Danilo Venturi: Polimoda Director Answers the Most Intriguing Questions
Chaos is the new order, and those who have learnt to handle it have been successful, while all others suffer.
1. Florence is becoming the fifth fashion capital, mecca of the international style. How do you explain the phenomenon? What makes Florence so influential in fashion?
Florence exudes effervescence, a kind of energy which is ever changing and vibrant. In addition to this, the city has a historical legacy with fashion; many brands such as Pucci, Prada and Salvatore Ferragamo are Florentine in their origin. Known for its skill and craftsmanship, specifically in leather production, it is not surprising to have the Kering and LVMH groups produce key luxury items in the region. The most influential menswear tradeshow in the world, Pitti Uomo, is hosted in the city twice a year, and has a longstanding tradition of being based in Florence. This year Pitti was the curtain for the shows of J.W. Anderson and Off-White. The city is an international hub of diversity and Polimoda definitely plays its part in contributing to the style and fashion. Among our guest lecturers we had Marco Bizzarri (Gucci), Andreas Kronthaler (Vivienne Westwood), Damir Doma, Olivier Bialobos (Dior) and Tim Blanks (The Business of Fashion). Fashion Displacement, our panel discussion, hosts people like Suzy Menkes and the jury of our Fashion Show is composed every year by experts like Guram Gvasalia (Vêtements), Diane Pernet (ASVOFF), Christiane Arp (Vogue Germany) and David Fischer (Highsnobiety), just to mention a few. This is an influential phenomenon because, obviously, Polimoda is not just asking for a presence, but guests express their opinion on how fashion should be in the future.
2. How does the city “face” change according to that? What new must-see destinations, new appealing shopping streets appear in Florence?
The city does not wear a mask that changes, but rather reveals and conceals itself according to how deep you seek to delve into it. Florence is a city which is constantly attracting new energy and visitors, it is always abuzz with an air of excitement as well as enchantment. There is the constant and then there is that which changes. The city in its historical form offers one of the richest bodies or art and architecture in the world, this provides the alluring beauty for the backdrop against which the ‘new’ or ever changing atmosphere of new shops and destinations arise. More recently the Oltrarno area has been experiencing a revival of young creative energy, across various industries and in various forms. The area as a destination is also a unique experience as it is slightly removed from the overrun and obvious tourist attractions. As the cradle of Renaissance and humanism, Florence makes a difference, thanks to the people who come from the most diverse places, deciding to move and live here. The city has many doors but it’s the people who have the keys.
3. How does fashion in Milan and other fashion “capitals” differ from fashion in Florence?
I think each city or ‘capital’ is known for having a particular ‘niche’, whether traditional or contemporary. For instance, Paris is known for Haute Couture, as well as its legacy of iconic French designers and fashion houses, while London is known for its new and exciting innovations in fashion. In a similar sense, many of the iconic Italian brands that may be associated with the essence of Italian style and quality, linked to the fashion weeks in Milan, actually originated in Florence. One of the strengths of the city as a global fashion capital is not only the beauty and fashion within the city, but also the expert quality and manufacturing of luxury leather goods as well as menswear. If I have to summarise it up in few words: Paris is “Haute Couture”, Antwerp is “avant-garde”, London is “trends”, New York is “wearability”, Milan is “Prêt-à-Porter” and Florence is “conceptual luxury”, the strength of an idea and the ability to realize it. It is not by chance that this year our former students have been chosen as creative directors in important labels, Francesco Risso at Marni and Luke & Lucie Meir at Jil Sander. It’s the spirit of the time.
4. What are the leading fashion destinations in Florence?
As a whole, the city of Florence is a fashion destination. It is a city, which seamlessly juxtaposes historical and classic, with contemporary and ‘exciting’. With this being said, the same applies to fashion within the city. World famous fashion museums such as The Ferragamo Museo allow visitors to experience both the past and present. As mention before, brands such as Gucci, Emilio Pucci, Roberto Cavalli and Salvatore Ferragamo all originate from Florence, and many of the boutiques can be found on the famous Via Turnabuoni. Just around the corner, carrying over 600 international brands, Luisa via Roma remains a renowned luxury fashion destination. If you are interested in local brands, exploring across the Arno River, the Oltrarno area boasts many independent leather craftsmen and artisans, as well as an abundance of vintage stores carrying iconic Italian labels. More recently however, it has been the Tuscan countryside that has been attracting a large array of customers who seek out the outlet stores of major international fashion brands. With a diversity of options and experiences such as this, it is perhaps easy to see why Florence is almost unparalleled as a fashion destination.
5. What are your favorite places in Florence? What would you recommend to those who want to feel the spirit of this city?
I like to spend my time among the misfits, the outcasts, the real ones, attending bad bars and rotten restaurants, and having genuine discussions with people who may not know how to express in a refined way but have something to say. My neighborhood is San Frediano, the one most affected by the 1966 flood, where in Spring you can smell a unique blend of field flowers and moldy buildings. San Frediano gives you the feeling of living out of space and time, literally in a bubble, but at the same time this is the place where you do not need TV or the Internet because you can learn the news from two elderly men arguing in the middle of a public square. It’s deeply Italian, impertinent, and sarcastic, it’s the place where you’ll find a small sanctuary of the Madonna in every corner but where people swear as if there is no tomorrow. Here you can still talk about politics without using Machiavelli’s tricks. San Frediano seems like a dangerous place, you never feel safe, but if you know the codes of street life, then everything smooths out. Art and fashion brought me to Florence years ago, but the people of San Frediano convinced me to stay. Now, should I recommend that you visit this place?
6. What new fashion capitals may appear overtime? What countries gain strength in the world of fashion? What countries are “overlooked” so far?
Gosha Rubchinskiy has helped highlight the unique subcultures and cultural dynamisms that exist within Russia, and more specifically Moscow. He has fused a strong signature synchronism between street style and a sense of history. This has reawakened the eyes of the fashion world to a youth culture and post-soviet generation of talent. In a similar stream, Berlin has emerged as a hub for young creatives, offering a vibrant economy and highly individualized consumer. I think Japan will always have a fascinating fashion scene, from the fragmented subcultures, districts and the plethora of retail offerings, to the bigger brands such as COMME des GARÇONS. Looking towards the Southern Hemisphere, continents such as Australia and South Africa grow with two very different industries, which are also starting to gain global interest. Fashion is also a matter of power because whomever decides how you dress also decides who you are, so in my opinion it’s good to have more points of view and reference on fashion, this way people can decide what to join and to where to belong.
7. Has the meaning and the goal of fashion itself changed over years? What are the priorities of the contemporary fashion? What is the mainstream? What is the role of the street culture?
Fashion has gone through a chaotic moment in recent decades. This is obvious, since the world has changed completely from the late 80's on. There are no more political ideologies, which means that there are not even commercial ones. To be clear, people buy different brands depending on the moment and on the use of the item, and they wear them together according to their personal taste, no matter if one is high and the other one is low. There is no longer the good and the bad. We see it in music, where in our electronic devices we mix everything and the most listened to genre is "Other". We also see this same pattern in fashion. A niche brand can be globally successful and a mainstream brand can be alternative. Street culture is important because it’s here that people express themselves and it’s here where fashion brands can be challenged by new ideas. You can understand how much this historical change has determined the evolution of what we used to call Fashion Design and Fashion Business. Now is the time for hybrid sciences such as Art Direction and Design Management.
8. What is your attitude to luxury in fashion? What is your attitude towards the casual, sport style, which is becoming more popular? Do you opt for simplicity or refinement and luxury?
Perhaps, it would be necessary to first start with what our unique perception of luxury is… While I appreciate the essence of luxury, which is quality, cultural content and aesthetic refinement, it is important to note that within the current fashion industry, luxury has become something very engineered and controlled to create a feeling of scarcity. Entire populations that in the past used to stand in a queue to buy a loaf of bread, now stand outside shops for a bag, a phone or a garment, no matter if casual, classic or sport style. One of the basic rules of luxury management has always been to reduce quantities and let people pay a higher price for what was unavailable. Now, what is truly unavailable today? Time, space, culture, awareness, identity and love… this is the opposite of queuing to buy a nondescript product. You know, luxury is made of key values that can be mixed in different doses, like a cocktail. One of these is authenticity. I am ready pay a lot if you give me something that comes from a true passion, that makes me feel good and shares my vision. Otherwise, even if I have money to throw around, I simply won’t buy.
9. What do you mean by sustainability in fashion? How do you teach your students to create in a sustainable way?
Sustainability is a tricky concept. We have certain expectations of the steps that big companies and industries need to take to act in a socially and environmentally conscious way. We live in a world with instant information, and we expect companies to be transparent in almost every step of the value chain. For example, Kering has started a massive program for sustainability and I wish this could become the example that many others strive to also achieve. Nonetheless, I think that in this moment, the industry is advancing beyond the average consumer. We all know that the fastness and over-consumption of the last few decades are no longer a sustainable practice, yet people keep on buying unnecessarily. Sustainability can’t be thought of in isolation or in relation only to creating and consuming, it has to start far before the practice, it has to start with the mindset of both the creator and the consumer. That’s why one of our key philosophies in teaching is for students to always research and gain in-depth knowledge, starting with the notion of the intangible and manifesting into the tangible. Consciousness and responsibility comes first, as prerequisites for sharing a collective project on sustainability. That’s why we keep on searching for valuable collaborations within the industry, to teach ours students how to work but also how to consume.
10. With what famous design brands and designers do you collaborate?
Most recently LVMH, the luxury french conglomorate Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which houses some of the most luxurious French brands, partnered together with Polimoda. This collaboration created a new synergy between industry and education. As of Fall 2017, 12 students will have the opportunity to partake in a Leather-Pro course, allowing them to build their skills and passion for handcrafted leather goods. This program has a social impact, which aims to hand down a precious skill set of know-how and seeks to end with full employment. In addition to this partnership, we have applied projects with companies such as Hugo Boss, Woolmark and i-D magazine, just to name a few. We are also excited to offer our students the great opportunity of participating in the CFDA+ program. Lastly, whether it’s an internship, an applied project, a start-up program or a contest, Polimoda always gives an exclusive opportunity to get close to the industry. More than 2000 companies work closely with Polimoda, in various ways, which is also one of the reasons why we boast an 88% employment placement rate within 6 months after graduation.
11. You also collaborate with other schools such as Central Saint Martins and Osaka Bunka. What is the geography of your joint projects? Do you plan to expand it?
Geographic positioning is interesting in that it offers different variables into the equation of creativity and identity. By collaborating with institutions across various geographical locations, not only does it provide a platform for students to learn from each other, but also to delve deeper in literal and figurative territories, which they can learn from, grow and improve on. Polimoda is for the open-minded individual, who is analytical and critical of the world around them, who is not afraid to challenge the ‘norm’ and who always carries an element of curiosity within them. More then focusing on the geographical location of our partners, it is about collaborating with institutions who share the same visions and values. Beyond the two already mentioned schools, we will also start to collaborate with Parsons Paris and Condé Nast Shanghai. Collaborations within the industry help to bridge the gap between study and work, whereas collaborations with schools help to reduce the space between study and real life. It’s part of a vision that sees Polimoda not only as a place where knowledge can be ‘bought’, but more importantly as a place where you grow as a person.
12. How do you prepare the students of Polimoda for the career in fashion? What is essential for them to be successful?
Our students are equipped with key professional and personal skills. Firstly we instill in them the hard skills, and thereafter the soft skills. In addition to this, any traditional concept or façade of glamour and stardom are stripped from the fashion equation. This leaves only the essence of the student, allowing them to focus inwardly to further develop themselves. Having a strong sense of who you are is key to what you do, and in addition to this by working hard and staying focused it will lead you to being recognized and rewarded. Talent is nothing without dedication, and hard work is in vain if not upheld by talent and creativity.
13. Which course would you recommend for the students who want to create their own brand?
Depending on your background and the field you want to cover, Fashion Brand Management is perfect if you come from studies within fashion design, while Luxury Business requires previous work experience in management. Nonetheless, both courses are based on a start-up mindset.
14. What is the most important message that you deliver to your students?
Find out who you are, go straight on your way, work hard and respect others, if you add value you will be recognised.