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
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