MILAN — Talk about storytelling.
Fay has been going beyond the run-of-the-mill brand narration that has become key for so many fashion labels through daring and adventurous trips in the most remote locations around the world.
The idea behind the project was to photograph Fay Archive products worn by individuals who live in those isolated places as they go about their daily lives — no filters and no hair and makeup needed.
Indeed, the production was on a shoestring budget, consisting of three men unafraid to sleep in freezing conditions or mingle with wild animals: Michele Lupi, a former Icon editor in chief who in 2018 was named men’s collections visionary at Tod’s Group, which owns Fay; English photographer James Mollison, and video maker Alex Healey.
A new exhibition called “Testers — Traveling with Fay Archive” was held last week at Milan’s contemporary art museum PAC, staging supersized photographs and videos of the trips made by the three men between 2021 and 2023 in Iceland, Chile, Alaska and Nepal to meet the workers in those countries.
Called “testers,” they ranged from the shepherd Deepak in the Himalayas in a place so isolated that it does not have a name, protecting 200 goats from snow leopards, to researcher Pema at the Katmandu University in charge of protecting the red panda, a very rare species between Nepal and India. In Nepal in the town of Pokhara, they met Dev Tamang, who drives a bus on a dirt path that connects Pokhara to Jomson, one of the most dangerous roads in the world overlooking steep and dangerous cliffs — one mistake and there is no coming back.
From the Langtan Valley, they ascended Kyanjin Ri Peak, at more than 4,300 meters, with sherpas Sonam and Onghu.
“Each person freely chose a Fay jacket to wear, mixing it with their own clothes and you can see from these images that there is nothing forced, as we didn’t simply shoot them as they worked, but we really got to know them and live with them as they tested Fay,” said Lupi.
“After their natural initial shyness, it is moving to see the pride with which they speak of their work, of the country where they live and of their traditions. It is in those moments that the real relationships are built,” Lupi explained.
Indeed, the images are beautiful and entirely in sync with the idea behind this project, which stems from the desire to pay tribute to the origins of Fay, to recover the spirit of when brothers Diego and Andrea Della Valle, during a trip to the U.S., stumbled upon the brand and decided to buy it 1987.
While it became very popular in Italy in the ’90s as an urban outerwear brand, the history of Fay dates back to the ’60s, when a Maine entrepreneur created a workwear jacket with four metal-plated hooks that was quickly adopted by fishermen and then firemen. The Della Valle brothers, majority owners of Tod’s Group, transformed that functional canvas piece, enriched with leather sleeve trims and a corduroy collar, into a high-end urban signature garment.
“We see a strong interest in Fay from the younger generations now, children of our first customers,” said Andrea Della Valle. “It’s a product that is passed on from generation to generation with a sense of belonging.”
Two years ago, the Della Valle brothers and Lupi conceived the Fay Archive line, celebrating the heritage of the fashion house reinterpreted with a contemporary twist in the use of materials and colors.
They began working with vintage expert, fashion retailer and men’s street-style celebrity Alessandro Squarzi, who owns more than 6,000 original Fay pieces, naming him creative director, and teamed with Italian photographer and reporter Davide Monteleone. The first series of short movies featured real people wearing pieces from the Fay Archive working in close contact with nature, including a Swedish shipwright and a Gotland-based kipper producer, among others.
Della Valle acknowledged it was originally a challenge to bring workwear garments to the city, but that the “charm of the clothes that have a specific work function eventually merged with urban customers who are still passionate about adventure.”
Lupi recalled how the “tester figure” fascinated the Della Valle brothers from the beginning, and that it was their idea to proceed with the images of real people for a communication campaign back in 2019, seeing Norwegian fishermen wearing Fay because of their “interesting attitude and character.”
“I remember how Diego Della Valle said we had to find a balance point between [Italian town] Parma and Wyoming,” said Lupi with a smile. “It was an editorial idea. After all, he was one of the first to say that fashion companies should become more similar to media companies.”
Fay Archive was only “a lateral project,” accounting for around 2 percent of sales, but it has now grown to represent 30 percent of revenues. The brand comprises ready-to-wear, and menswear represents 90 percent of the business, but Fay Archive is seen as genderless and worn by women, too, said Lupi.
In 2022, Fay’s sales rose 10.7 percent to 53.4 million euros, as reported. Tod’s Group also owns the Tod’s, Roger Vivier and Hogan brands.
Additional locations for the exhibition are in the pipeline and the images are available on Fay’s social media platforms.