MILAN — Italian media has been marking the one-year anniversary since the country’s first COVID-19 patient was detected last February, just as Milan Fashion Week was taking place and Giorgio Armani decided to hold his runway show behind closed doors — a bold decision that forecast what was to come.
Fast forward a year, vaccines have been approved — although the rollout is only in its initial stages here; Italy’s regions or districts are differentiated by colors from yellow to red depending on the spread of the coronavirus, and the country has gone through yet another political crisis. This has resulted in a new government and a new prime minister, Mario Draghi, succeeding Giuseppe Conte.
Draghi’s standing is seen as potentially beneficial to the country, according to the entrepreneurs and executives interviewed for this article, and, while uncertainties continue to cloud the future, there is hope in the resilience of the luxury sector and, in particular, all eyes are turned east, to Asia and the recovery of shopping trends in China in particular.
“I don’t like to express political comments, but the moment is certainly difficult, and Draghi’s expertise and stance and that of the team he has put together give me as a citizen a certain trust and confidence,” said Giorgio Armani. “Now I hope we will all work together for the good of the country and all social classes.”
The current scenario has prompted industry leaders to show unity in supporting Milan Fashion Week, which will be a digital event kicking off today and ending on March 1, closing with Valentino once again presenting in the Italian city and not in Paris. There are a number of defections, including Gucci, which is now showing according to creative director Alessandro Michele’s own sensibility, and Bottega Veneta, whose spring collection was presented in London last October. Both will present their fall 2021 collections with separate events on dates that still have to be disclosed.
Versace will present its men’s and women’s fall 2021 collection with a video to be unveiled on March 5, due to what the company defined as technical reasons. Jil Sander this season will unveil its collection in Paris on March 7. The New York and Paris calendars have gone through a number of changes, too, with several brands opting to show independently and at later dates, from Maison Margiela, and Balenciaga to Michael Kors and Tory Burch, to name a few.
Italian leaders, though, emphasized the role of a structured Milan Fashion Week. Armani, who is also the chairman of his namesake company, said he believes it is “extremely important” to be part of the fashion week schedule in order for the industry to present a united front. “The current crisis has led many to feel free to present their collections when they want, but I believe that this disruption of the calendars is a selfish choice. A fashion week, albeit virtual, is a web that includes both established and smaller brands, and it offers everyone the opportunity to present their work in the same moment. At the same time, buyers and press can carry out their own work. I am convinced we should preserve our fashion weeks.”
Relying on his “pragmatic sense,” Armani said he understands it is necessary to go digital and adapts to the situation, but noted that he prefers “a show without public, filmed and presented as such, rather than a narrative film, which is surely stimulating but also distracting, and transforms clothes into costumes.”
As reported last year, Armani reiterated his intention to limit the number of his collections “for a sustainable practice on all levels. This period has taught me how important the environment is, how much our lives depend on it and how much we must all be involved to preserve it.”
While further consolidating his digital projects, the designer is planning a number of openings this year, which include a new Giorgio Armani boutique in Sardinia’s luxury resort Porto Cervo and in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan; an Armani Casa unit in Miami’s Design District; an Emporio Armani banner in Dalian, China, and an A|X Armani Exchange store at American Dream in East Rutherford, N.J. The company is also planning to remodel the Giorgio Armani boutique in Paris’ Avenue Montaigne; an Emporio Armani store in Barcelona, and A|X units in Las Vegas and at the Aventura Mall in Miami.
Carlo Mazzi, chairman of Prada Group, also spoke of sustainability. “I have always promoted sustainability, even when it was not in fashion,” said Mazzi, who has passed on some of his responsibilities regarding the initiatives linked to protecting the environment to Lorenzo Bertelli, head of marketing and CSR at the group. However, Mazzi continues to be highly involved in this issue and is masterminding the next “Shaping a Future” conference.
“The idea was to hold it in China, but because of the travel restrictions, we are looking at staging it physically in Europe in November,” he revealed. Sustainability has a strategic role as a cultural lever to develop multilateral relationships and agreements, Mazzi believes. Last September, Prada Group held the “Shaping a Sustainable Multilateralism” conference at Ca’ Corner della Regina in Venice, one of the Fondazione Prada’s headquarters,.
While pointing to the general, global uncertainties caused by the impact of the pandemic and the rollout of the vaccines, Mazzi said “the main concern continues to be connected to the lockdown and to the potential closure of stores and when they will reopen in certain areas. We’ve seen customers return to shopping at the same pace as before the pandemic, and this is not only limited to China. Certainly, there is the lack of tourism to take into account.” The retail channel accounts for around 90 percent of the group’s total sales. Prada has consistently downsized its wholesale business for stricter control and the protection of brand positioning.
As reported in January, Prada reported a progressive recovery in all geographic areas, and the Asia-Pacific region in particular reported a strong performance as China showed 52 percent growth in the second half of last year.
During a Zoom conference call from Brunello Cucinelli’s headquarters in Solomeo on Tuesday, the namesake entrepreneur and Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian Camera della Moda, also touted the need to join forces. Capasa praised Valentino for choosing to adhere to Milan’s calendar and said Versace’s decision to push back its show was linked to the availability of the models selected — an issue that becomes less than secondary when producing filmed content.
Capasa said the fashion association next week will present a plan to the Italian government requesting specific measures and strategies to help the industry as part of the COVID-19 Recovery Fund, focused on digitalization, internationalization and training.
Cucinelli said he believes the arrival of Draghi and the values he embodies will mark a return to “a moral and civil rebirth,” and that younger generations will once again be attracted to politics after years of disaffection.
Fendi is thinking of the future and is entering a new phase of the brand’s history, underscored chairman and CEO Serge Brunschwig. In November, he laid the foundation stone of a new factory in Tuscany’s Bagno a Ripoli, outside Florence, which is expected to open in 2022 and allow the Rome-based company to further develop and produce its leather goods category, and serve as a training center.
Kim Jones, named Fendi’s artistic director of haute couture, ready-to-wear and fur collections for women last September, will present his first rtw collection in Milan today, and Brunschwig underscored the importance of being part of the Milan Fashion Week calendar. “We are lucky we are in a business where we can work if not normally, at least with all the precautions necessary, and there’s no reason to stop. It’s key to support Milan and so many people will be watching [digitally]. I respect all opinions but I don’t’ understand the choice to show outside a fashion week, it’s bizarre. We must join forces all together,” he said.
The company is working on a number of retail projects, including a new flagship in New York in the Fuller Building between 57th Street and Madison Avenue, opening in July, moving from a previous space on the opposite side of the street. “It’s a beautiful Art Deco storied building from the 1920s. I am very proud of this store,” Brunschwig said. Asked about the concept, he said it was going to be “a surprise,” defining it “a beautiful stage for Kim’s collections.”
Salvatore Ferragamo also continues to support Milan Fashion Week, defined as “a point of reference, an institutional moment that shines a light on luxury and the fashion sector,” said CEO Micaela le Divelec Lemmi. The Florence-based company is planning to present its coed collection on Feb. 27, a pre-recorded video juxtaposing images of the show with views of different locations. The executive revealed that Ferragamo’s longstanding link to the film industry continues, as the company is working with Wim Wenders on a campaign to promote the fall collection. For spring 2021, Ferragamo worked with Luca Guadagnino, as reported.
“Who would have thought a year ago that there would still be all this uncertainty.…We all share a common desire to come out of this situation, so there is positive energy to this end,” observed le Divelec Lemmi. “This is a moment to experiment, to do research, to keep our eyes open and not only be reactive but proactive.” She also expressed her confidence in Draghi. “His reputation is flawless and he is well respected. I hope he will be supported, so that he can realize all that he has in mind to do.”
The Asian continent accounts for more than 50 percent of Ferragamo’s total revenues and the brand’s retail channel in China in the last quarter was up 33.9 percent at constant exchange rates. “Consumer spending in China is growing significantly,” remarked the executive, citing several initiatives to target local shoppers. The pandemic has changed our habits and lifestyle, she continued, and luxury companies have to be attuned to these changes, even more so to target a younger generation of customers, who “are approaching luxury very quickly.” A new Canton Road store opened in Hong Kong earlier this month and five openings are scheduled for 2021.
In the last quarter of 2020, Ferragamo’s e-commerce channel registered strong growth, up 61.1 percent at constant exchange rates. The company has been increasingly investing in its digital platform, communication and its omnichannel service, and le Divelec Lemmi said the results increased in the second half of 2020.
She said she was reviewing the brand’s communication “more as a conversation with customers and less monolithic, top down.”
The company will inaugurate an exhibition on silk at the Ferragamo museum in Florence at the end of March, launching a number of silk products and a new line of fragrances, “Storie di Seta [silk stories],” available exclusively at Ferragamo stores.
Moschino’s strength in China also helped Aeffe’s performance last year and the brand’s parent company is rolling out Moschino duty-free shops in China to leverage the brand’s appeal in the country. The Italian group, listed on the STAR segment of the Italian Bourse, controls the Alberta Ferretti, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini, Moschino and Pollini brands.
Aeffe has opened a Moschino duty-free shop in Sanya on the island of Hainan with its local partner and is planning an additional one in the same city over the next few weeks. By the end of 2021, three more Moschino duty-free stores will open in China, said Massimo Ferretti, executive chairman of Aeffe, noting also solid business on Tmall.
Echoing his peers, Ferretti believes it is “absolutely fundamental” to be part of the official fashion weeks, “first of all to avoid disorienting buyers in a moment that is unfortunately still difficult due to the pandemic.” In addition to the group’s own digital platforms, “with the Camera [della Moda] we can benefit from an enormous visibility that derives from the digital platform reinforced with the partnership with Tencent in Asia, already in its second edition.”
Given the ongoing lockdowns, Aeffe is focusing on strengthening its e-commerce and omnichannel services.
Ferretti sees new opportunities ahead for the country. “The hope is that Draghi will lead us out of the pandemic, in a perspective of growth and modernization, but for this to take place it’s necessary to have the support of all political parties. I really hope the sense of responsibility will prevail.”
Francesco Freschi, general manager of Etro, also gave Draghi his vote of confidence. “He can be the right person to relaunch the economy and to respond to the needs of our country,” he remarked.
Freschi admitted the year is “still complicated,” and that Etro continues to invest in its online channel to improve customer experience. Like its peers, Etro is targeting Asia, where it sees a strong recovery. In particular, the Milan-based company took control of its South Korean business last month and opened a subsidiary in Seoul, said Freschi.
The Italian luxury house entered the country in 1993 through local partner Duo Trading. The new subsidiary is meant to strengthen the brand’s direct control on its business, particularly its retail operations, and “points to Etro’s interest in this strategic market, which is fundamental for the whole Asia Pacific region,” he observed.
Etro has 23 monobrand stores in South Korea, including units in Seoul, Busan, Gyeonggi, Daegu, Gwangju, Changwon, Ulsan and Cheongju.