The fashion industry counts seasons, not years, and Carlo Capasa has already ticked off three seasons at the helm of Italy’s Camera Nazionale della Moda, the country’s Chamber of Fashion. A longtime member of the association, he has helped build the Costume National brand with his brother, designer Ennio Capasa. Here, ahead of Milan Fashion Week, he highlights the themes of sustainability, digitalization and the efforts to balance heritage and innovation, all while maintaining a state-of-the-art production pipeline and supporting the younger generation.

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

What are some of the main initiatives since your appointment?

Training and the opportunities we are working on to provide to young creative talents. Last year, on July 2, we held graduation day, which will become an annual occurence. We held fashion shows for 18 schools and 10 to 15 students for each school, we had awards, internships, created a link with the design studios of fashion companies, and some of these students are already employed.

We are working to create a cohesive system in Italy through the collaboration of associations ranging from Pitti Immagine to Sistema Moda Italia and AltaRoma, to name a few. The government has married our vision and created a board focused on fashion. This met for the first time in Rome on Feb. 11, laying out a road map to coordinate a system of unity. [Member of Parliament] Ivan Scalfarotto also participated. He will succeed Carlo Calenda [former deputy minister of economic development, nominated by Renzi to become Italy’s representative at the European Union].

The board will help coordinate activities, such as the AltaRoma Who’s on Next talent search, also showing during Milan Fashion Week, for a clearer, more effective and stronger message.

For the first time, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will open Milan Fashion Week. What does this mean for the industry?

This is a strong signal for the system, and the chamber has wanted this dearly. Fashion is a big family and it has a strong role. All of Italy is close to our sector, which provides jobs for many people. This sector allows the “Italian dream” — paraphrasing the “American dream.” It’s one of the few sectors where, if you have talent, you can succeed, and your background or origins don’t matter. Nor does the language. One may be penalized by [not knowing] the Italian language in the movies or in music, but fashion speaks an international language. Also, it’s open to young people. Again, there are not that many sectors where if you are young, you are accepted. Maybe the high-tech industry [is another exception].

Why do you think Renzi and the government are turning their attention to fashion?

For years, fashion was seen as based on futility. This is probably an inheritance of Catholicism versus Calvinism. Only the rich could afford fashion.…There is a weird relationship with money here. But fashion is a means that is an advantage to all of society, and Italy’s creativity, once channeled into art, is now also funneled into fashion. It’s the continuation of the Italian DNA. Renzi realizes that fashion is a serious, practical and organized business. He has understood the value of fashion and that we should be proud of it.

From the beginning, your focus has been on the younger generation.

Yes, we must strengthen that basis cohesively, promoting a unique system. It starts from a creative foundation, plus the Italian pipeline. The uniqueness of the pipeline is determined by the influence of the designers, who can elaborate one fabric in 50 different ways, because each designer wants exclusivity. The pipeline is under pressure because of all this research and needs to be efficient. The quality of craftsmanship and technology is irrefutable — and it’s not only an Italian property, it’s the world’s. There is an osmosis between designers and the pipeline, which is the most elastic and creative there is. Our associations are united to preserve such value and creativity, not flattening out the process, because this is an exceptional system.

There’s also a lot of talk about the need to recruit young craftsmen.

Absolutely. When we speak of training, it’s not only in reference to designers, we also work on training quality professionals. The best school is the company — many companies have in-house training programs. There’s the Master of Biella for fabrics, for example, with five students selected each year.

Some production districts were hit by a lackluster economy and competition from low-cost countries. Have things improved?

Yes, business is picking up again for our districts, which allow the uniqueness of the system in Italy. As such, they must be preserved. We are first in Europe: Italy’s gross production value of fashion — clothes, textiles and accessories — accounts for 41 percent of all of Europe’s, followed by Germany, which represents 11 percent of Europe’s total, then Spain with 10 percent. This is a value for everyone, not only Italy.

We must work on sustainability, social issues, environment and raw materials. This is part of a project that we expect to complete by the end of 2020. In 2016, we are publishing the first list of chemical substances [as part of a new standard of fabrics with certain levels of chemicals in them] and in the second half, a list of processes. We must be practical and realistic. We want transparency, traceability — it takes time, but it will trickle down to everyone. It’s important.

This is a moment of great change, as designers rethink the format and timing of their shows. Upon your arrival, you said you were hoping to set a show calendar that would not be overturned every season.

Yes, the trend is to move toward a fixed calendar. You’ll see the last day is stronger because we realized that many buyers arrive midweek and stay three to four days longer [to write orders]. By scheduling young designers toward the end of the week, which is strongly anchored by Armani and Dsquared2, the smaller designers find their own market and they can stand on their own legs. This season, we will end with a Camera cocktail on sustainability.

You have been vocal in WWD about the need to ask questions about the future of the shows as a system, in an effort to protect the pipeline, designers’ creativity and new brands and avoid flattening the offer.

Each brand will decide, but to be outside of the system is not always positive. Bigger ones should help preserve the small ones with their presence, avoid being selfish. There’s an ethical aspect to this, to help those that can’t manage on their own, otherwise capitalism is a bad thing. Fashion is a sensitive industry and cannot forget about this.

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