The capitals of Europe were long destinations for foreign tourists, most notably Chinese and Arabic visitors, to fill their shiny Rimowa suitcases to bursting with luxury goods. Buying a new Hermès bag on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré or a bespoke suit on Savile Row felt more authentic and could seduce many an international visitor to spend, spend, spend.
Left - Interior of LVMH duty-free travel division DFS's T Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice
David M Watts, Fashion Industry Advisor, says, “Given they (LVMH) have deep pockets it will be possible for them to refocus on local markets in Europe but not without its challenges given the continued state of lockdown all across the world.
Right - Artist's impression of the new, yet to open La Samaritaine in Paris
Did you know Barena has a grown-up brother called CINI Venezia? Neither did I until I stumbled across the CINI stand at the January 2020 Pitti Uomo, and because CINI has Venezia - Venice - in its logo, I said the only other Venetian menswear label I knew was Barena, I’m a big fan, and they told me this was part of the same company and was their more premium offering. (Barena has built up a loyal following for its quality, well priced and thoughtfully stylish Italian menswear amongst a certain group of discerning men.)
Left - Cini Venezia - Coat Burchione Piave Black - €730
The original mill, Lanificio CINI, was founded in the 1830 by Augusto and Giacomo Cini as a humble workshop producing cloth and coarse blankets.
This is still the foundation of the collection of Italian-made outerwear. Barena founder Sandro Zara - he also owns the Venetian cloak maker Il Tabarro - bought the Lanificio CINI woollen mill, which was formerly based in Vittorio Veneto, after using it as a supplier for many years. It came complete with an incredible archive which the CINI family maintained. From fabric swatches, to astute weaving dimensions, patterns and cloth experiments, everything was kept meticulously in its original state.
CINI Venezia, the brand, first appeared in 2012 and references historical Italian menswear styles in a darker and more conservative palette than Barena's. Prices reflect the quality of the cloth.
Right - Cini Venezia - Coat Duemezzo Piave Navy - €1150
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Created by perfumer Jordi Fernandez, ‘Imperial Emerald’ layers iris, Egyptian jasmine and lily of the valley over a subtle base of white musk.
The perfume was inspired by the beauty and majesty of the peacock. Native to India and Sri Lanka, for centuries the peacock has been interpreted by different cultures as a symbol of immortality and regality.
TheChicGeek says, “This looks beautiful with its real feather detail, and you know how much I love Venice. The fragrance is very white florals. There’s a lot going on here with top notes of bergamot, mandarin, pink peppercorn, carnation and iris. Heart notes of orange flowers, ylang ylang, peony, egyptian jasmine, lily of the valley and a base composed of white amber, benzoin and white musk, so it’s definitely not for the wallflowers of fragrance.
It smells old-fashioned, but not in a bad way. It’s probably too blousy for me, but would suit some of those other strutting male peacocks I know..."
Left - Merchant Of Venice - Imperial Emerald Eau de Parfum Concentrée - 100ml - £250 Available exclusively from Harrods
Disclosure - A sample product was gifted by Merchant of Venice to review
With Italy tip-toeing in and out of recession, Pitti Uomo felt a little skittish on confidence. It had an atmosphere of brands holding on by their finger nails, with many hoping for a strong SS20 season to help pull them through.
Sadly, it’s the quality makers who seem most susceptible to failure. Their high costs, lower margins and small quantities make it a difficult balancing act to continue to stay strong and produce quality product in Italy. These are the brands who are barely known yet sing through the quality on the hanger and all at a fair price. Today, you rarely get this kind of care and attention with a designer name. Here are five made-in-Italy menswear makers we should all be supporting:
Left - Pitti Uomo 96 soaking up the sunshine
Founded in 1957 by current creative director Guido Biondi’s grandfather as ‘7 Bell S.p.A’, a Tuscan atelier, it was the very first producer of Italian denim. Today, they make colourful and contemporary menswear instilled with the best made-in-Italy production.
Right - President's - For the SS20 season, there were bold minimal orange jackets, tie-dyed shirting and hand sketched T-shirts
Based in Venice, Barena, the Italian for ‘mudflat’, has been steadily making inroads into the UK with its stylish and original menswear. Inspired by the Venetian lagoon, Barena says it mimics the qualities of traditional workwear with a modern aesthetic. Loose shapes, quiet precise tailoring, exquisite fabrics, attention to detail and confident versatility are the pillars of their design philosophy.
The menswear designer is Massimo Pigozzo who has been with the Barena family for over twenty years. Trained as a tailor, for Pigozzo it is important to create designs that are simple, understated and easy to wear. Deep fabric research, pattern work and soft tailoring are key to his approach and he says it is not about reproductions or constant alterations.
Left - Barena - For the SS20 season, it was all about contrast with playful tailoring and short sleeved shirts with contrasting collars
Meaning double A in Italian and named after two friends, Alain and Albert, Doppiaa is designed for the whole family, for all ages and all occasions. Based in Milan, Doppiaa has two essential cornerstones: 100% Italian manufacturing, and the painstakingly executed pinpointing and selecting of the highest quality fabrics.
Right - Doppiaa - For the SS20 season, it was brightly coloured towelling tops, pyjama style piped printed shirts and strikingly striped trousers
This is everything the more famous Missoni should be; colourful, stylish and contemporary. Designed by Simonetta Bocelli and Franco Santarini and based in Florence, Sunhouse is a specialist in Italian made knitwear in a rainbow of colours in classic menswear shapes.
Sunhouse is one of the few companies in the world to use traditional 720-yarn looms to 'reinvent' the culture of knitwear. The production is carried out in their workshops in Montecosaro, in the Marche Region. Each individual jacket is cut and sewn by hand.
Left - Sunhouse - For the SS20 season, it was about bold colour stories in signature zig-zagged blazers and delicate polo shirts
BOB is an Italian sportswear brand created by two young Italian guys, Alessio Bonaiuti and Tommaso Bellini. They started their adventure 11 years ago in Prato, with the idea developing from going around vintage warehouses where huge quantities of second hand clothes were divided by colours and then recycled. Going through these warehouses was like being absorbed in a spectacular coloured market that resembled a field of flowers they thought and it was this image was the starting idea to develop a new concept of eclectic and colourful menswear.
Right - BOB - For the SS20 season, it was all about bold, pattern blazers and colourful separates
These are simply beautiful clothes made with care from great ingredients. While you are paying a premium, you are, in fact, getting great value when you consider the expertise and pedigree of these makers. These are the kind of clothes that are a joy to wear and will last you a very long time.
These were some of my favourite pieces from the SS19 trade shows. First seen at Pitti in Florence and then later in Copenhagen on the Barena, the Venice-based fashion brand, stand, they hadn’t disappeared out of my head and I was itching for them to drop.
Featuring a stunning print of Venice, one of the most beautiful and individual cities in the world, they are stylish, oversized linen garments which you could wear separately or all together for that complete Peggy Guggenheim look.
Left & Below - Barena - BERMUDA (Shorts) AGRO SCHIAVON UNICO - €195, CAMICIA (Shirt) SOLANA MARTINO UNICO - €235
With everything turning towards vintage sportswear, it was perfectly timed and serendipity to receive an invitation to the Diadora museum. Located near Treviso, around 40km from Venice, Diadora, the Italian sportswear brand and manufacturer, is having a renaissance and riding the wave of the revival of 80s sports classics and men’s terrace wear.
Left - Diadora HQ is near Treviso, a town in the Veneto region of north-east Italy
Unfortunately not open to the general public, the museum is located at the head office and factory. Since July 2009, Diadora has been controlled by L.I.R. the holding company owned by the Moretti Polegato family, who also own Geox. They have re-established the Diadora brand and the museum is there to remind and explain to visitors and employees the brand’s history and sporting heritage.
Right - The timeline of Diadora's history in the museum
Diadora is from the Greek, dia-dorea, which means, ‘to share gifts and honours’, and was established in 1948 by Marcello Danieli to make mountain boots. Treviso is situated near the mountains and the Italian mountain police required special boots for their duties and this is why many of these types of manufacturers and companies sprang up in this area after the war.
In 1960 Diadora shifted its production to sports and during its heyday in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, it was worn by some of the biggest sports stars of the time including Ayrton Senna, Sebastian Coe, Bjorn Borg and the Italia ’90 Italian football team.
Left - One of many of the famous sports shoes in Diadora's hall of fame - Here is Boris Becker's
In 2009, Enrico Moretti Polegato, a member of the controlling family, became the new president of the company with the aim of enhancing the brand’s worldwide reputation and production. A background as a lawyer, and softly spoken, he kindly gave us the tour of the museum.
Right - Inside the factory where 10% of Diadora's shoes are #madeinitaly
The museum starts with an overview of nearly 70 years of history with a few of the original machines and processes it takes to make the shoes. An enviable collection of signed football shirts illustrates the depth of names who have worn Diadora.
The next part is where Geox’s expertise comes in. Masters in sole innovation and construction, they are regarded by some as the best, producing comfortable and practical footwear. A new concept, centred in the room, illustrates the breathability of their soles and how they are bringing this technology into Diadora’s new footwear.
Left - Diadora's sporting greats on the outside of the headquarters
The final part is Diadora’s greatest hits: a display of all the sports people who have worn Diadora over the years including Boris Becker, Roberto Baggio and Francesco Totti pictured alongside their shoes.
Diadora’s collections are a good mix of heritage with modern finishes and techniques centred around the sports shoes and their current collection of 'Heritage' casual wear has the strong branding people are currently looking for. They do pure sports shoes, casual shoes and vintage inspired shoes, for many different sports, and they also produce utility shoes. Around 10% of their shoes are, now, made in Italy, and around 30% is made in neighbouring countries in Europe.
When I visited they were making utility shoes in the factory adjacent to the museum. The small production space is connected to the design department so they can prototype and produce in limited runs and in tighter time frames. Diadora has recently specialised in producing special collaborations for brands and retailers.
It feels that being part of a bigger group, Diadora, has more stability and the expertise and investment you need in order to be able to keep up in this very competitive market. As people grow tired of the sports mega brands and a return to those with real heritage, Diadora is in the perfect position to reap the benefits with quality products that are well made and define this new era of retro sports that has hit the current fashion scene.
Right - Diadora's current SS17 campaign which references its 80s archive
More images below
I don’t often write about new retail, it’s usually pretty boring and cookie-cutter the world over, but when something’s good, it’s good, and on a recent trip to Venice with Diadora, we were taken to the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi, the first retail store in Europe by LVMH’s travel retail arm, DFS.
Left - Inside the main atrium space of the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi
Looking out onto the Rialto Bridge, across from the fish market, stands the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi. First constructed in 1228, it was once home to the German merchants - Tedeschi means German in Italian - who traded with those wealthy Venetians, taking spices and the like to Northern Europe. It became a customs house under Napoleon, and a post office under Mussolini, then lay empty. Until now.
Right - The Venetian red escalators and special Venice-inspired product graces the entrance
Thanks to LVMH’s deep pockets and Dutch architecture practise, OMA, it been transformed into a sympathetic, luxury with a small L shopping space that feels more like a cross between a boutique hotel and museum that sells things, rather than a boring collection of luxury concessions all jostling for customers and attention.
Left - On the top floor is this exhibition space with a lit floor that just needs a disco soundtrack
It’s one of the best retail spaces I’ve seen recently. The escalators are Venetian red, like moving red carpets, they take you up to the floors of men’s and women's fashion and beauty.
On the top floor is an exhibition space and on the roof is a viewing deck looking out over the glorious city that is Venice.
Right - Head to the top floor for one of the best views of Venice.
Opened in October, the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi has been updated, without losing any of its charm, by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas – who was in charge of the exterior renovation – and architect Jamie Fobert – who handled the interior design.
Everywhere there is attention to detail. Every inch has been thought about: the floors, handrails, furniture, lights and the space has been designed for brands to flow, and in our ever fickle times, be replaced.
The brands are the same old: Gucci, Bally, Bottega Veneta etc., but because it’s such a nice building and environment it makes you want to explore regardless of it being the same tired things. To be fair, the brands have done a few special pieces with the colours of the Italian flag. Also, on the ground floor, they sell wine, souvenirs and other more affordable items.
The only negative was that it was so discreet, the name ‘ Fondaco Dei Tedeschi’, which doesn't exactly slip off the tongue, was only at the front door and you wanted to know/learn the name in order to tell other people how good it was. If you’re in Venice, definitely take a look.