Francesco Ragazzi at Istituto Marangoni.

MILAN “I am you 12 years ago,” said Palm Angels founder Francesco Ragazzi to about 200 students of the Istituto Marangoni fashion school gathered here Thursday.

Held at the school’s San Babila central location, the encounter was part of lstituto Marangoni’s ongoing “In conversation with” format, where industry’s professionals are invited to share their experience with students.

Ragazzi proved to be a generous and candid guest, charming a curious audience with anecdotes about his beginnings and suggestions to make it in the industry. As reported, according to global fashion search platform Lyst, Palm Angels, controlled by Italy’s New Guards Group, is the new Italian brand most searched online, followed by GCDS and Chiara Ferragni Collection.

Ragazzi revealed the brand will make its return to the Milan Fashion Week schedule, after it decamped to New York to stage a coed show in February. The label’s upcoming men’s collection will be presented in Milan on June 16, while Ragazzi plans to continue to showcase women’s wear in New York as he wants “the brand to be global and have an American appeal.”

He also teased future collaborations that might extend to categories other than fashion. “I dream of building a lifestyle,” said Ragazzi, mentioning Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger as among his idols. “I would like to do what they have done in a 2.0 version,” he continued, adding that future projects might evolve toward the “hospitality, entertainment and experience” areas.

In general, Ragazzi said his favorite designers include Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada, as well as a range of lesser-known Japanese brands. Among the industry’s personalities who forged his career, Ragazzi also repeatedly mentioned Remo Ruffini, as he worked for Moncler for nine years before being tapped as one of the guest designers of the Moncler Genius project.

“Imagine finishing school, getting in a company as an intern — a job that I didn’t like — and 10 years later having your own collection and your brand’s name next to [the name of] the company you worked for,” said Ragazzi, defining the collaboration as “a pivotal moment in my career, an honor and one of my proudest moments.”

“[Partnering with] Moncler made sense because it was part of my life and I like collaborations to be personal,” he said, admitting that “collaborations are important but today there are too many and many that are too wrong because they feel forced as the brands involved are [not aligned].”

Ragazzi landed an internship in the press office of the company, after graduating in fashion communication at Milan’s IED Istituto Europeo di Design school.

“To be honest, I’ve always wanted to be a photographer…I’ve also failed the first year [at IED] so there’s hope for everyone,” he joked, explaining that during his studies he started to work for a production company and couldn’t attend all the classes.

Francesco Ragazzi talking to the students of Istituto Marangoni in Milan.

Francesco Ragazzi talking to the students of Istituto Marangoni in Milan.  MAIRO CINQUETTI/Courtesy Photo

After graduating, he couldn’t find a job as a photographer’s assistant so he arrived at Moncler, where he “did a little bit of everything, I started from the very bottom but that experience taught me a lot, it was a company in expansion, I got to meet a visionary like Remo Ruffini and in nine years I became artistic director.”

Asked about the secret behind his rise in the firm, Ragazzi listed working hard, being in a healthy and growing company, keeping a curious attitude and having a personal goal.

“The most important thing is to have a dream and a goal. If you don’t know what you want to reach, you don’t know how to get it. So be humble but think big,” he suggested to the audience, explaining that reaching the artistic direction would have enabled him to get involved with photography.

Simultaneously, he started to develop Palm Angels as a parallel project, which originated after a trip to Los Angeles where he fell in love with the city and took pictures of skaters in Venice Beach. “Gathering the images, I thought of compiling a photography book, which Rizzoli International decided to publish… I was very lucky, also to have the preface by Pharrell Williams, whom I knew through Moncler.”

To promote the tome in 2014, Ragazzi launched special capsules, including sunglasses and T-shirts. “Then Sarah [Andelman] from Colette staged an exhibition in the store during women’s fashion week in Paris and that was the beginning of everything as it gave me an incredible visibility,” he said, adding that was the moment New Guards Group noticed him and asked him to design a line.

Palm Angels joined NGG’s portfolio, which includes a range of fashion labels, such as Marcelo Burlon County of Milan, Off-White and Heron Preston.

“We are all children of Instagram. I always say these are brands born from a mobile phone,” Ragazzi candidly said, adding that “launching a brand today is difficult but far easier compared to the Eighties, especially if you’re good and very attentive to what your followers want.”

According to Ragazzi, Instagram is an essential tool also to connect with celebrities, which in his case mainly come from the music industry. The designer explained that thanks to social media he got in touch with renowned Swedish DJs Sebastian Ingrosso and Axwell, who later called him to curate the marketing campaign of their reunion with fellow DJ Steve Angello and relaunch of the Swedish House Mafia group in Miami last year.

After seeing his collections worn by the likes of Rihanna, Kanye West and Jay-Z, Ragazzi also said his ultimate goal now is to dress Drake and Beyoncé.

Among the suggestions given to the students, keeping up with the fashion industry’s rapid pace is key for Ragazzi. “I don’t like the speed of it, we need to come up with ideas and projects every two weeks…but times are changing, this industry is changing. Now everything is more business-related and less artsy. You need to change as fast as [the industry] — the eternal success of a brand — as it happened for some labels of the Eighties — doesn’t exist anymore.”

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