Zegna. Federico Marchetti. Pietro Beccari. And scores more. (Notably absent were Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, as well Miuccia Prada, who was preparing for her tour de force show.)
Never before have I seen Italian fashion come together in this way. When Mr Renzi referred to the old-fashioned mindsets, scandals and in-fighting that have plagued Italy's government for years, he could also have been speaking about the Italian fashion system, long governed by a leadership sorely out of touch with the reality of a global, digital world. In this way, the power lunch was a remarkable show of unity, orchestrated by Carlo Capasa, the dynamic new head of the Camera Nazionale della Moda.
Right on point, Mr Renzi focused on three topics in his speech: globalisation, innovation and efficiency. "For years, Italy was scared of globalisation. In the last twenty years, we were told that globalisation was an enemy, a threat, a hurdle. You, with your companies and your experience, bear witness to the exact opposite," he said. "Globalisation is Italy's greatest potential."
"I know about the greatness and relevance of past heritage," he added. "However, what we need to do today is taking the values embedded in this heritage and translate them into our future. Fashion is all about innovation. Fashion is all about change."
Indeed, it is here where Italian fashion has the most work to do. The industry here is still plagued by a basic lack of understanding of how fashion and the digital world have collided. In my conversations with senior executives here, it was surprising just how out of touch some companies are with the new world order.
Reading the news from this week that Camera della Moda has rejected the idea of in-season fashion shows, BoF commenter Isabella Brusati wrote on Facebook: "Not surprised, Italy is the opposite of innovation and focus on the future." While some strong Italian voices like Donatella Versace and Renzo Rosso are advocating change, most of the big players here are firm on the idea of sticking to the current model, which, in my view, should and could evolve.
Still, addressing a room of people with the power to shake up the old-fashioned aspects of Italian fashion, Mr Renzi ended on a positive note: "Viva Milano! Viva Fashion! Viva Italy!"
Imran Amed, Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Enjoy our top stories for the week gone by:
Can Young Luxury Brands Bypass Wholesale?
More and more emerging fashion designers are adopting a direct-to-consumer model, wooed by the promise of higher margins and a closer relationship with the customer. Can they really do without wholesale?
India, the Fashion World’s Next Manufacturing Powerhouse?
The ‘Make in India’ campaign is raising the profile and prospects of India’s garment and textile industry.
Karl Lagerfeld on the State of Fashion: 'It's a Mess'
Backstage at Fendi, Karl Lagerfeld speaks to BoF about how direct-to-consumer strategies might co-exist with a more traditional approach to staging runway shows.
Vision Quest: 3 Technologies Shaping the Future of Fashion
How fashion companies can exploit three important innovations being talked about in tech circles from Silicon Valley to Shenzhen: messaging, 3D printing and virtual reality.
Momentum in Dubai, Middle East’s Fashion Mecca
With a new fashion council, a revamped fashion week and a growing reputation as a launch pad for big brand events, Dubai is evolving into a fully-fledged fashion capital for the Middle East and North African market.
Christopher Simmonds: 'I Think People Get the Message on Gucci Now'
The art director behind Gucci’s latest campaigns tells BoF about working with Alessandro Michele and why designers are not the only ones suffering under the current fashion system.
Back on Track in Milan
This season, Costume National, Max Mara and Pucci all delivered collections that worked.