Italian Emerging Brands Find Opportunities in Affordable Luxury

Emilee Geist

MILAN — Affordable luxury seems to be the most appealing market segment for emerging Italian brands. Instead of prioritizing creative fantasies and indulging in expensive fabrics and treatments, up-and-coming designers are trying to find a balance between aesthetics, quality and prices. If Italy, along with Paris, has for many years […]

MILAN Affordable luxury seems to be the most appealing market segment for emerging Italian brands.

Instead of prioritizing creative fantasies and indulging in expensive fabrics and treatments, up-and-coming designers are trying to find a balance between aesthetics, quality and prices.

If Italy, along with Paris, has for many years been the center of luxury labels, the country’s emerging brands now seem to be more interested in dressing real people than in building ivory towers of creativity and exclusivity.

“Positioning the brand in the affordable luxury segment is definitely the easiest way for emerging brands to find a place in the most prestigious stores next to established luxury labels,” said Milan-based showroom owner Riccardo Grassi. “I think that in the future there will be an increased appetite for brands offering products with a designer’s aesthetic but with accessible pricing.”

“I think there is space in the market for new brands offering more competitive prices compared to big luxury players,” said Aldo Gotti, general manager of high-end retailer Modes. “I believe that the search for this type of positioning doesn’t curb creativity, but actually it enables these brands to be more in line with the current market situation.”

But is there a risk that these Italian emerging brands are labeled simply as pure commercial players? Grassi thinks so. “Abroad, our national designers and labels are seen as very commercial,” he said. “The problem is that here we are not a strong culture when it comes to communication and marketing. For years, the Italian fashion market has been dominated by major designers and the industry didn’t nourish a new roster of talents. However, there are really good designers in our country, and the Asian markets, as well as online retailers, are really good opportunities for them to grow internationally.”

Featuring an average retail price of 350 euros, the debut collection of Adamo, a brand founded during the lockdown by Andrea Adamo, emerged as one of the more interesting labels available at Milan’s showrooms for spring 2021. “Prices are very competitive and the production is 100 percent made in Italy,” highlighted Adamo, who cut his teeth at Elisabetta Franchi before working in the eveningwear division of Roberto Cavalli. Other roles were at Zuhair Murad in Paris, as head designer celebrities and special projects for Dolce & Gabbana, and, most recently, at Ingie Paris.

Grounded in a genderless and inclusive aesthetic, Adamo offers ribbed knits and jersey pieces in a restrained color palette and crafted via a seamless technology. They “are designed to be like a second skin. That’s why I chose only skin tones,” the designer explained.

Harnesses with inlaid bras and stirrup leggings, as well as knits with sensual cutouts, are the key pieces of a versatile collection that immediately attracted the interest of major international retailers, Modes included, as Gotti revealed. “I think that nowadays the concept of men’s and women’s collections cannot exist anymore; I feel that the ultimate goal of clothes is to make us feel comfortable with ourselves, no matter what, beyond any established stereotypes,” said the designer.

In the same sales space, Milan’s 247 Showroom, accessories brand Frenzlauer displayed bags made in Italy, mixing minimal elegance and high-end materials at retail prices spanning from 390 euros to 590 euros. After a few test seasons online, the label founded by Francesca Neri kicked off wholesale distribution in 2018 and its collections are available in leading retailers worldwide, including Rinascente, Modes, Saks Fifth Avenue, Le Bon Marché, Boutique One in Dubai and Tomorrowland in Japan, among others.

“The main goal has always been to create bags for the everyday life, highly versatile and that can be easily used in many different occasions,” explained Neri, a management engineering graduate who collaborated with several design teams before establishing her own firm.

Playing with sober tones, unfussy silhouettes and supple leathers, Frenzlauer combines more constructed styles with soft, cloud-like designs.

“The next step would be to introduce a line of leather capes,” Neri revealed.

Emerging designer Gaetano Colucci left nothing to chance for the launch of his fashion line Ardusse, even though he “wanted to channel a sort of escapism, creating my own Arcadia,” he said, looking at pastoral poetry from ancient Greece as his main source of inspiration for the debut collection.

Produced by established manufacturing company Pattern, Ardusse’s first collection bowed last month during Milan Fashion Week with a physical show. It was conceived to be positioned in the designer luxury sector but with more affordable prices – from 180 euros for T-shirts to 2,000 euros for outerwear.

“I wanted the pieces to be highly versatile, the idea is of a genderless look,” explained Colucci, who while studying economics at the Luiss University in Rome and then at Stanford University in California continued to nourish his childhood dreams of being a designer.

Inspired by the pastoral world described by the poet Theocritus, Colucci delivered a collection in which natural textures and dyes, along with light, sorbet tones and relaxed silhouettes, offered an interesting interpretation of key men’s wear pieces, which can be worn by women, too. Rich jacquards, poetic prints, crochet details, as well as sophisticated knits and revisited tailoring created a wardrobe that integrated creative touches into wearable designs.

“I wanted to evoke that type of sophisticated elegance portrayed in the vintage images of Neapolitan men from the Forties and the Fifties,” Colucci said.

Versatility is key in the beachwear collections from Milan-based label Feel Me Fab, which aims to dress women of all ages, body types and sizes. When at the end of 2016 Veronica Vangelisti and Sofia Turconi met at the Massimo Alba brand, they decided to launch their own swimwear brand, but wanted it to be as inclusive as possible.

“Even if at that time inclusivity and diversity were not the hot topics that they are now, we immediately felt the need to create pieces which felt comfortable and flattering,” Vangelisti explained. “For many women, wearing a swimsuit at the beach is quite a delicate moment and we want to support them.”

For this reason, Feel Me Fab combines high-quality materials, spanning from an Italian cotton voile to a Spanish Lycra with a silk-like effect, with shapes studied to exalt feminine curves, offering the right coverage and support where it’s needed.

Showing exclusive prints, created by Turconi, who also worked in the textile division of Ralph Lauren in New York, Feel Me Fab swimwear pieces retail from 145 euros to 210 euros, while cover-ups and dresses sell from 190 euros to 410 euros. “We like to create items which can be worn season after season and when it comes to dresses, tops and bottoms that can be also worn in the city, while keeping that breezy, joyful beach spirit,” Turconi said.

This fall, Feel Me Fab — which is available online, as well as at about 40 stores worldwide, mainly in resort destinations — is introducing a see now-buy-now capsule of printed velvet frocks, skirts and pants.

In order to meet the new needs of her customers, Giorgia Gabriele, who established the Wandering women’s affordable luxury label in 2016, for spring set aside the traditional embroideries that defined her feminine creations to focus on more essential and unfussy designs.

“First of all, it takes time to make embroideries and after the lockdown it would have been easier for the production to respect schedules with simpler designs. But also, I’m aware that this situation changed consumers’ perspective a bit and I wanted to find a different, more immediate and fresher way to convey the same message of femininity and elegance,” said the designer.

Renouncing embroideries, Wandering also made its retail prices even more competitive, with frocks selling from 250 euros to 850 euros. “Finding the perfect balance between high quality and correct pricing has always been one of our main goals,” said Gabriele, who in 2016 signed a licensing agreement with manufacturing firm Jato for the production and distribution of the brand’s collections.

Recently, Wandering introduced knitwear in feminine styles with strong shoulders and sensual cutouts, and is focusing on revisiting tailored designs. “I think that despite the overall complicated situation, women currently have the desire to make some purchases for themselves, but at the same time, they don’t want to buy pieces they can wear only a couple of times, but they are more interested in versatile garments that they can sport in different occasions and moments of the day.”

Wandering is available at about 60 top stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Printemps, Tsum, Rinascente and Ssense.

Good prices, savvy commercial development and fresh design are the key features behind the success of emerging label Federica Tosi, according to Grassi, who started selling the line two seasons ago.

“It’s the right brand for this moment and I don’t refer to the pandemic,” Grassi said, explaining that Federica Tosi is performing well in Europe and Asia and also has strong potential to do well in the U.S. when the situation there returns to normal.

Established by the namesake Roman designer in 2016, Federica Tosi offers affordable luxury women’s collections of versatile everyday pieces with a twist. Distributed in about 100 stores in the world, the brand, which employs around 600 people between the headquarters in Rome and the factory in Apulia, emerged in the wholesale arena with feminine tailoring constructions and leather crafted for pieces spanning from 700 euros to 900 euros, while silk items go from 280 euros to 320 euros.

Despite the crisis connected with the global pandemic, Federica Tosi saw its spring orders increase compared to the same season last year and is gearing up to debut its online store in 2021. “The goal is to create a directly operated e-commerce, where consumers can not only buy our products, but where they can know more about the brand and establish a direct interaction with us,” Tosi explained.

E-commerce is the most efficient and successful sales channel for designer Violante Nessi, who founded the namesake affordable luxury brand in London two years ago. The collection, all crafted in Italy, targets “those sophisticated girls who don’t buy fashion-fashion, are not so obsessed with big brands and look for clothes that make feel them pretty and comfortable,” explained Nessi, who worked in New York at Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler and in London at Tom Ford before launching her own line.

Listing the Matisse light wool flared pants enriched with eight front buttons, as well as the Yayoy sweaters with puffy shoulders and a wrap effect on the bodice as its bestsellers, which are also available at the brand’s store in London, Violante Nessi features competitive prices, with pants retailing at 335 euros, knitwear at 385 euros and evening dresses up to 700 euros. While mainly relying on a direct-to-consumer business, the brand is creating partnerships with select retailers, including leading Italian boutique Ratti.

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