Jul 20, 2017 | By Samuel Trotman
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Much has been written and addressed about the birth of denim in 1873 San Francisco, but what about the more recent narrative of the denim jean as a fashion item originating in Italy? This keystone period saw denim morph from workwear to what it is considered today: a fashion trend fueled by industry.
Last Friday night, a collection of the world’s key figures in denim assembled in the spectacular grounds of an Italian castle. Castello San Salvatore resides in one the most important Italian districts in the history of denim, the region of Veneto (North-East of Italy). Organized by one of today’s most powerful mills, ISKO and in collaboration with its exclusive partner Denim by Première Vision, the night celebrated the history of the industry along with an exploration of today’s demand. The most notable topic of the night was the discussion about creativity in denim and if it’s still alive in the same way it was during the early years of Italian innovation.
The panel included the following denim veterans, pioneers and legends in the industry:
Adriano Goldschmied (Founder of the Genius Group/ Founder of AG Adriano Goldschmied and Goldsign), Elio Fiorucci (Founder of Fiorucci and Love Therapy), Katharine Hamnett (Katharine Hamnett CBE, Fashion designer and campaigner, Former designer for and member of Genius Group), Scott Morrison (Founder of 3×1), Vladimiro Baldin (Product development and style coordination DIESEL), Raffaello Napoleone (CEO Pitti) and Philippe Pasquet (CEO Première Vision).
During the roundtable discussion Marco Lucietti, SANKO/İSKOTM division marketing director stated, “We are really proud of ourselves for having been able to gather together such important protagonists of the denim community to talk about past, present and future trends of the sector.” He went on to note that, “İSKOTM has always cared about the industry evolution, not only under a business perspective but also in terms of culture”.
Hosted and led by Sebastiano Barisoni, the discussion covered early memories of the denim industry with a focus on the exciting years when there was a cross over from workwear to fashion. There was particular excitement about the boom of fashion denim in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Adriano Goldschmied reminisces:
“At that time, Italy was a very international melting pot with many designers from all over the world gravitating to the country, therefore through the denim came a message with a global vision. The fashion world was very formal at that time and we brought on a different, more casual angle.”
Despite denim being made “cool” by the likes of Marlon Brando in the ’50s, women were slower to adopt jeans into their wardrobes, mainly because trousers were still not widely worn. However, Elio Fiorucci remembers the moment this began to change in the industry:
“Gradually, women started wearing men’s 501’s as a casualwear option and I thought ‘this is something new’. This was the moment we started making jeans for women and denim was then born as fashion.”
He went on to talk about when he opened his first Fiorucci store in Milan, “at that time, we were surrounded on all sides by very stuffy gentleman’s stores. Against these very traditional stores, Fiorucci was totally different, it was new in design, in product, in color, even the music playing in the store. Everything was new.”
Katharine Hamnet started working with Adriano Goldschmied in the late ’60s and between them, they worked on the first stretch jeans. They were figure hugging, fashion forward and sexy. Goldschmied stated, “At that point denim was the pioneer guy, the rancher and then the rock and roller. We took denim, put stretch in it and turned it into sex.”
Moving on to the present and future, what can be said of today’s creativity in denim? Vladimiro Baldin of Diesel believes that, “the way we are creating our collections is changing a great deal and we have to change too, the key for me is young people, my job is to listen to them. Our biggest challenge is keeping connected with the Y generation, the X generation, we have to listen to the kids”. He has proved that by recently appointing darling of the youth-driven market, Nicola Formachetti as Art Director of Diesel. He went on to note, “Creativity and innovation is harder to achieve now but it is crucial if you are to survive.”
Raffaello Napoleone agrees, when it comes to his trade show, Pitti: “You have to set up a trade show like a very interesting magazine. You want people to come away richer. Not richer in money, richer in inspiration”. Philippe Pasquet from Première Vision cites community as a key cog in the wheel of creativity: “When we first started Denim by PV in 2007, what struck me was the sense of denim community. It became a key place to meet the industry, customers, mills, brands and even competition. Its this community that helps fuel inspiration.”
Keeping creativity alive and moving denim into the future is becoming harder and harder with increasingly tough demands on price, production and sustainability. Fiorucci says, “nowadays its more difficult to be creative. Back then the denim was new and it sat alongside an era that was brand new, so it was easy. It wasn’t just the fashion that was changing, the world was changing”
Scott Morrisson believes “as a designer, you need to be on a constant quest for newness” but some brands are being left behind if they don’t come up with an answer to today’s problems. Goldschmied describes his reaction to this constantly shifting market, “Today we are facing changes that are going at an incredible speed and this in turn is changing the speed of creativity. Also the process of building a jean is totally different. Big chain stores like Zara and H&M and bringing in a totally new era. So what I did as a reaction to this was move up, to a different type of consumer, a more premium product and a different level of the market.”
Other factors impact highly on the industry, social and environmental consciousness being at the forefront. Hamnet says, “stone washing, bleaching, stretch… all these innovations that were so new and exciting have had a negative effect on the environment and today the consumer is wising up, they now want something that is not going to damage the world. So now our challenge is ‘how do we make garments in a cleaner, safer way?’ On top of creating hot clothes that everyone wants to wear, you have to think about how to create them with less negative impact.” But how to do that on a larger scale? Scott Morrisson’s 3×1 concept was launched 5 years ago and challenges old concepts in mass production with a totally vertical and small-scale operation. As well as creating a new, transparent approach to design and manufacturing, the bespoke service also ticks the box of global appeal, “Everyone’s needs are different and its been very difficult to cater to all global markets. When you’re looking at globalisation, its very hard to create one product with the same brush”
But the most important point of the evening was made by Hamnet, “We have to look at the impact our industry makes: the social impact, working conditions, employment wages, health and safety… as well as environmental changes, cotton resources, the dying process, laundries…. We need to protect these people who are making our clothes. Much has been said lately about ‘Made in the USA’, we need to look ourselves at ‘Made in Europe’.
She then implored the audience, “Look at the EU’s Europe 2020 Strategy. Legislation is desperately needed to improve the conditions of our industry and it’s our responsibility”
So much food for thought and many points for us all to take away and consider. The fascinating conversations were continued into the night at an impressive party within the castle’s grounds where food, wine and fireworks accompanied a huge portion of Italy’s denim design industry. Replay, Scotch & Soda, Diesel and Sisly were just some of the companies present.
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