Tag Archives: FIT

Different Worlds: Exploring the Fashion Systems of France and Italy

By Pamela Ellsworth
Chair, Global Fashion Management

Didier Grumbach, Honorary President of the Féderation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (center) on campus at Institut Français de la Mode after his lecture on “The Invention and Reinvention of Haute Couture.” Students hold copies of his book, “History of International Fashion.”


GFM Seminar: April, 2018

This year’s Paris seminar was devoted to an understanding of the professional organizations established to support France’s legendary fashion industry. In addition, the multicultural team assignment was created to provide a deeper analysis of the design inspiration of current couture members. Fascinated as we tend to be by the Paris collections for their creative beauty and extravagance, as well as for their excess and occasional insanity, it’s easy to forget that they thrive and contribute to France’s economy based on the strength of powerful state-run organizations.

Dr. David Zajtmann, Professor at Institut Français de la Mode presents his lecture on Haute Couture and Fashion in Paris to GFM during the Paris Seminar.

David Zajtmann, Creative Brands Strategist at Institut Français de la Mode, and author of Understanding the Role of Professional Organisations in Supporting the Creative Industries writes, “the presentations of collections in Paris remain important events for the global fashion industry thanks to a long-term strategy of strong professional representation, regulation and integration of national and international key industry players carried out by the Fédération over time.”  Mr. Zajtmann presented to GFM on the first day of the seminar, laying an essential foundation for the following several days of immersion into the structure of the organization and the creators that uphold its reputation.

By the end of the seminar, our knowledge of the Parisian fashion system – the introduction of the couturier in 1858; the creation of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in 1911; the rise of ready-to-wear in the 1960s; and the establishment of the Fédération de la couture, du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode in 1973 – helped us to understand the methodology and evolution of what is still the world’s most well-developed fashion system.  In his article, Mr. Zajtmann discusses the French government’s supporting role in establishing a list of authorized couturiers every year, and, until 1979, even financing the purchase of French fabrics to be used in the shows, in addition to making it possible for fashion companies to host fashion shows at the Louvre until 1986.

This historical insight and much more – as we heard from a broad range of speakers at the IFM’s YSL Amphitheatre as well as at site visits – provided essential background in making comparisons and contrasts to the company structures and organizations we would visit when we continued on to Florence and Prato, Italy at the close of the Paris seminar.

Our brief seminar in Florence and Prato was organized to introduce GFM graduate students to a textile and fashion system that was culturally, historically, and organizationally different from the Paris system of haute couture we had just experienced during our 10-day seminar at Institut Française de la Mode.

We organized our two-and-a-half-day Italy seminar with the guidance of Pascal Gautrand – a founder of Made in Town and a consultant for Première Vision – a French colleague who studied at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome, and has worked closely with Italian companies in recent years. In his introduction to our students, he described the unique history of Tuscany as the inspiration for the region’s ability to manufacture luxury goods since the Middle Ages, and how Italian companies are reinventing their heritage to survive in today’s highly competitive business climate.

We began our seminar with a private meeting in the conference room of Pitti Immagine, with Raffaello Napoleone, the CEO. This organization is devoted to promoting the Italian fashion industry, and is perhaps the most important trade show for menswear in the world. Mr. Napoleone began with an overview of the American Marshall Plan’s impact on the Italian fashion industry following World War II, continuing with statistics on the large volume of Italian women’s fashion purchased by American department stores post war, and describing the struggle to compete in the 1970s based on the small size of individual companies and lack of organization, resulting in the industry’s move to Milan. Mr. Napoleone has reinvented Pitti Immagine from a conventional trade show to one that reaches beyond fashion to a cultural strategy, by offering a research division, art, architecture, food, wine, and fragrance. He commented that because fashion can change easily and be communicated quickly, the trade show must reinvent itself season after season.

As one of the most high-profile business executives in the Italian and European fashion industry, we knew that Mr. Napoleone didn’t have a great deal of time to spend with us, but none of that seemed to matter as he answered every question around the table (and there were many), even leaving time to make recommendations for the best spots for lunch in Florence. Happily, we could think of no place farther from New York City, and no one more generous or knowledgeable in relating the details of the Italian fashion industry.

The Global Fashion Management Florence Seminar began with a meeting with Raffaello Napoleone, CEO of Pitti Immagine (left), inside the headquarters of one of the most impactful menswear trade show events in the world.

Our next stop was Scuola del Cuoio, a leather school founded by Franciscan friars after World War II, located near the banks of the Arno River, which has been the location of the leather tanneries since the 13th century. The portion of the building that we visited was donated by the Medici family during the Renaissance, with the photo below showing one of the frescos from that time.

GFM students inside Scuola del Cuoio, watch an artisan make a woven leather briefcase. The school’s original mission from the 1930’s was to teach a practical trade to orphans of the war.  Today it’s open to everyone and offers workshops and short courses to study under a master leather craftsman or craftswoman.

From Scuola del Cuoio, we visited the Palazzo Pitti’s Fashion and Costume Museum, a shrine to some of the most extraordinary costumes and contemporary garments in the world. The Museo della Moda was founded in 1983, and contains haute couture Italian design, cinema, and opera costumes, and a rather astonishing display of the funeral clothes of Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici and his wife, Eleonor of Toledo. (Their bodies were disinterred, and the bones and textiles were examined.)

GFM students on a site visit to Palazzo Pitti Museum of Costume in Florence.
The Palazzo Pitti  Fashion and Costume Museum hosts a collection of rare and precious garments from Italian designers from the renaissance through the 20th Century. Shown here, are couture designs by Gianfranco Ferré, circa 1989.

By bus, we headed out of Florence to Fiesole and the Stafano Ricci atelier. Mr. Ricci explained the brand heritage, and his staff toured us through the small custom shirt and belt factory. You won’t see any photos because we were sworn to secrecy, but the small-scale atelier of beautiful quality Italian cotton shirts was unlike any productions facility we would find most anywhere in the world.

Stefano Ricci Spring Summer 2018 campaign
An image from the Stefano Ricci Spring/Summer 2018 campaign.

We continued north to Il Borgo San Lorenzo to visit Il Borgo Cashmere, a family-owned company since 1949 where research and experimentation is based on ancient craft techniques. Here, the company knits luxury garments and home products for Loro Piana, Bergdorf Goodman, and other high-end retailers and major fashion houses. In this small town, the company’s artisans train local crafts people to hand knit some categories of product out of their homes, which means that the company devotes considerable resources to time management and quality control, while still encouraging a spirit of creativity. The European Union finances a good part of this training. We were struck by this community dynamic, but had to keep in mind that its origin lies in the guilds of the Middle Ages, a system common throughout Europe.

Inside the showroom of Il Borgo Cashmere, a Global Fashion Management student takes a closer look at the craftsmanship of a cashmere dress.

From Il Borgo, we moved on to Capalle and Lineapiu Italia, an extraordinary company that designs and produces specialty yarns for designer fabrics. The company also serves as a repository for the research and protection of Italian sartorial art, housing more than 33,000 archived products, and providing trend direction. They worked extensively with Armani, for example, to develop new ideas and technologies for knits. Hermes and Chanel are also customers. The company runs two mills where they spin mohair, alpaca, cotton, and wool, and they took great pride is walking us through the combing, carding, and sliver phases, preparing the yarn for the knit machines.

Inside a spinning mill, students see luxury yarn being created.
Inside the spinning mill of Lineapiù Italia, a creator of luxury yarns. GFM students receive an overview of the process of creating yarn from fiber. Shown here in the foreground, is an alpaca/cashmere blend before the spinning process.

As we visited these small-scale, high-quality businesses, I was reminded of political economist Francis Fukuyama’s description of Italian companies in his book Trust, where he draws parallels between a culture’s characteristics and its prosperity. He argues that because of the nature of social capital in Italy, family bonds tend to be much stronger than those between the individual and the state, and where “private sector firms tend to be relatively small and family controlled, while large-scale enterprises need the support of the state to be viable.”  Fukuyama is careful to distinguish Italy’s highly productive “Terza Italia” (third Italy, which includes Tuscany) from the impoverished southern portion of the country. He suggests that the networks of small businesses – such as those we visited – represent “an entirely new paradigm of industrial production, one that can be exported to other countries. Social capital and culture give us considerable insight into the reasons for this miniature economic renaissance.”

The vulnerability of the small enterprises that we visited – their locations remote from a large, experienced work force, and dependent upon a rapidly-changing and quixotic luxury consumer – stood in sharp contrast to the depth of creative and manufacturing talent and commitment that we witnessed in every business. In describing the manufacture of the competitive products from the Terza Italia, including textiles and apparel, Fukuyama writes, “This confirms that there is no necessary connection between small-scale industry and technological backwardness. Italy is the world’s third-largest producer of industrial robots, and yet a third of that industry’s output is produced by enterprises with fewer than fifty employees.” Since this book was written, the point about robots is no longer a fact, but Fukuyama does make a strong case for the advantage of sophisticated, small-scale, highly skilled enterprises, based on their ability to adapt to changing consumer markets. Especially for those of us from the U.S. who have been made weary by the magnitude and monopolies of our retailers, we’re rallying to the side of Italy’s artisanal luxury designers and manufacturers to prosper.

Our final stop was a guided tour of the Prato Textile Museum, which occupies a building and location that had been the site of textile manufacture since the Middle Ages. Prato’s textile history has enjoyed enormous success and has more recently suffered great defeat under global competition, but as often as they’ve reinvented themselves, their identity remains closely tied to the textile industry.

GFM students on a docent led tour of the Prato Textile Museum.

Since the focus of our study in Italy was creativity, makers, and manufacturers, our dinner location was no exception. In Fabbrica – the name of the restaurant, which also means Factory – is a silver workshop dating back to 1902. Above the factory on the second floor, we enjoyed dinner by candelabra manufactured on site, where the wait staff worked as artisans just hours prior to our arrival. (The chef, fortunately, was a specialist in food rather than precious metals.)

At In Fabbrica, GFM students tour the silversmith workshop with owner Gianfranco Pampaloni
Gianfranco Pampaloni, owner of In Fabbrica (left), shares stories of his most notable creations with Global Fashion Management students inside his silversmith workshop and showroom.
GFM students enjoyed dinner by candelabra at In Fabbrica. The workshop turns into a restaurant by night, where the silversmiths trade in their overalls for white gloves to serve as the restaurant’s waiters.

On Saturday morning, our last day in Florence, we met at the Polimoda campus where Luca Marchetti, Professor and Researcher at the Ecole Superior de Mode at the University of Quebec in Montreal, delivered a lecture to GFM and Polimoda students. Professor Marchetti, who is from Italy and where he also studied, spoke about the socio-historical roots of Italian culture, making comparisons to France along the way. He defined Italy as a country with a “chaotic urban context” and one without a major social revolution, based on what he referred to as unstable and ephemeral power, as compared to France’s more orderly and defined regimes.

On campus at Polimoda in Florence, GFM students ended the seminar with a lecture on “Made in Italy, Cultural Imaginary, History and Identity” by Luca Marchetti, Professor and Researcher at the École Supérior de Mode at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

We felt that this brief visit to Tuscany could be the start of a much deeper exploration, comparing two of the world’s most important cultural centers. In Paris, we studied the structure and well-developed organization of haute couture and prêt-à-porter – a legacy with well-established roots in the luxury manufacturing and export of 17th century France under Louis XIV.  Italy’s small and widely scattered companies, on the other hand, reflecting its history of warring city-states until the 19th century, still struggle. But the dominance of China, Italy’s languishing export numbers, and the trend for ever faster fashion are not what we were thinking about as we witnessed the beauty, creativity, and superior quality of the products we had the privilege to see during our final two seminar days, as well as the humility and generosity of company hosts and artisans. We all agreed that the world would be a much poorer place without Italian and French fashion and the people that create it.

The New Rules of Retail Engagement: How to Reach Conscious Consumers

By Brooke Blashill (Class of 2015)
Senior Vice President, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, and Director of The Boutique @ Ogilvy

Brooke Image
Brooke Blashill, GFM Class of 2015.

For brands to be successful in the future, they need to align value with “values.” That was the resounding sentiment at last month’s major trend conferences: Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the preeminent global forum for sustainable fashion, and WGSN Futures, the London event predicting retail trends in 2030.

While there was talk of artificial intelligence, multi-generational workforces and the impact of the sharing economy, it was a new shift in the sustainability dialogue that dominated conference discussions. Once seen as a supply chain issue, the topic of ethics and responsibility spanned product design, retail strategies and buying approaches.

Spurred by the next generation of high-powered, conscious consumers, retailers are addressing the business functions where quick and impactful changes can be made – such as marketing – while other parts of the business play catch-up.

nike-flyknit-eco running-shoe
Nike Flyknit Running Shoe

Nike, for instance, said that sustainability is an innovation challenge that begins with its design team – tasking designers to make a product with the least environmental impact, setting the goal to cut their carbon footprint by half while doubling production.

Other brands, such as Selfridges and H&M, are changing the way they communicate with their customers about environmental issues by putting sustainability messages at the forefront of dedicated campaigns, in-store experiences and digital content. In years past, these types of stories would only appear around Earth Day or timed to the launch of special collections.

According to Nielsen, 2.5 billion “aspirational” consumers are becoming increasingly interested in, and making decisions based on, the environmental and social impacts of their purchases. This move isn’t about altruism – it’s driven by the consumer desire to make choices that represent who they are and what they believe in.

For retailers, that means authentically realigning a brand with the values and beliefs of their customers by being transparent and helping shoppers make smarter and more informed purchase decisions. For some brands, this could be as simple as communicating existing eco-efforts that have been taking place behind the scenes, or collaborating with credible partners to bring broader awareness to these issues and help redefine the industry conversation.

 “Good design is sustainable design.” Imran Amed, Founder and CEO of The Business of Fashion, made this statement in Copenhagen when debating media’s role in evolving the sustainable fashion dialogue. Media and marketers have a responsibility to unite this conversation using their creativity to “make sustainability sexy,” says Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times.  

So how does one use these creative powers of persuasion for good? I had the opportunity to talk with a variety of industry leaders during these two trend conferences, and here are some examples of how brands are applying these important principles across areas such as retail strategy, advertising and digital:

 Retail Strategy – Selfridges has demonstrated that eco and luxury can live in harmony through its award-winning campaign, “Project Ocean,” creatively integrating messages about ocean protection into the store experience from the window displays to the food hall. The department store has also hired its first Director of Sustainability and taken a new approach to buying, ensuring brands meet standards on ethical trade, while championing new brands with a sustainable focus through its “Bright Young Things” project.

selfridges-project-ocean-oxford-street-canopy-3-credit-andrew-meredith500
Selfridges’ award-winning campaign, Project Ocean.

Advertising – The trend in repair wear, or mending an item so it can last longer, is now spanning luxury retailers to mass market brands. WGSN says this concept, which they call “Brand Immortality,” is what big industry players, including Barbour and Brooks Brothers, have been doing for years in the form of added-value services. Now, the difference is that brands are making this a central part of external marketing campaigns and gaining customer loyalty as a result. For example, Patagonia took out an ad in the New York Times during Black Friday with the headline, “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” following up with a “Better than New” cross-country road trip to fix customers’ old coats. Nudie Jeans, the indie denim label, has opened 20 stores globally that include a repair shop offering free mending and alterations for all their jeans.

Nudie Jeans Repair Shop

Digital – Transparency has become the new buzz word, and Zady, the online eco-retailer, sets the example for the industry with its business model. Named by Fast Company as one of the most innovative retail companies in the world, Zady’s editorial approach to e-commerce and social media allows customers to see what country their clothes were made in and who makes them. Costs transparency is also gaining popularity among consumers, and is likely to become a new industry standard. Brands including Everlane and The Reformation have dedicated platforms on their e-commerce sites to list production and sourcing costs. Similarly, new luxury menswear company Boga publishes details about the materials and textile houses it uses under The Know section of its website. 

everlane
A webpage on Everlane’s e-commerce site, lists production costs.

The common thread between these companies is that they made the concept of a socially responsible purchase decision part of a desirable lifestyle through consistent brand stories that both inspire and educate. While some of these initiatives are not completely new, retail experts at both conferences predicted these approaches will be the business standard in the next three to five years. As the trend in mindfulness and conscious consumption becomes more mainstream, the most successful brands will be those that lead by example and authentically reflect the values of their customers.

—–

Brooke Blashill is a Senior Vice President at Ogilvy, the award-winning global marketing agency, and a recipient of PR Week’s esteemed 40 under 40 award. Blashill founded and leads The Boutique, an international retail division dedicated to helping clients develop creative and effective communications strategies with a focus on campaign development, product launches, brand experiences, designer collaborations and influencer engagement. Core areas of expertise include luxury, apparel, accessories and home. http://www.ogilvy.com/. Twitter @brookeblashill  

Brooke headshot
Brooke Blashill, GFM Class of 2015.