A new crop of young Italian fashion designers are managing to break through despite a crippling economic crisis, and precious little help from the state or the banks.
“It’s about passion and sacrifice,” said Alexander Flagella, 27, a finalist in Vogue Italia’s “Who is On Next?” competition, showing off his first-ever collection with a sophisticated and elegant 1930s look.
Fellow finalist Matteo Gioli said he started his handmade hat company superduperhats.com with two other designers, sisters Ilaria and Veronica Cornacchini, in 2010 with just 3,000 euros (US$4,100) of their own money.
Now, they make most of their sales in foreign markets like France or Japan.
“There’s very little help for young companies, especially ones like ours that started from scratch and are not family businesses,” said the thickly-bearded Gioli, 27, wearing a gray flatcap from his own collection.
Flagella, Gioli and other young designers attended a party hosted by Vogue Italia and French luxury giant Kering, owner of Gucci among other top brands.
“Attracting, retaining and developing talent is a priority for Kering,” the company’s chairman and chief executive officer Francois-Henri Pinault said at the event.
Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani said that helping a new generation of designers was “crucial for the future of the entire fashion system.”
The economic climate is hardly a conducive one for young entrepreneurs.
Unemployment in Italy is at 40 percent for young people who are not studying, state coffers are badly in the red and start-ups complain they still face a mountain of bureaucracy despite reforms to cut the red tape.
Yet Lucio Vanotti, who produced his first collection last year, said the crisis has had an unintended positive effect for up-and-coming designers by freeing up manufacturing capacity as big brands shift to emerging markets.
“A few years ago in Italy, people thought there was no need for new brands. They used to look at me and say: ‘What are you doing?’ Now clothes makers are much more available and open to a generational change,” he said.
“It’s no longer about the colossuses, there are also new designers,” he said.
“At the same time it’s not easy because the economic conditions on the other side, for the shops, have changed,” said the 38-year-old, whose designs have a minimalist quality.
The retail challenge has generated resourcefulness among young designers, like Jennifer dalla Zorza who could be seen outside one of the shows at Milan Fashion Week selling the lingerie she makes from an old ice cream cart.
Dressed in a black bustier and tulle skirt, the Milan-based dalla Zorza took orders directly from many curious passers-by who stopped to inquire about the eye-catching bras and knickers of her patisserie-inspired brand “JennyPie.”
“I haven’t had any help from the authorities whatsoever,” she said, as she showed off a pair of red lacy knickers folded up into a cupcake holder.
“I had high costs starting out and I’m only a small business. I don’t have a shop. If I was in charge, I think I would reward initiatives like mine,” she said.