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Freitag, Nov. 26, 2010, 14:46 / Italy
Luca Testoni is a Milan-based writer who got to know the Italian Fashion Industry from the disinterested perspective of a business journalist. During his research, he discovered an industry on the brink of collapse—barely held together by a web of egoism. His new book, L’Ultima Sfilata (The Last Runway) is a sobering inquiry into the history and impending demise of the Italian fashion business, as well as an exploration of a worst-case scenario.
TribaSpace: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience as a journalist and how you gained your perspective on the Italian Fashion Industry?
Luca Testoni: I am currently the deputy managing editor of Finanza e mercati, a daily newspaper that reports on finance and the economy. I graduated in 1994 from the University of Bologna in Finance, and then I did two years of journalism school, also in Bologna. Then I worked for a number of local and regional newspapers. Later I went to Milan where I wrote about finance and the Internet, and this is where my experience in fashion began. Between 1998 and 2002, I met fashion. I entered the front door to do a job—and from the perspective of the business journalist, I could observe without being involved in an obsessive way and compromising the entire fashion world. I was sort of a special agent sent over the lines. I saw a fantasy world from many points of view (people, events, products, ideas). But I could grasp the many paradoxes, especially the tremendous growth of charlatanism, waste, inefficiency and arrogance (a synonym for ignorance).
In your book, you discuss how the Italian press– specifically Vogue Italia– became the sole arbiter of Italian fashion. Do you perceive the Internet changing this balance at all? For example, has the Internet, style blogs and consumer-driven websites, diffused some of the power of print fashion editors in Italy?
It is probable that the Internet (blogs, online magazine and stores) will gain even more space in the near future. For example, Italian Vogue just launched its own Internet portal a few months ago. The way I see it, imagine that the Internet, as a way to network, share experiences and accessibility, will be one of the keys to the emergence of new brands, while the existing brands will have a greater capacity to adapt to and understand new markets. However, on the subject of whether the Internet can remove power from print editorial today, I think it is premature. The patterns of thought and action remain anchored to the past. We are almost blackmailed by the past.
According to your scenario, the Italian fashion industry would be completely shut down by 2015– there would be no fashion week, no runway, no collections. What would be the economic consequences of a collapse of the fashion industry in Italy?
A collapse of the fashion industry would have an immediate effect on something like €70 billion in revenue and 800,000 jobs. It would mean losing an entire sector of employment that is particular to Italy: artisan of textiles, yarn and leather, as well as image and communication services (newspapers, PR agencies, advertising, photographers, designers, etc.). The loss of the shows also represents a sort of blackout for the whole “Made in Italy” concept. The lights would go out at the very top of Italian Fashion—in the city of Milan. It would do huge damage to the reputation: just think how many students of fashion and costume design (in thousands and thousand) arrive in Milan every year attracted by the lights of the catwalk.
How can the Italian fashion industry save itself? What solutions do you propose?
I have no workable solutions. Finding a new formula and winning, as we managed to do in the seventies and eighties, is the challenge the industry faces right now. In my opinion, one way to initiate change is to impose a great, ethical leap forward. The system must start thinking in terms of shared goals and resources. Radical action is needed in order to cause such a shift in mentality.
The fashion industry could be an example for the entire country if it would transform its ethics. From an economic standpoint, imagine if worth was linked to values related to the environment, workers’ rights, preservation of culture and artisanship. From a social point of view, the adoption of a meritocracy (that is, the exploitation of young people open to new forces) causes the abandonment of weak trends. It is the testimonial to a new society, not a reflection of the decline of patronage. From an ethical standpoint, changing the fashion industry would mean ending the unhealthy relationship between fashion houses, journalists and advertisers. It would mean renewing and re-thinking institutional bodies so that they would be a genuine help to the fashion business, rather than remaining as self-interested, freeloading establishments.
Is it possible that some of challenges the industry faces now will finally allow for new, young designers to emerge from the Italian scene?
I think there will be major changes. For now, the direction of change is downward. But within the industry, there are still many positive forces. The crucial point is this: the great designers in Milan became great because they were not alone, but had created a system. Any new designers will also need a system. Or they will need to rebuild the current system, or generate a new one. In any case, we will need a strong force to carve out the future system and this system will need strong values and shared ideals.
Catherine Levy | TribaSpace
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