Italy is synonymous with elegance and appeal. Throughout the world, Italians are famous for that je ne sais quoi, that is even when they are dressed in a simple way, they stand out. It’s called style, and in New York, where fashion is a very serious matter, Italians have secured a reputation for being stylish.
Therefore, when talking about Made in Italy, fashion is key. For this reason, as part of the Business Italian Style project, in which the students majoring or minoring in Italian at Montclair State University have explored various Italian entrepreneur sectors, our group chose this specific theme and embarked on a search for Italian style in New York.
Between History and Business
Fashion equals clothes, first and foremost. Textiles are the first Italian product that have been recognized and appreciated internationally, since their present in the global market thousands of years ago. In ancient Rome, fashion, the result of a mix of styles and materials borrowed from the cultures with which Rome gradually came into contact, had stepped beyond the boundaries of the empire by conquering the taste of women and men in distant lands. The Renaissance marked another important step for the success of Italian fashion, thanks to Italic noblewomen who, by marrying noblemen from other countries, introduced their own style to the European courts.
Today, textiles have a central role in the Italian economy. After the economic crisis, which also affected the fashion sector, 2014 marked the beginning of the recovery, recording a sales volume of over 8 billion euros; an increase of 3.8% over the previous year. This data is provided by the Study Center for Italian Fashion System: it was presented in February at the opening of Milano Unica, the Italian Textile Fair. Export is also thriving, as confirmed by the same study: it grew by 3.3% for a value of 4.4 billion euro. It is the import growth from the U.S. (+10%) that has prompted this increase.
The textile sector is certainly a crucial element in the field of fashion; yet, style is also made of accessories that complement the clothes. These include jewelry, a sector that has suffered very little from the crisis, and in which Italy has a tradition of unrivaled excellence. Italy is ranked first in jewelry production in the world, and third in its export, with 70% of its gold jewelry created for foreign markets. In 2013, exports grew by 8.5% over the previous year, and in 2014 exports to the U.S. recorded a further 6.5% increase.
Innovation and Tradition
There is no doubt that Americans are fascinated with Italian style, particularly in New York. Italian fashion has obtained a reputation of excellence here: the glittering shop windows of the Fashion District display countless Italian brands and famous celebrities and VIPs from the Big Apple never miss a chance to add Made in Italy brands to their wardrobe. New Yorkers who live or work in Manhattan are constantly surrounded by Italian fashion.
In our search for glamour, we sought to understand how Italian fashion works within the American market, and discussed this with two business people with different experiences but who have devoted their entire life to style: Tiziano Zorzan, a young and dynamic designer, who after a career in television, has decided to turn to fashion full time, and Alberto Milani, CEO of Buccellati Americas, a brand whose reputation is rooted in a century-long history and hinges on its timeless elegance. Innovation and tradition are here both connected to Italian quality and taste. As usual when it comes to Made in Italy, we discovered that fashion is not just a business sector, but also a space of culture and history emanating the best flavor of Italy. Both Tiziano Zorzan and Alberto Milani are confident that the true Italian fashion is the best in the world, and that creativity is a distinctive feature of the Italian people.
The Intellectual Property of Style – Tiziano Zorzan
Tiziano Zorzan comes from the world of entertainment. Creative by nature, he has worked for years in TV: he writes, travels, and has done business with big international names such as Sharon Stone, Whoopie Goldberg, and Elizabeth Taylor. As a consultant, he has worked for famous luxury brands such as Cartier, Rolex, Four Seasons, Tom Ford, Baldinini, Louis Vuitton, and Piaget. After twenty years in Milan, Zorzan landed in New York where he has launched his own clothing line and a chain of stores in the Meatpacking district. For him, exporting the Italian style is a mission.
We met with Zorzan at an Upper West Side apartment, a stunning modern penthouse with breathtaking views where we discussed Italian fashion and style. With an abundance of passion and a huge smile, Zorzan told us about his past and artistic influences. Zorzan comes from a family in the laundry business who took care of the costumes worn by members of the Italian Public Broadcast RAI. Throughout his childhood, Zorzan was surrounded by glitz and glamour: “I grew up inside the history of Italian costumes, including hand-made clothes by famous dressmakers at RAI, and I was able to hang out at the costume warehouse of RAI, located in Milan. An unforgettable experience.” A marked destiny.
In America, Zorzan discovered the differences between American and Italian style and fashion (he talks about this in the video above). Zorzan told us that Italians have “intellectual property in style” while Americans have it in business. These two aspects, according to Zorzan, must be placed in a dialogue. Art and commerce can be part of the same whole. Thus his fashion is profoundly Italian; his business style American. As he says, “here you learn to go beyond, and to live fast. In the U.S., you live in an aquarium full of sharks, and in order to survive you must be smart, or you will be eaten. This is the best training ground for those who want to do business.”
Zorzan is not the only stylist who wants to bring Italian creativity and vision to the United States; there are many others and not all of them know how to do it. “There are many Italian companies,” he tells us, “that want to work internationally, but unfortunately, as I realize on a daily basis, they are not ready to work in this market. There are clear rules within the U.S. market and it’s necessary to study and understand them, to make that investment. By working with many Italian artisans, I notice that one must develop a certain approach to make it work. This said, Italian style remains unique and Italian artisans have an undeniably unique creativity of worldwide renown that we must try to export. Right now, the trend is toward sharing with the clients the production process of clothes, from the history of the fabric to the hands that create them. The customer is looking for a one-to-one relationship, and that’s what I am trying to offer.”
Elegance without Time – Buccellati
Zorzan’s approach to business in America is to study it and embrace its trends. Other companies have, over time and trends, maintained their roots in history, as is the case with Buccellati, which is synonymous with luxury and elegance. The history of the brand started in 1919 when the goldsmith Mario Buccellati opened his first shop in Milan. After his success in Italy, with stores in Florence and Rome, Buccellati opened its first store on 5th Avenue in New York in 1951 and soon became the most exclusive jewelry brand in the United States where it has among its customers celebrities, politicians, nobility, and entrepreneurs. Today, the company has five stores in the U.S. (Beverly Hills, Aspen, Chicago, Miami and New York). “America, for us, is the most important market,” said Alberto Milani, CEO of Buccellati Americas, “ it represents about 40% of our sales in the world. Today, the United States is a ripe market for luxury because it has everything. A company like ours is characterized by the uniqueness of what we do.”
The Buccellati store is located on Madison Avenue, in the heart of a neighborhood where elegance is at home. When we visited him, Alberto Milani was busy with a new project, the construction of the store that opened in December, also located on Madison Avenue. The new boutique, housed in a five-floor townhouse, is the largest store and has already become the most popular of the fourteen stores they own around the world.
In the video interview above, Milani referred to the store as a cultural experience: not just jewelry, watches, cutlery, and frames, but also art exhibits and culinary events. Made in Italy is not a mere matter of production, but a philosophy: “When you talk about Made in Italy in marketing you are talking about cultural history. For this reason, a background in Italian culture and language is important for this sector. I always tell my daughter, who was born and raised in the United States, and wants to work in fashion, that knowing the language and the culture is an added value when you convey the product.”
Milani emphasized that he has employees from all backgrounds, and each of them carries his/her own talents. But when it came to creativity he remarked: “Made in Italy means not only that the product is made by an Italian manufacturer, but that it is the fruit of Italian brilliance: from an Italian. So, the customer expects to deal with Italians.”
Through two very different experiences rooted in the same culture, Zorzan and Milani revealed to us Italy, through excellence, quality, passion and unique style, has proven itself capable of conquering America.
This is one of the four-episodes series Business Italian Style, a project by The Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies (Italian Program at Montclair State University), La VOCE di New York, and ArtMotion, developed within the Business Italian class (ITAL321) taught by Enza Antenos, and a Cooperative Education class (ITAL385) taught by Teresa Fiore. Each of the four parts focuses on a different Made-in-Italy sector encompassing Design, Art, Fashion, and Food. The interviews were designed by the Business Italian students, while the filming and editing was done by Omar Portilla and Jarrett Strenner.
Translated from the orginal Italian by Christina Petrillo.