Just over three months in, having our lives and our livelihoods threatened by the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic, the scope of its impact is weigh- ing heavily on all of us. All the talk about essential businesses makes it all the more complex for those in creative careers who can’t begin to compare what we do to those dealing with life and death situations on the front lines. Thankfully there are places in the world that are providing some hope for a time when we have the worst of Covid-19 in the rearview mirror. And for those in the fashion industry, Italy is one of those places.
Un Po ‘Di Storia
If we turn to history for some inspiration, we find that Italy has some impressive precedents of leading by example. The Italian Renaissance brought society out of the Dark Ages, becoming the catalyst for the appreciation and cultivation of the arts, philosophy, science, technology, and exploration in Italy, then throughout Europe, and ultimately around the globe.
It was also a period when city-states like Florence became centers of fashion innovation. Proof that human beings have, can, and will survive times of war, ignorance, famine, and pandemics.
Italy helped usher in a new age after World War II, often referred to as the birth of Italian fashion. It was a time of economic reconstruction. Led by Tuscan-born Giovanni Battista Giorgini, the Italian fashion industry reimagined itself in 1951, focusing on luxury ready-to-wear as an alternative to the increasingly less relevant French haute couture.
These high fashion events tapped into Italy’s rich heritage of art and culture and found a home at Sala Bianca in Palazzo Pitti for 30 years. Milan, Rome, and Florence became important fashion destinations for buyers, journalists, and fashion clientele from all over.
Alessandro Michele, Creative Director Gucci REUTERS/Benoit Tessier – stock.adobe.com
Il Tempo Cambia Tutto
The culture of the Italian fashion industry was built on family legacies, tight-knit communities, and safeguarding the tradition of their crafts. They celebrated the meticulous attention to craftsmanship and the unparalleled luxury textiles being produced in their country. This and the ability to meet the demands of a new customer that was hopeful about the future after such a dark period in our history were instrumental to its success.
Today, the fashion industry finds itself rebooting after another devastating global event. A crisis that is by no means over. As daunting as that may feel, one good thing to come out of this major disruption is that everyone has been forced to take a beat, all at the same time. After the initial deep dive into survival mode, the pandemic has afforded everyone time to think, take stock of the industry, and determine our place in it.
For many, the economic imperative to get back to work does not mean getting back to normal. Whatever normal was before we started wearing masks, self-isolating, and baking bread it was obvious that the fashion industry needed a makeover. The rule book was out of date and becoming less relevant every day. Anyone with a long view of the fashion industry had been advocates of change for many years.
Italy’s textile industry is already at the forefront of science and technology as well as forecasting what will be of value to tomorrow’s fashion customer. The Albini Group (a family business since 1876) is a fabric manufacturer that collaborated with Swiss textile innovation firm HeiQ to develop ViroFormula fabrics. Will antiviral and antibacterial textiles become the ultimate luxury material post-Covid-19?
Now that we have the chance to reboot the system leaders are emerging from all parts of the world. One of Italy’s fashion cognoscenti, Alessandro Michele, has created a real buzz during the quarantine. As creative director of Gucci, a multi-billion dollar fashion brand, his “Lockdown Diaries” shared over social media have a great deal of influence.
Michele speaks of radical shifts in the “fashion circus,” the importance of “artistic mental health,” focusing on sustainability, and the desire to discard worn-out rituals in order to “build a new path, away from deadlines that the industry consolidated and, above all, away from an excessive performativity that today really has no raison d’être.”
Interno A Mondo
Designers in almost every market are finding common ground around human-centered strategies. An “Open Letter to the Fashion Industry” was released by Dries Van Noten, co-signed by big and small brands alike, and begins with a simple straight forward statement. “We agreed that the current environment, although challenging presents an opportunity for a fundamental and welcome change that will simplify our businesses.” In rewiring fashion, another proposal facilitated by The Business of Fashion, the message is clear. “…a fashion system that is less and less conducive to genuine creativity and ultimately serves the interests of nobody: not designers, not retailers, not customers — and not even our planet. It’s time to slow down and rediscover the storytelling and magic of fashion.” The Council of Fashion Designers of America and the British Fashion Council presented a united front when proposing The Fashion Industry’s Reset. “Through the creation of less product, with higher levels of creativity and quality, products will be valued, and their shelf life will increase.”
There is a shared desire to move forward with slower, thoughtful, more sustainable models because any waste is bad design. Brands are seeing the value in closing the season gap between when fashion hits the runways and when it’s available for purchase, which means consumer-facing shows that allow them to see now, buy now.
Once the current urgency of pivoting to online experiences has passed, the viability of digital fashion weeks as either an extension or replacement for in-person experiences will be a matter of strategy.
Moving forward, anyone developing a fashion presentation won’t be restricted to the traditional runway show. They can entertain any number of alternatives including augmented reality and virtual reality technology. The imperative to create less product can be translated to focusing on a better product meaning we can take greater pride in what we produce, not just how much we make. The growing trend towards working remotely will require an investment in better storytelling through photography and video to communicate in a more meaningful way.
One size doesn’t fit all in the world of couture, but we can certainly take comfort in the fact that history has set some precedents, that inspiring role models emerge when we need them, and that the future is an untapped opportunity to improve ourselves and our communities. Build on your history. Look for the real leaders. Believe in the possibilities.
Local plans for the future need to reflect the history and culture of the community. Massachusetts is known for a high concentration of educational institutions which informs the priorities of its regional fashion community. This year the 26th annual Boston Fashion Week will not only become an online experience, but it will focus on students and recent graduates who were robbed of their opportunity to share their work on runways at schools with fashion design programs like Framingham State University, Lasell University, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, School of Fashion Design-Boston, University of Massachusetts, and the Boston Arts Academy, a high school that provides a head start to teenage artists, scholars, and citizens.
Fashion is one of the tools we use for living deliberately. It affords many the opportunity to communicate who they are and what is important to them. Any plan for the future should be deliberate as well.
How Italy and other global fashion centers navigate uncharted territory is a great source of inspiration but as we prepare to move forward, answering some challenging questions will help us tailor answers to fit our needs and define success for our community.
What does healing look like? How will our priorities shift? Where will we strike a balance between our personal and professional lives? How will we deploy our creativity in the spirit of experimentation and the interest of innovation? What will we wear on our first day back?