Two environmentally conscious Italian designers, Silvia Giovanardi and Gfw’s Matteo Ward, are championing each other’s efforts as they try to make further inroads into the U.S. market.
Although their companies have no formal ties, the two friends share an ideology that calls for shoppers to consider where, how and under what conditions their purchases are made. Meticulously crafted skirts, coats, shoes and bags are among the styles Silvia Giovanardi specializes in. Ward, meanwhile, works side-by-side with his mother, Grazia, on the Gfw label she started in 2006 and just added evening clutch bags too. Donna Karan gave the art-to-wear Gfw label a real lift last year by showcasing the accessories in an outpost in her Urban Zen store.
After working in design at Etro off-and-on for five years, Giovanardi ventured out on her own to start a signature label last fall. A painter and photographer in her own right, she incorporates her art and images into the line’s design, textiles, Web site and marketing, even hand-painting select garments with great care. Giovanardi was so eager to get to work on her collection last November that she started her company in Milan two weeks after leaving Etro. “I decided to leave Etro to start my own fashion revolution, because fashion is the second-most polluting industry.” The graduate of Istituto Europeo di Design said, “My aim to galvanize everyone to take part of this revolution.”
Working closely with the people who produce the natural dyes and fabrics, and those who handle the tailoring, Giovanardi said her 18-person supply chain acts like an extended family. Her company’s environmentally friendly practices are detailed on its Web site. Under the section tagged “How” (a reference to how things are made) on the home page, visitors will find the names of every person who works with her. Last month she debuted her collection, as did Gfw, at Hayward House on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, and she continues to host trunk shows and sells through e-commerce. Both brands are making inroads with U.S. boutiques.
Giovanardi’s accessories start at around $800 and more detailed, hand-painted and embroidered leather kimono pieces sell for $10,000. Many of the photographs that were featured in her work were taken during her honeymoon in Japan in 2014. Her husband is a banker with Ethical Bank in Italy and an avid cook who sometimes works with chef Carlo Cracco.
Two more elaborately designed items would be a white origami dress made from layers of corn fabric, and a vegetable-tanned calfskin samurai dress with embroidery, hand-painting and elaborate multicolored interlace. Recently in Paris, she presented her collection in a most unusual way, creating a wall of logo-stamped bento boxes made from the same ingredients used in the accompanying design. For example, there were corn-made snacks for her 100 percent corn fabric origami dress.
Ward is a veteran of Abercrombie & Fitch, where he opened new stores for the chain in Germany and other parts of Europe. But he has served as a consultant for his mother’s company for years. Interestingly, it was at Abercrombie & Fitch that he first noticed shoppers were drifting away from anything standard or that they might find others wearing on the street. He said many were also losing interest in any fashion that others might be able to figure out the cost of. There was a growing interest for an item’s “intrinsic value and not so much the brand behind it,” Ward said.
As as indication of his commitment to his mother’s company, Ward said he routinely used vacation time to travel with her to fashion shows. He has also been loyal to the U.K.-based nonprofit Fashion Revolution, behind the global initiative to raise awareness about the true cost of fashion. “We need for people to reconnect with the product. We want them to know more about what we’re creating and the relevance of what they’re wearing,” he said.
Ward’s mother has been painting art for the past 35 years, but she is not the only artist in the family. Her father was a sculptor. To accentuate Gfw’s artistic nature, some of the handcrafted necklaces and earrings are made from a combination of resin, porcelain and marble powder. Gfw is currently carried in six stores and is mostly sold through private trunk shows, custom orders and Web sales. Prices start at $300 for earrings and go up to $4,000 for the more detailed necklaces that have 24 karat gold.
Evening bags are the newest pieces introduced by Gfw including an orchid design featuring three different types of gold leaf. There is also a new bridal collection with bags in white, beige and blush.