Introduction: Sabrina Ciofi
Interviews: Andrea Batilla
Italian fashion has finally found its own excellent heirs. Designers able to communicate the contemporary Italian aesthetic in universal words, without ignoring history, more recent cultural influences and the European experience. Marco Zanini and Rodolfo Paglialunga together with MariaGrazia Chiuri and PierPaolo Piccioli stand for Italian fashion in the world today. In them we find the diverse expressions of Italian style: the cultured and avant – garde style of the Milanese industrial bourgeoisie, the generous and surreal style of cinematographic Rome, the opulent and traditional style of Roman aristocracy. The same three styles that we see in the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti. Unlike the illustrious colleagues who undertook before them the difficult task of re-writing an aesthetic and commercial future for brands and fashion houses with weak and forgotten identities, Zanini, Paglialunga, Chiuri and Piccioli have the mark of what is new.
A new collective identity that distances itself from globally recognised aesthetic signs and pushes things forward. Each of them seems to work on different plans, on different codes and femininities, but if compared, their works are linked by a common sense, by the same force pulling towards a balance between contradictions and extremes. What they certainly do have in common is to have spent almost a decade working with designers who were important – professionally, stylistically and in characters – a fact which has obliged them to identify and strengthen their own identities.
This unique professional experience has left its mark on their design methodology, their idea of fashion and of product. In the following pages, thanks to the collaboration of Miki Zanini, stylist, muse and creative point of reference to her brother Marco at Rochas, we wanted to present and confront these different styles and experiences through interviews and a photographic shoot with two young photographers, Mara Corsino and Silvia Orlandi. Unfortunately MariaGrazia Chiuri and PierPaolo Piccioli’s prior commitments meant they were not available for interview, so we opted for a different solution to our inquiry. We hope to be able to interview them soon.
We met with Marco Zanini and Rodolfo Paglialunga, one after the other, at Bar Cucchi, a historic Milanese bar and confectioners near Navigli, drinking Spritz, a Venetian cocktail made of sparkling wine and Aperol.
Have you ever wanted to design a collection in your own name?
Marco Zanini. I’ve thought about it many times but never seriously. I like to put my creativity at the service of a brand and I don’t like my name. Luckily I’ve always been involved in interesting projects, first with Lawrence (Steele), then with Donatella (Versace), then with Halston and now with Rochas. All brands with a precise identity. I don’t think we need another brand in a market that is already saturated.
Historic brands and young designers. Each one needs the other and neither can survive alone.
MZ. I know I’m a pawn in a system that plays musical chairs with its brands and designers, but I don’t feel frustrated at all and I relish this great opportunity. I reflect myself in my one and only collection for Halston as I do in my work for Rochas. I don’t believe I am a victim of this unwritten rule. I do more or less what I want.
What’s your relationship with the market?
MZ. When I design, I never think about the catwalk show. The catwalk is fun, it’s entertainment. For me there is sense in a collection if it makes it to the market, if I see women wearing Rochas. Nothing is created just for the catwalk; everything that goes down the catwalk should be sold. I don’t find it contemporary to create one-off pieces in a workshop that nobody will ever wear. The designer’s role today is different to that of the ’90s; the years of the dinosaurs on their way to extinction.
When you design a collection, how do you balance the heritage of the brand with your market sensitivity?
MZ. In fifteen years of work I have learned not to divide the creative moment in two. My imagination is never extreme, it’s always real. Fashion is not art; it’s a language that helps each one of us to express ourselves. No masturbatory fantasies.
How would you describe Rochas to a young person?
MZ. Marcel Rochas worked from 1925 to 1950. He was the enfant terrible of his generation, as well as being the youngest. He was eclectic; it was his principle characteristic, so it’s very difficult to define him. The extraordinary thing for me is that everybody knows the brand, but nobody knows the work he did. There’s no icon to reinterpret each season but there is the perfume of a very strong past.
What’s the difference between the French and the Italian ways of bringing ashion to fruition?
MZ. As an Italian I feel distant from what is French, and this gives me a wider and clearer perspective. All the French brands today are designed by foreigners. It’s not just a coincidence. The Italians in particular have a way of working that is more connected to efficiency and reality. But the thing that helps us creatively is really the distance. That’s what creates the dream.
Behind the Rochas brand there is an Italian firm ownd by a Japanese holding company – Kashyama – which is managed by Franco Penè. What kind of relationship do you have with the company?
MZ. Gibò is a happy heaven that over the years has produced some of the most extremely creative figures (Helmut Lang, Viktor & Rolf, Jil Sander), and has cultivated great respect for creativity. Nothing is outside their control and everything is done to the highest possible quality standards. It’s an incredible production network belonging to the company that manages to place no limits on the creativity of its designers.
Which country has best understood the Rochas project?
MZ. The United States. As far as both the market and the press are concerned. It’s a country that is genetically attracted to what is new, but at the same time it has a critical eye for creativity; open to things that produce results, that don’t necessarily have to be only commercial results. Besides, it’s our reference market today.
You collaborate very closely with your sister Miki who, amongst other things, takes care of the styling of your catwalk shows (she also styled the Rochas and Vionnet shoot for PIZZA). How does it work?
MZ. It’s a relationship that started when we were children. We’ve always had a passion for fashion in common. In the beginning it was me who followed her to Paris and New York when she was a model. Now it is a profound and intimate relationship. She is my muse. Nothing abstract. She is the source of, or the confirmation of, my inspiration. Her opinion is always sincere because she’s not looking for gratification, she doesn’t have any barriers built by modesty or hierarchy. She’s the recharge for my phone. She’s a real woman. The day that I left Versace, Donatella made me swear that I’d never betray my relationship with my sister. Nobody can understand better than Donatella the creative bond between brother and sister, at the centre of which is that honesty that is born out of love.
Anyone you’d like to thank?
MZ. Donatella Versace and Lawrence Steele. Endlessly.
Ph. Mara Corsino
Styling Miki Zanini
Hair and Makeup Elena Pivetta @ greenappleitalia.com using mac cosmetics
Model Vilma @ IMG
Photographic assistance Giulia Soldavini
All clothes and accessories shot are from the Autumn/Winter 2010-2011 Rochas collection
Have you ever wanted to design a collection in your own name?
Rodolfo Paglialunga. Honestly, no. My name wouldn’t work and on a practical level it would be very difficult. Designing for Vionnet, I behave exactly as I would if I was designing my own collection.
How different is what you do now from what you did when you were Womenswear Design Director for Prada?
RP. Before, I had to answer to someone else and I didn’t have direct responsibility for what I did. The mental approach is completely different. But comparisons are difficult. Vionnet is a new project, and relatively small compared to Prada. Twelve years in a company had an immense value for my development: I learned the meaning of the job. Here with Vionnet, I wanted to start from scratch, create new codes and a new language, in the workplace as well. Here the responsibility is all mine.
How has your relationship with the market and the figures changed?
RP. The dimensions have changed. At Prada, there was an enormous business to maintain, but here history has yet to be written. We need to find a new position in a system that exists, and that apparently doesn’t need new brands.
Talking about communication, what relationship do you have with the press?
RP. I find that the foreign press is initially more open towards what is new. The business isn’t important, but the innovative and creative approach is. Far-sightedness is a word that I have learned to appreciate. In general, I find that communication is a fundamental phase in a project, from its presentation to the precise layout of garments in a showroom.
Which country do you feel the most affinity with?
RP. Definitely the United States. I find their approach both professional and human, and the driving force is always a healthy curiosity, there never is boredom.
Is it also the country that has given you the most commercial satisfaction?
RP. On the contrary. It’s the most difficult country from that perspective, because it’s the most competitive. It’s a market that needs to be conquered, in the true sense of the word.
Do you think it’s more effective to do a presentation rather than a catwalk show today?
RP. The catwalk is the visible conclusion of a long period of work where every artifice is permitted. A static presentation is something much closer to the final product, to what people will be buying. Two different ways to communicate, each with its pros and cons. Our project is very ambitious because it’s starting practically from scratch, and for this reason it needed a more direct form of contact with the press and the buyers. With the last presentation we tried to find a middle path.
What kind of relationship do you have with Madeleine Vionnet?
RP. It’s a brand with an incredible and unforgettable history. It would not have been possible to move too radically away from its heritage. The typical Vionnet themes, like fragility and lightness, have remained central to my project. On the other hand, her work has been so totally plundered by many designers over the course of this century, that suggesting certain themes again would have been out of place. I was neither able to nor wished to compete with what John Galliano did. Instead, I looked a lot at her idea of radical and liberating innovation, that went far beyond using the bias cut. My modest presumption is to reach that idea.
From the first collection for Vionnet to the Fall-Winter 2011-2012 collection that’s in the shops now, what’s changed?
RP. What’s changed is that I’ve managed to relax. The biggest stress was finding a new way to work, and this season I’ve gone back to working with more instinct and less reasoning. At the beginning it was a bit of a black hole; I didn’t know which direction to take and I was scared of being sucked in by the difficulty of the project.
Apparently there’s a big difference between the conceptual minimalism of Prada and the ironic maximalism of Vionnet.
RP. It would have been very easy for me to carry on doing what I’d been doing for the last twelve years. I tried to open new horizons, work with different words, like sensuality for example. I’d like to be able to say I make clothes that are sexy but not vulgar. I must say that the success we’re having with Hollywood celebrities is very comforting.
Who do you confront yourself with on the creative level?
RP. I have a young and very talented staff that helps me a lot. I think creativity has to be the real motor behind an innovative project. You can’t face the market without the weapons to win it. And these weapons are in the creative force. I feel that sometimes in Italy attention to business is confused with appeasing the market. In France, the new is less frightening because they are more used to dealing with it. In this sense I consider myself extremely fortunate to have Matteo Marzotto and Gianni Castiglioni at my side.
At this point Marco and Miki Zanini joined the table, and the interview went off the record.
Ph. Silvia orlandi
Styling Miki Zanini
Hair & Make up Elena Pivetta @ greenappleitalia.com using mac cosmetics
Model Katia @ Brave models
All clothes and accessories shot are from the Autumn/Winter 2010_2011 Vionnet collection