Emerging by design
Next generation Italian designers
Thanks to a combination of talent, hard work and support from competitions, design schools, the national fashion chamber and even some of the big names themselves, a new wave of Italian designers is making its mark. But becoming a star and staying one is harder today than it was in the roaring 1980s and 1990s. As the fourth edition of Vogue Italia – Kering Empower Talents launched last week, K looks into the young and not too-distant firmament.
Who are some of these 'emerging' designers? Barbara Franchin, founder and director of the annual International Talent Support contest, starts with Marco de Vincenzo. She says he possesses "an excellent sense of colour and masters use of materials in a very contemporary way... He has an awareness of the beautiful, of what is interesting today."
Franchin also points out Massimo Giorgetti, founder of the MSGM label and, since 2015, creative director of Emilio Pucci. "I like Giorgetti because he is across the board, appealing to 15 year-olds and 50 year-olds alike. He is colourful, carefree, very graphic with lots of prints. He can make a very serious – yet fun – wardrobe."
The ITS director also likes Alithia Spuri-Zampetti, a past winner of one of the ITS awards, who works as a designer for Paule Ka: "She defines space through skilful use of colour – very elegant and contemporary”. Referring to the designers, she says: "All are contemporary designers but they carry with them a sense of timeless fashion”.
For Linda Loppa, director of strategy and vision of Florence-based fashion school Polimoda, names to watch out for include already-established Stella Jean, as well as Andrea Pompilio, until recently creative director of Canali, and Andrea Incontri, creative director of menswear at Tod's.
Loppa believes these designers have commercial potential. But to be real stars, "they also have to have the potential to change the fashion world," she tells K. For fashion isn't just about Italy, she continues: “We have to see if they can make it outside Italy. I want to see them in places like Dover Street Market in London and in Opening Ceremony in New York”.
While many in the industry agree a rebirth in Italian fashion is under way, opinions as to its causes vary. "I agree with the idea that there is a renaissance, although perhaps it is more of a generational change," Caterina Salvador tells K. She's women's fashion director of OVS, an Italian retailer that has held numerous collaborations with emerging talent like Matthew Williamson and Cristina Tardito (founder and designer of Kristina T).
Salvador says there is also "a phenomenon of cultural re-awakening of Milan, of which fashion is clearly a part" - something she credits also to the success of last year's universal exhibition which the city hosted. "Many new 'Milans' were created and this brought talent from outside the city, reawakening the senses.”
Retailers do their part, too, she continues: "When companies are big, like ours, they give opportunities to new talents." However, Salvador points out that emerging creative talent faces a hard road. Once out of design school, they encounter difficulties in realising their apparel designs, in getting the materials they need "and these aspects can't be separated from the talent, which has to work within the rules of the market.”
The big names of Italian fashion also lend a hand. This past January, rising star Lucio Vanotti, a minimalist, 40 year-old designer who is being touted as the new Giorgio Armani, was selected by 'King George' himself to give his first runway show, in the Teatro Armani. It's a location which has hosted other emerging designers who went on to make it big, including Stella Jean and Pompilio.
Creative talent is increasingly being boosted by competitions. As well as ITS, Who is on Next? – organised by Pitti Immagine, L'Uomo Vogue and AltaRoma – has helped designers such as De Vincenzo, Incontri, Pompilio and Giorgetti rise to the highest echelons of fashion.
But being artistic is not enough. "We don't speak about pure creativity because creativity for its own sake is not suitable to companies that need people who are also knowledgeable about communication, workmanship, raw materials," Raffaello Napoleone, chief executive of Pitti Immagine, tells K.
And making it takes lots of money and skill, “Building a global brand today, a reference point, is harder than in the past,” he says. "You have to have a very strong financial structure supporting you. The designer also has to follow the entire process: from finding the right raw materials to determining how best to display the finished product in the stores. Expectations are higher.”
This is where most emerging talent crashes. But luckily, here, too, the Italian fashion system is finding ways to help, for example through tutorships organised by fashion schools, which teach graduates the business side of the trade. "There are two moments: help them [designers] get an internship after they finish studies; then, after a few years, help them find coaching and develop a business plan," Polimoda's Loppa says. "But then they have to sell."
I agree with the idea that there is a renaissance, although perhaps it is more of a generational change.
Among the most recent initiatives are those undertaken by Pitti Immagine, which in January created a Tutorship division, and the Fashion Lab Project, a new programme announced on the last day of the June Milan fashion shows by Carlo Capasa, president of Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana.
Capasa told K that Fashion Lab – organised together with Italian bank Unicredit and department store la Rinascente – is "a sort of incubator that will help some 20 young designers with at least a couple of years of activity to their name establish themselves and their brands".
The programme, which will start with a new batch every January, seeks to guide the participants through varied stages: Camera Moda will help the designers find contacts with producers and distributors and help them tell their stories on digital platforms. Unicredit will teach designers business basics for managing their brands as well as organise meetings with potential buyers and 'investor days' to help designers meet potential investors. Rinascente will give them space to show their work and get contacts with end customers, hosting fashion shows of new designers' work once a year, in October.
The designer has to follow the entire process: from finding the right raw materials to determining how best to display the finished product in the stores.
Pitti's new division, led by Riccardo Vannetti, helps young Italian and foreign designers manage their careers as they develop their own brands or as they work for others. Services include brand development support, help in finding sourcing partners for production and consulting on commercial, promotional and communications strategy. “We can [also] help designers with the contracts they sign with producers and suppliers and in setting up co-branding initiatives," Vannetti tells us. "Furthermore we act as a sort of diplomatic translator, helping designers and companies understand each other."
In the end, though, no amount of talent can make up for lack of business skills. Stefania Saviolo, of Milan's Bocconi business university, sums it up: "Emerging designers have to be entrepreneurs as well. They have to create companies and for this creativity is not enough."
Through the Empower Talents programme, launched in 2013 in partnership with Vogue Italia, Kering is offering internships in a wide variety of functions in the luxury industry; Vogue Italia is assisting in the selection process. In 2016, Kering and Vogue Italia will renew the Empower Talents programme, looking for people with imagination, to provide them, in addition to a professional apprenticeship, an immersive relationship within Kering’s luxury brands.