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A new energy and renewed pride in Italy’s creativity and talent are helping to boost the country, which is finally showing signs of economic recovery after almost eight years of recession. Italy is also finding its political voice in Europe — a continent in the midst of economic and cultural upheaval as the euro zone battles slow growth, political divisions and the tragedy of how to deal with thousands of migrants fleeing war-torn countries. A weaker euro is increasing tourist flows to Italy, especially from Asia and the U.S., spurring new investment in infrastructure and providing a shot in the arm to the nation’s fashion industry, which also is seeing a shift as a new generation of designers comes to the fore.

“The mood and spirit have changed in Italy,” Brunello Cucinelli told WWD. “There is really a rebirth taking place, from the moral, the civil, the spiritual, the religious, and economic point of view, too. It’s a very good time and momentum for Italy.”

This story first appeared in the February 17, 2016 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The intensity of the changes and the creative vitality have some describing the mood as a new “Rinascimento,” or Renaissance. Italy’s 15th-century “Rinascimento” ushered in the early modern Europe, leaving behind the vestiges of medieval times and the Dark Ages.

Whether the new mood represents such a dramatic transformation remains to be seen. But the “Rinascimento” is constantly referenced by the newly upbeat Italians who point to the nation’s craftsmanship and quality as well as its ongoing investment in technology and innovation. The creative rebirth is not limited to fashion, observers say, but expands to other industries such as food, autos and design. Many point to Milan as the cradle of the country’s New Revival, spurred by the city’s position as one of the world’s leading design and business hubs and last year’s international Expo, which drew 21 million visitors over six months.

WWD polled designers, executives and entrepreneurs about the nation’s new mood, asking the question: Is Italy seeing a creative resurgence?

 

Karl Lagerfeld
“The mood is better. Italian designers have their studios in Italy. I am also an Italian designer — ha–ha-ha — and Fendi is working better now than ever. The energy is great, whereas in Paris, people now hesitate to come. Soon we can do couture in Italy. Versace, Valentino and Armani — some of the most important couture houses — are Italian. I hope we don’t have to, but something has to be done to stimulate the French fashion energy and give people who come to the shows a feeling of security.”

Giorgio Armani
“Italy is in the midst of an evident creative renaissance, and Milan is its lead. For a few years, the city has never been so energetic and full of ideas as it is now and I see it every day: areas buzzing with activity, exhibitions that draw large numbers of visitors, a sense of fluent communication among different sectors. Expo 2015 has undoubtedly [focused] attention, revitalizing energies and the creative imagination, uncovering a silent force and especially a confidence in those that have the desire to do something and take action. Also, in fashion we see a definite generational turnover. With my initiative supporting the new wave of designers, I have had the opportunity to have the pulse on the situation and I can say this is very much happening. There are many designers with a clear vision that are very determined. The new creativity is here to stay.”

Consuelo Castiglioni, Marni
“I believe there are many new and young voices in the Italian fashion and design scene. Strong voices that still have much to say. I feel around me the desire to start to take risks again and explore new possibilities: the result is a creative mood that is extremely stimulating.”

Massimo Giorgetti
“For a few seasons now, Milan and Italian fashion are living a moment of interesting creativity. Compared to a few years ago, during the shows one feels an atmosphere that speaks of creativity; fashion seems once again to spark the interest of people and all this is reflected on the city. This not only because some of the historical brands have changed their creative directors, bringing a new [life to] all its system, but also because several young designers are growing their brands.”

Veronica Etro
“After a period of mass globalization, one strongly feels a return to creating emotions in the consumer — special pieces, with attention to quality and craftsmanship, typical of Made in Italy.”

Arthur Arbesser
“I believe Milan, and especially Italy, have always had exceptional creative talents, in the past naturally, as much as today. I think that at one point that the creatives themselves were too critical of their work and that this led to self-disrespect. Today, thanks to a renewed confidence, the designers’ new self-esteem, one feels a new atmosphere that spurs talk of the Renaissance of Italian fashion.”

Remo Ruffini, Chairman and ceo, Moncler
“In Italy, after three difficult years, we see positive signals, mainly in those sectors where our country excels. One of our jewels is surely fashion, which is going through a phase of profound rebirth from a design and creative point of view. But not only…we are living [in] a new phase in food and design, with Milan ahead as the creative and manufacturing capital of our country. This is a sign that Italy is recovering confidence. I believe this is the key word for a pickup in the next years. Ours is a country of great excellence, of creativity and full of the desire to take action. I am very confident that Italy will restart with more strength than before and return to be a leader of international markets.”

Jeremy Scott
“Obviously there’s a new Italian renaissance in fashion for a few seasons…exactly from when I arrived there at Moschino!!!”

Federico Marchetti, Ceo, Yoox Net-a-porter Group
“There are new forces at play. The world has always appreciated Italy for its culture, art, fashion and lifestyle. Now Italy is joining forces with the U.K. as Yoox Net-A-Porter Group to lead retail’s renaissance and luxury e-commerce.”

Umberto Angeloni, Chairman and ceo, Raffaele Caruso SpA
“Creativity is about artistic vision, crafting vigor and exuberant vitality: all natural traits of Italians. During the past 20 years, however, such drives had been frustrated by the recession, forcing many young talents to emigrate. Recently, the trend has been reversed and we are now witnessing a revival of inventiveness, innovation and investments. At Caruso, this is part of our philosophy, as 5 percent of our human talent is engaged full-time in R&D, constantly experimenting with shapes, materials and technology.”

Lapo Elkann, Chairman and founder, Garage Italia Customs and Italia Independent Group
“There is a new Renaissance. As for the first Renaissance, it also has to do with a response to a period of crisis and flattening of ideas. Today, we have once again a very important desire to reclaim the pride of being Italian and of proving to everyone that ‘Italians do it better.’ I strongly believe in my country, in the strength and courage of many Italian creative entrepreneurs who, like myself, are fighting and investing to achieve projects designed to give new luster to Italy in front of the whole world. I do it daily, with Garage Italia Customs and Italia Independent Group, where the name Italia is as strong as my beliefs.”

Renzo Rosso, Founder and president, OTB
“There is no doubt that Italy is turning around. The tip of the iceberg in terms of visibility was the Expo in Milan last year, which has really been the celebration of a special moment, where many joined forces in support of the Italian fashion industry and more, in general, of creativity. Milan Fashion Week is the symbol of this renaissance. From one year to the next, the number of shows has increased almost 50 percent. The services offered by the Italian Chamber of Fashion have markedly improved. With my company, I believe in it and I brought the Diesel Black Gold line for men and women back to Milan, which we had launched in New York. There is still a lot to do, first and foremost to support Italian artisans, whom everyone wants and that we don’t support enough. And the small- and medium-sized companies in fashion that are the real backbone of the sector. There is still a lot to do to support young creative talents. They are the future of this sector, without them there will be no real renewal and we must support them. So the Renaissance has started, but there is a lot to do. Let’s not stop here, and let’s aim for the stars.”

Dan and Dean Caten, Dsquared2
“Yes, we really believe this to be true. You can sense it, it’s like there’s magic stirring in factories and textile manufacturers, and in the creative studios, there’s new energy and an urgency to create. People are searching for things that make them dream, dream and dream. Something that they fall in love with, connect to — and who better to do that than the Italians?”

Carlo Capasa, President and ceo, Italian Chamber of Fashion
“There is a desire for positive energy, to recover values and Italy’s skills in creating beauty in a modern and innovative way. Italians have always worked well under pressure and maintained, even in difficult times, a desire to do well. There is a great rebirth in creativity in many industries in addition to fashion, including food and wine, too.”

Tiziana Cardini, Fashion director, La Rinascente
“I think we can undoubtedly speak of a moment of greater energy of the Italian fashion system. Creatively, a new wave of talent is maturing, not only in terms of style vision but in terms of awareness and commercial consistency. Young Italian designers succeed in marrying creativity with attention to product and quality — it’s part of our culture to have a natural understanding of the importance of a perfect execution. This attitude is integrated naturally in the creative process: our artisans are the best in the world, always ready to find solutions to problems and the most complex requests. We are fortunate we have strong technical creativity in support of the creative ideas and vision: the Italian industrial weave is unique in the world. At this moment, the global fashion system seems to request necessary changes — it’s an opportunity that I am sure Italian companies and our designers will catch and that they will know how to respond to the challenge in an excellent way.”

Ken Downing, Senior vice president and creative director, Neiman Marcus
“There is a renewed energy in Milan. The excitement surrounding Alessandro Michele at Gucci and his eclectic, eccentric romanticism is contagious, energizing the entire Milan fashion market. The stunning gift of the Fondazione Prada to the city has brought an electricity to the art scene and an entirely new sense of discovery and inspiration.”

Scott Tepper, Fashion buying and merchandising director, Liberty
“Alessandro Michele’s work at Gucci has given Milan a terrific and needed jolt of electricity, and raised the bar for creativity and passion that Milan was famous for. We are very happy at Liberty with the growth we are seeing in the Italian ‘new guard.’ Marco de Vincenzo, MSGM and No. 21 are all great and growing businesses for us, and we are giving a bigger focus for fall to the longstanding Italian brands that are like family to our customers such as Etro, Marni and Piazza. We have already picked up Pucci for fall, Massimo is doing fantastic things there. We are creating a new environment this fall on the designer floor for our largest Italian brands to sit together in a renovated space to show them off in a more impactful way. As a fashion week, it is still tough, though, to commit the time; Liberty has not attended MFW for several seasons. We thought this should be the time to go back, however, when we looked at the schedule it is still so spread out over so many days we would have had large blocks of time without enough to do to justify being away from the store, so our team will stay in London and watch online.”

Lorenzo Serafini
“Milan is undoubtedly living a new generally creative moment and in particular in fashion. Near big institutional names that have made Made in Italy famous, there is a consolidated new generation of designers with their specific points of view, recognized and appreciated by buyers and press. In them, there is the same typically Italian peculiarity of their predecessors: it’s a silent revolution, but extremely concrete in content and in the fashion they offer. This is often set in motion by creative talents formed in successful companies that combine creativity with market needs. For this reason, this is a moment of not only creative but also economic renaissance.”

Anita Barr, Group fashion director, Harvey Nichols
“There’s been an undercurrent in Milan for the last three or four seasons with the energy building each season. I think the catalyst for this shift has been the investment in the next generation of designers. Through programs like the Prada Foundation, Armani Foundation and Valentino academy, we are see big investment in the designers of tomorrow. Alessandro Michele of Gucci and Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino are great examples of the younger generation coming through the design houses, rejuvenating these heritage brands and making Milan Fashion Week relevant again. At Harvey Nichols, the reaction we’ve seen has been phenomenal, and for fall we’ll invest heavily in Italian brands across the business to celebrate this exciting time for Italian design.”

Trey Laird, ceo and chief creative officer, Laird & Partners
“There’s the Gucci reinvention and the resurgence it resurrected. I think for a while, it did seem like the creative energy was in a different place. Paris has been the center of creative energy for the last several years, and New York has had its moments. Italy was so dominant a decade ago with Prada, and certainly in the Eighties, when Armani and Versace and Ferré and other big Italian power brands of the time, and Milan and Italy and Made in Italy, was such a dominant thing. It got a little bit sleepy for a while. With the rise of Prada a decade ago, it had this big resurgence. I do feel like there’s something going on there. There’s always been this innovative spirit. Because they’re so closely tied to where things are actually made, whether it’s a shoe or a bag or garments, there’s something about having that creativity to the actual craft of things that gives you a shot in the arm from an innovation point of view. If you’re a New York designer, you dream up something you want to do and send it off to Italy, and go to Italy and work with a factory there, and wait to get it back — it sort of becomes an arms’-length thing. If you’re there, there’s something immediate about it and the possibilities are very inspiring for designers and what they can create. When I think about the Renaissance that’s happened at Valentino and what the two of them have brought, the capabilities of that place and the resources they have, you have to have amazing creative ideas and you also have to be able to bring them to life. Italy is the place where, when those two things come together, something magical happens. When I think about Valentino, and Gucci, and that miraculous resurgence this past year, and Prada’s continued dominance, I do think there’s something. Even beyond fashion, this Expo that happened last year and the spotlight on Italy, and the opening of the Prada Foundation last year brought another spotlight. It just seems like it’s really a great time creatively in Italy and several things are setting the tone. Paris has set the tone the last several years, but it seems like it’s maybe shifted a bit.”

Antonio Marras
“‘Energy for Life,’ — this is what really determines true change, because it’s a concept that works on disposition, behavior, relation to the world. And perhaps this relates to the facts that have determined the umpteenth change in Milan. Change in the sense of Renaissance. These are the passions for an experimental space, a laboratory that questions traditional shapes through a process of new concepts that trace a renewal. The energies that animate the subjects of a new production, a necessary prerequisite of any reality that truly wants to change, have finally emerged. So, at the basis of the rebirth of Milan, there is the rebirth of aggregation and hospitality, the ability to welcome ideas, people, cultural movements, streams of ideas and know-how coming from any part of the world in one’s own territory.”

Donatella Versace
“I am proud to be the artistic director of an Italian brand with a global reach. I believe Italians have creative ability in our DNA, and I think we use our creativity to create desire. It is for this reason that Italian fashion leads the world. Milan is once again a leader in innovation, and in fashion made with genuine craftsmanship . . . . A new renaissance? Absolutely! Just wait for my next show!”

François-Henri Pinault, Chairman and chief executive officer, Kering
“There is definitely a new creative energy in Milan today and the reinvention of Gucci has surely been something of a catalyst for that. Even if Alessandro [Michele] has been with Gucci for over 12 years, it was only last year that he has appeared on the creative map, with his fresh perspective on fashion and his new creative vision for Gucci. This has, I believe, helped establish a revived momentum for Milan Fashion Week and Italian creativity. ¶ Other important events and occasions have also contributed to the resurgence: Last year’s Milan World Expo certainly brought a boost to Italy and to Milan as the Italian capital of design; the arrival of Carlo Capasa as the president of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana will have an impact, as he is such a strong supporter of emerging Italian design talent. You can see this in the arrival of new young designers on the scene. The opening of the impressive new Prada Foundation may also have played a part.”

Alberta Ferretti
“It’s pointless to deny that we are going through a new creative spring in Italy that involves all spheres of creativity, from fashion to culture, from art to cuisine, and that, soon, I am certain, will break into tourism. It’s a rebirth that I feel is far from the individualism of the past and that engages everyone. Italy, and Milan especially, are finally recovering the central position that they deserve in the world. The city is taking a new leap, not only but also thanks to the Expo, and has many expectations for the future, and this strengthened the production and enlightened identity that has always distinguished it, giving us all a renewed energy to work better and more. ¶ With the enthusiasm and the practical intelligence of us Italians we are realizing that the eyes of the world are once again turned with trust on us, our talent and our artisanal and artistic patrimony, and that this opportunity absolutely must not be underestimated or lost.”

Brunello Cucinelli
“I am firmly convinced that a golden century awaits us and that the seeds of a new Renaissance are already in bud. The new ‘people’ that are opening to the world are changing mankind and we perceive that they are fascinated by our products, our creativity, beauty, culture and the uniqueness of our lifestyle. I believe that our esteemed Italy is the heart of this ‘new order,’ because we know how to offer special products, highly crafted and handmade while at the same time contemporary, creative and innovative. Hence, today we see the world change, open up and become increasingly closer, thanks to the Internet, which I see as perhaps the biggest innovation of the century. Young people appear once again more in touch with reality and the future.”

Nicole Fischelis, Group vice president and fashion director, Macy’s Inc.
“It’s been happening for about three or four years, the renewed creative energy. I’m very into it because of my work, because I forecast for Macy’s. There’s a whole group of not just rising designers, but established new designers who are part of the Milan scene. People like No. 21; Fausto Puglisi of Ungaro; Francesco Scognamiglio, Marco De Vincenzo, Gabriele Colangelo, Aquilano Rimondi and Arthur Arbesser. Everybody’s talking about them. There’s also the very trendy Stella Jean, MSGN, Dsquared2, Au Jour Le Jour. Alessandro Michele was in the shadow of the other designers. Now, he’s an individual talent and questioning the reason to do a show on the runway. He’s really major. Bergdorf Goodman devoted windows in the women’s and men’s stores to Michele’s Gucci installations during fashion week.

I went to the Prada Foundation last season. It’s also bringing interest to the city of Milan. The art scene in general had a burst of energy with a Missoni art retrospective. The shopping thoroughfare Via Della Spiga has held art and photography exhibitions along the street. There’s a revamp of the famous Galleria and there’s the Excelsior Milano, a multibrand store designed by Jean Nouvel and Vincenzo de Coutiis. It’s very trendy and directional. There’s also lots of very interesting vintage stores.”
Charles DeCaro, Cocreative director, Laspata DeCaro
“The most exciting collections, quite truthfully, are coming out of Italy. The new Gucci collection continues to inspire and reinvent itself, Dolce [& Gabbana]’s looking amazing. For some reason, the [Italian] clothing is looking more wearable, yet not outlandishly so; it’s beautifully tailored, it pushes the limits, but it doesn’t push it to the point where you’d say, ‘What the hell were they thinking?’ It seems very fresh and energized and from a collections’ standpoint, we look toward Italy now more than Paris. When you see some of the European collections, they’re so ahead of everything, and Paris was always the standard bearer. I’ve found now there’s more of a freshness and more whimsy and more interest coming from the Italian designers. Valentino shows in Paris but it’s an Italian designer. That Italian sensibility, they’ve finally tapped into their soul and it’s evident in the collections.”

Brigitte Niedermair, Artist and photographer
“It used to be that if you wanted to be an artist in Italy, you had to leave and go elsewhere. Italy isn’t as close-minded as it once was. People have the chance to move on and move up. There is a lot of energy and drive to beat this negative attitude that the country has been mired in for the last few years. I don’t know if I would call it a renaissance, but I have definitely noticed a renewed spirit in the art and fashion sectors that is encouraging.”

Davide Oldani, Chef and creator, CucinaPop
“There is a creative renaissance going on and I think it has more to do with fueling growth in this country rather than shock and awe. I see a lot of curiosity in all sectors and an overall drive to create and push projects forward that are linked to innovation, as well as tradition.”

Marco Balich, Creative director, producer of events (opening and closing ceremonies of the Torino 2006 Olympic Games and the Rio 2016 Games; creative mind behind the Italy pavilion of the 2015 Expo)
“Italy remains the artisanal workshop where technical know-how mingles with an artistic and humanistic sensibility. Everything that resonates from the Renaissance of the 14th century with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, that came from Galileo Galilei and Caravaggio in the 15th century and from Vivaldi and Canova in the 17th and more…still resonate today. In Italy, especially in Milan, there is a renaissance going on that has been highlighted by international media. What’s interesting is to see how the young generation is taking advantage of this patrimony and is working on their own new concept of the workshop. They are implementing this philosophy into other sectors.”

Helen Nonini, Brand strategist
“In the phrase ‘homo faber ipsius fortunae’ (‘Man is the maker of his own fortunes’) we find the essence of the Renaissance and the core of the individual and social movement that is currently under way in Italy. It’s the reconstruction of one’s place in the grand scheme of things and involves evaluating one’s assets and stripping away paradigms in order to create a new role on the global playing field.”

Nina Yashar, Gallerist, Nilufar
“Today in Italy, there are a lot of designers, many of them young, who have new ideas, big projects and have will and lots of energy. They are looking for individuals who believe in them and who can make these ideas a reality but they struggle to find the path that will allow them to emerge and showcase the fruit of their work and their ideas. For this, I think research and the development of new ideas and new designer projects is fundamental for the design sector. I think that there is a creative renaissance under way in all areas: art, fashion and design, and in the latter, there is a lot of unexpressed potential.”

Matteo Lunelli, President, Ferrari Prosecco and Fratelli Lunelli Group
“I am convinced that there is a creative rebirth going on because we are living in an economy that can be defined as ‘from emotion to experiences’ in which high-end Italian products are distinguishing themselves on the global stage for their evocative value. I travel all over the world to talk about Ferrari and other wines in the Lunelli Group, and there is a great interest in what I define as ‘The Art of Italian Living.'”

Gaetano Sallorenzo, chief executive officer, Les Copains

“We are undoubtedly seeing a rebirth of creativity in Italy. I am not only talking about our sector, but in general for different segments, from design to furniture and food. I think that what characterizes us the most, compared with other countries, is the strong link between creativity and the industry, with know-how: a creativity that can be transformed into a business opportunity. You can see this strong link also in the way the new creative talents work with materials, how they combine them, a phenomenon that would not be possible if this link did not exist. I think a new frontier in our sector is precisely that Italy knows how to create new materials and work them in innovative ways.”

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