Thanks to Alessandro Michele’s designs at Gucci, the vibrant Etro aesthetic is having a moment, too, and Kean Etro, who leads the company’s men’s design team, is welcoming it. He said Michele’s vision has impacted sales at Etro in a positive way.
This story first appeared in the March 30, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In a conversation with WWD men’s fashion director Alex Badia, the passionate creative director waxed philosophical about who the Etro customer is, how he’s grappling with social media and what he’s doing to ensure his brand remains relevant after 30 years. Here are highlights.
You didn’t get your start in men’s wear, right?
I started dealing with all the IT things like software and hardware. I’m a heavy mathematician so I love mathematics. Something like one plus one doesn’t always make two and that’s Hans Weinberger. That means that numbers are infinite. So when we talk about the future of social media and all of that, I think we have to deal with eternal beta. So it’s something that will change constantly through time and this is the great challenge we are facing in that field. Then I also started a perfume business. I went to school at seven o’ clock when I finished working at Etro. I had a tutor teaching me how to use my nose and then I built the perfume business out of that. I was learning.
How did you get into men’s wear?
I was doing many things at a time. When I was 14 or 15 I would buy books from all over the place and I would go to flea markets and dress like a general or like a Carabinieri (policeman). Then we started a collection called Sports and Country. It was in competition with Etro, which was my father’s. It was the typical thing between father and son. So I didn’t have access to the Montopoli shops and I was traveling from Salzburg making this collection and slowly I thought I could break through by designing my pieces and pretending they had to be repaired. So we placed them on the men’s floor where customers came in and slowly all the customers were asking for that stuff. So I just got my father out of Montopoli and I started the men’s business as it is now. But we are great friends.
That sort of summarizes the ethos of your brand today, which is about a new tradition. Is that new tradition still what moves you today?
I love tradition. I’m always working through archives and thinking about what is tradition and how do you fly away from tradition to something new. It’s not something that you can stop. Tradition is tradition. But then again, for example, there’s the gender thing with Gucci that brings a new touch to tradition. It’s always cultural in the end.
What inspires you after 30 years?
We are all breathing in this room, so inspiration is really this. I’m breathing freedom because air is everywhere. It’s like ubiquitous. In a way it’s like God. So I think that is the first step. It’s to be aware that you can take part in nature. Nature has always been my inspiration. It’s not just me but all great designers and great artists.
Who is the Etro man?
The Etro man is a gentleman. He’s very gentle. I did this show where you had this gentleman and this busy man. The busy man doesn’t have time for people or for his family. So I prefer to work on the other side. The Etro man is good at heart. He has a great sense of humor and a sense of irony. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. I think he shouldn’t travel too much because if you travel it’s double the trouble and you are always worried.
Are people trying to escape reality by wearing your clothes?
Reality escaped reality. Reality is not there anymore. I think we live in a state of illusion. Before the wars there was color and life. Henry Ford designed cars with lots of colors. Think of the wheels. They were white, red and purple, and now it’s all black. Why don’t we make made-to-measure tires?
How are you growing your business and introducing it to new customers after 30 years?
I started this thing called the Circle of Poets in the last six months and it’s a group of young guys under 30 and we meet and talk about creativity and creation. When I say poet, I mean musicians, architects, sculptors and painters. I think they are the only ones that can change this situation.