ITALIAN FASHION: FROM SOUP TO NUTS

Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — Instead of trying to ultimately influence American consumers by sending its message to the industry, the Italian Trade Commission is preparing to make a direct statement to U.S. shoppers, focusing on the inner workings of its own trade.
The Italian government, through its Ministry of Industry and Foreign Trade and the ITC, announced last week the start of a $15 million, three-year marketing and advertising campaign that will encompass a broader spectrum of products identified with traditional Italian quality and design than had been emphasized in its Moda Made in Italy campaign launched in 1995.
While its previous efforts had concentrated on in-store events, point-of-sale promotions with independent retailers and co-op advertising in consumer publications — focused on Italy’s most well-known designers — the new marketing efforts are somewhat more conceptual and also incorporate smaller enterprises.
During a discussion of its plans at ITC’s New York offices last week, the initiative was endorsed by a panel chosen to demonstrate the campaign’s inclusion of designers, industrialists and manufacturers: Mario Boselli, president of Italy’s National Chamber of Fashion — the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana — and president of high-end fabric house Mario Boselli Holding; Giuseppe (Beppe) Modenese, the chamber’s spokesman; and Gaetano Marzotto, vice chairman of Italian manufacturer Marzotto.
For the past five years, the ITC has promoted the reputation of Italian designers as producing some of the finest goods in the world, a campaign that has been particularly successful in apparel, where the “Made in Italy” label is widely perceived to be an indicator of luxury and often a justification for higher retail price tags.
The crux of the new campaign is to infuse into the minds of consumers that not only are Italian goods top-quality, but also that the country’s long tradition of craftsmanship means that each step of production — from the spinning of yarns to the knitting and weaving of textiles and the sewing of garments — is without peer in the world at any price point. The campaign will encompass the production of bridge-priced apparel, as well as home furnishings, food and wine, and interior design.
ITC officials are just beginning to formulate their plans, under the orchestration of Giovanni Scialpi, a professor of communications at the University of Urbino.
To kick off the program, which ranges from in-store promotions to art exhibits, the organization created an appropriately conceptual launch party in Manhattan Wednesday night, where guests were walked through the process, step by step, in a manner that incorporated “Italian touch, Italian tradition, Italian taste,” the three main components of the effort.
To start, guests entered the Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom on West 34th Street to see a display of “advanced tactile tables,” an interactive multimedia installation of four tables designed by Studio Azzurro, which has had an established presence in recent years at art festivals at Palazzo Fortuny in Venice and Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome.
On two tables, guests knocked and rapped, provoking or altering video images, such as flowers growing out of a vase or a fan starting to turn. The other tables responded to touch, showing a kaleidoscope of abstract images.
Guests then entered the ballroom for the debut American performance of Giorgio Battistelli’s “Experimentum Mundi,” an orchestral performance where traditional instruments were replaced by the tools of a pasta maker, village carpenters, bricklayers and stonecutters.
As the performance began, the pasta maker cracked eggs over a pile of flour, crushing the shells in his hands. Then a blacksmith hammered away and other tradesmen sawed, shaved and shoveled. Meanwhile, a narrator explained that a baker’s most perfect cake or the pasta maker’s well-formed gnocchi is dependent upon the quality of the molds and tools made for them by the blacksmith: thus, illustrating the concept that a task carried out with skill and pride has the inherent capacity to be beautiful.
To drive home that point, tons of perfect cookies, cakes and pasta, along with cannoli, mortadella, prosciutto, risotto and crates of Italian wine — prepared by Carlo Petrini — were served after the performance.
“This is quite important,” said Carla Fendi, one of the designers present at the event. “This Italy project is not only about fashion, but also many other things that are quite important to Italy, and it’s very important to give it the launch it deserves.”
The Italian government is celebrating the “creativity and excellence of the Italian lifestyle,” said Enrico Letta, Italy’s newly appointed minister for foreign trade and handicrafts, with responsibility for tourism. “When we speak about fashion, designers and style, under the surface of every piece you will find a blend of unique technology and know-how. This campaign will be a new kind of support, not a defile, not an affair, but instead a conceptual presentation of Italian lifestyle and fashion.”
The campaign follows on recent market analysis ranking Italy fourth as a supplier to the U.S. of fashion, furniture, tiles and marble, totaling over $9 billion in 1999. Jewelry, high-end footwear and formal men’s wear have been the top exports, and Italy is the largest supplier of these to the U.S., totaling another $13 billion last year, according to the ITC.
“Italian fashion is very well known for its top designers,” said Marzotto. “There is tremendous potential to show there is excellence in all Italian design, and there is potential also for the bridge segment.”
One goal is to establish in-store departments dedicated to Italian fashion, where 20 to 30 lesser known Italian vendors could showcase their designs. The ITC is also dedicating funding toward education of small and medium enterprises on how to sell to the U.S. market, and is encouraging their creation of a consortium effort to sell here as a group.
While these are long-term goals, the ITC will continue to explain its concept through two additional presentations this summer, both at New York’s Ace Gallery at 275 Hudson Street.
From May 19 to June 3, it will stage an exhibit called “Abitare Italia: Exercises in Style,” dedicated to the exploration of domestic taste and lifestyle, with installations from Studio Azzurro and architects and designers including Antonio Citterio, Paolo Deganello, Claudio Silvestrin and Paolo Rizzatto.
From June 14 to July 4, it will present “Progetto Moda,” addressing the fashion element of the campaign in a venture between Studio Azzurro and Anna Piaggi, a creative consultant for Italian Vogue and other publications, in an exhibit called “Aristocratic Artisans.”