Sunday, November 1, 2015

Italian youth struggle to break into the fashion industry

Italian fashion designer and blogger Chiara Ferragni, well-
known for her blog "The Blond Salad," hosted "Next
By: Franca Yang
Edited by: Jaelynn Grisso

The essence of style has long been distilled into the Italian way of life. Italy, amplified by its flamboyant history of art, exuberant characters and personalities, has brought many fascinations to the world. Sometimes it is easy to forget that Italy enjoys unique and deeply embedded traditions and cultural norms that hold the society together.

Although Milan Fashion Week successfully ended in the glamour of Giorgio Armani’s Spring/Summer 2016 show two weeks ago, the lack of young talent still put the city in sharp contrast with New York City, London and Paris. As fashion continues to be a key pillar of the Italian economy, employing over one million people, concerns have been raised about the industry’s future.

Inspired by the U.S. Vogue Fashion Fund, a competition that rewards emerging American fashion talent with monetary prizes and mentorship by established designers, CameraNazionale della Moda Italiana (National Chamber for Italian Fashion, similar to the Council of Fashion Designers of America,) is supporting young designers with the program, "Next Generation". According to Veronica Gianola, who works at the legal department of an Italian luxury department store, this program provides young designers who participate in the contests space to showcase their collections during the Milan fashion week. What is worth noticing is that the Camera executive board has been known to be out of sync with the digital world, and consists of all male members who are in their fifties and sixties and have held the positions for decades, which makes it very difficult for young generations to break the chokehold.

Breaking into an old system
According to Romina Spina, a freelance correspondent in Rome, the perceived difficulties are not unique to the fashion world, but serve to illustrate a broken economic system. The same thing is happening in many more industries in Italy, where young people cannot get ahead in their careers regardless of their drive and talent. The major cause of this is the fact that most professions in Italy have been characterized by rigid structures for a long time. Therefore people who got in power a long time ago are still at the top of the hierarchy.

“If you just consider the fashion world, you're looking at old masters like Armani, Valentino and Dolce&Gabbana who have dominated the world for as long as we can remember. In such a context, it's hard for new talent to emerge. The power dynamics are very difficult if not impossible to change because generally, there's not a lot of interest in promoting young professionals with fresh ideas. Perhaps there are notable exceptions, but I would argue that there are too few of them. That's why younger generations prefer to leave, because they want to have an opportunity and grow in an environment that is not hostile to them,” Spina said.

The rigid system is not the only thing to blame for straggling oxygen off of young people in Italy. Unlike in the U.S. where success at an early age is celebrated, Giacomo Baletti, head of the Italian Law Firm in China, said that it is a different story in Italy, and described the Italian business market as “nightmare”, for incentives for those who want to launch or advance their careers are almost non-existent.

“Any honest Italian would tell you this. In Italy, there is a very strange, deep-rooted mentality. Every day, on the newspapers, if you read the success stories you will see tons of comments regarding them as losers because they have rich parents or have been “helped”. I think because of this mentality, people are kind of waiting for a job. In a system like this, people are scared of trying because they don’t want to be judged. This is definitely a mechanism that we need to switch,” said Baletti.

Fashion in Italy is still a point of pride for many.

Tiberio Pezzolato, who recently graduated from college and started a job at the Milan Expo, agreed with what Baletti said about the abnormal mentality that Italian people have toward young people’s success.

“The lack of encouragement is serious and the job market for young people like me in Italy is extremely strict because of the absurd laws. Public Universities and the job market do not always adjoin,” said Pezzolato.

Many Italians remain optimistic
Although the Italian fashion industry is considered by the U.S. media as losing out to uprising New York and London, people in Italy believe that the good traditions would keep Italy strong.

“If you think about all the luxury products that are produced in Italy with the “made in Italy” label, like Chanel leather bags and Christian Louboutin shoes, you would know Italy has a lot of potential. People here are smart, we’ve always had the very good tradition of design, fashion, and invention,” said Baletti.

The same optimism is also seen among the young generation in Italy.

“Italian brands are still my favorite and very popular among my friends. And people are proud of our own design,” said Licia Becchetti, a college student at University of Utrecht.

“Made-in-Italy is one of the things that I am most proud of when it comes to talking about my country. A good "fresco lana" is an expression of an industrial culture. Buy one today and will wear it forever, it will never go out of fashion,” said Pezzolato.

“In any case, even in a period of crisis, fashion (big brands) hardly suffers,” said Gianola, because fashion and Italy are inseparable.

“Fashion is a way of life for Italians. It is strange, different, classic, all the adjectives and the ways of being characterize Italian people. We are warm, strange, sometimes we are simply ‘too much’. As a way of being Italian, we are excessive, just like fashion. You can find so many different sides and shades in an Italian person, that it is just like fashion. It also gives you the chance to express so freely, which is why an Italian can always find their answers and refuge in fashion,” said Gianola.

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