“Made in Italy” luxury defends its artisans

Bettina Bush Mignanego

By Bettina Bush Mignanego25 septembre 2020

The “Made in Italy” label is going through a fragile period. With its often unknown and endangered regional craftsmanship, it is today experiencing difficulty. Yet the hand-made and “Made in Italy” stamps have been revaluated following the confinement period.

The shoemaker Stefano Bemer, a Florentine brand known worldwide for the quality of its handmade shoes. His workshop is located in an old church on the south side of the Arno river. (Stefano Bemer)

To this day, Italy remains one of the most important luxury product manufacturing centers and creates 40% of the global production. It is also the first European employer for small and medium-sized fashion businesses, a sector that employs more than 312,000 collaborators and totals 55,000 SMEs according to the official data from Confartigianato. During the month of March, due to confinement, the leather, bag, fur and saddlery production was cut in half, jewelry recorded a drop of 57% and the shoe production, a drop of 59%.

A sector that the Financial Times has described as damaged, exploring among others the example of the city of Como, which produces 80% of European silk and of which 15,000 artisans have now unfortunately been temporarily laid-off or are under fixed-term contracts which will probably not be renewed. Nevertheless, over the past few years, Italy resisted the Eastern European and Asian competition, in spite of the cost of labor being almost three times higher than abroad, thanks to a higher quality of work and to the traditional craftsmanship of artisanal ateliers, says the FT.

The Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio, both school and silk producer, was one of the thirty-eight artisans who were able to exhibit their creations at the event initiated by Dolce & Gabbana "Il Rinascimento e la Rinascita" which took place in Florence in early September (Pitti Immagine).

This unprecedented situation also echoes through international fashion personas, including Anna Wintour, director of US Vogue, who talked about “Made in Italy” during an interview given to the Corriere della Sera, as a possible means to see the fashion sector recover after Covid, thanks to its high level of savoir-faire, allowing it to be both local and global at the same time.

From Dior to Dolce & Gabbana: regional craftsmanship revaluated

For Patrizio Bertelli, CEO of Prada, it is essential to defend the Italian craftsmanship, in the same way as if it were a patent. In fact, especially post-confinement, the handmade label is benefitting from a wave of support. During those long weeks of lock-down, everyone reinvented themselves into artisans, rediscovering manual labor through handiwork. Italian artisanship, probably because it represents the ultimate handmade value linked to its geographical region, symbolizes this creation of luxury goods made with patience and sensitivity, where only the unique touch of the artisan at work matters.

Fashion show Dolce & Gabbana Haute Couture fall/winter 2020/2021 (Dolce & Gabbana)

The brand Dolce&Gabbana swiftly anticipated this trend and organized a show in Florence during the month of September alongside other métiers d’art, such as high jewelry, couture or tailor-made fashion for men, in order to celebrate the Tuscan artisanship which totals about 130,000 workers. The creators of this event wanted to place artisanship at the center of this initiative with 38 young talents, to value local excellence and pay tribute to the city’s historic past in Florence, during the Renaissance period and at a time where artisans were considered artists.

Bespoke Stefano Bemer shoes (DR)

This was the opportunity to discover spectacular bags in coconut fiber, silver and precious stones from Tommaso Pestelli, owner of the Borgo Santi Apostoli workshop dedicated to high gold smithery, precious fabric from the former Florentine silk manufacture of Stefano Ricci, creations for the quill workshop of Duccio Mazzanti, as well as elegant shoes from Stefano Bemer, the straw hats from Grevi, as well as the Lorenzo Villoresi perfumes, always respecting the identity of each artisan involved.

The perfumery, founded by Lorenzo Villarosi in 1990 in the family's old palace in the center of Florence, creates its perfumes in an entirely handcrafted way (DR)

Dolce&Gabbana is not the only brand to invest in projects aiming at supporting artisanship. In Lecce, Apulia, Dior had its 45 models catwalk on the central city square, in a decorum using codes, music and lights of local celebrations. Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director of the brand, and originally from Apulia herself, wanted to pay tribute to the artisanal tradition and art of the region. The light shed on talents and local know-how has had global resonance, thanks to the digital broadcast of the show, and has been welcomed as a way of salvaging craftsmanship in the region.

The specificities of the Tombolo embroidery are these wooden bobbins - called fuselli in Italian -, whose number refers to to the complexity of the creation. The lace then comes to life, just like the flowers and butterflies designed for Dior's cruise collection, which alone require up to 15 hours of work. A tribute to this virtuoso know-how and ancestral, emblem of the handicraft richness of Puglia(Antonio Maria Fantetti)

In Milan, the entrepreneur Aldo Invitti, who founded Prata & Mastrale, a small business specialized in tailor-made suits for men, is creating a project alongside many artisan-tailors. A unique story combining the strength of an entrepreneur to the manufacturing know-how of small businesses scattered throughout Italy.

Italian master-tailors in the spotlight

To understand this project, it is essential to dive into the story of its founder Aldo Invitti. Born in a family of famous industrials, owners of the Italian pharmaceutical company «Farmaceutici Dott. Ciccarelli» which he manages, he decides in 2011 to turn his life around and creates Prata & Mastrale, House of Tailoring, a men’s fashion house dedicated to tailor-made. His challenge? To invest in craftsmanship, while keeping this tailor-made culture intact, far from the industrial rules.

Aldo Invitti, founder of Prata & Mastrale, House of Tailoring defends the Made in Italy and the diversity of Italian know-how (DR)

For Aldo Invitti, tailor-made clothing fully represents the craftsman’s philosophy: it’s a process, not a product, it’s the sum of the actions of a person responding to the demand of another. A project in which excellent tailors are involved in the purest Italian tradition, like Cristiano Zerboni, active in the company from the very beginning and famous for this Neapolitan approach to jackets.

Prata & Mastrale brand (DR)

We also count the excellence of the Sicilian Nino Maccaluso, the Milanese Mario Pecora and the artisans originally from Apulia Aurelio LaMonarca and Antonio Del Gatto. “I wanted to create a structure that could offer a continuity for men’s tailor-made as well as for the craftsmanship of great master-tailors”, explains Aldo Invitti. “I thought about combining my financial capabilities to their know-how. Master-tailors have difficulty in passing on their craft. If they stop their business, their savoir-faire will disappear as well. Their life is a string of knowledge cumulated over the course of a very long experience which starts during childhood, in the ateliers. They have a manual dexterity close to art, their touch makes the difference, the way they work on the fabric as well, the way they master the seam, the alterations. They represent one of the strengths of our “Made in Italy “ and their applied art deserves to be valued.”

An essential applied art that the philosopher Emmanuel Kant described in the words: “the hand is the window to the mind”.

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