New Delhi: Claudio Marenzi is a well-known name in Italian fashion. The head of Herno Ltd, a luxury company founded by his father Giuseppe in 1948, Claudio was chosen as the president of the employers’ association of the Italian fashion industry, Sistema Moda Italia, in 2013. Last year, he was also named the president of Pitti Immagine, an Italian company that organizes some of the world’s most important trade fairs, including Pitti Uomo—the world’s biggest platform for men’s clothing and accessories.
Marenzi was in India on his maiden visit to participate in The Luxury Symposium 2018 organized by The Luxury League, a not-for-profit foundation, engaged in branding India. In an interview on the sidelines of the event on Friday, Marenzi spoke about fashion and luxury, and opportunities to engage with India. Edited excerpts:
How do you think fashion and luxury intersect each other?
Fashion is bigger. Luxury comes when the sense of aesthetics meets fashion. It comes with exclusivity. And this distinction is very clear in Italy. At the association level, we manage everything from textiles to accessories. That comes under fashion. But when you talk about the shows organized by Pitti Immagine, it is a curation of the most exclusive brands from across the world that are known for their aesthetics and craftsmanship. That becomes luxury.
How important is India for the Italian fashion industry?
I think there is a lot of potential in India for Italian brands, given the fast growth of the Indian economy. It is my first visit to India and in just a short trip I have realized that the country is ready to understand what we bring in terms of craftsmanship. And this is because you yourself have a rich heritage of quality craftsmanship.
I visited the DLF Emporio and Chanakya malls on Thursday and was surprised to see the number of people there. I saw many men wearing this vest (bundis with mandarin collar), and this is an example of how you have adopted something Western to suit your own sensibilities.
That is one aspect. The other aspect is that there is a lot of scope for partnerships with textile and manufacturing companies in India.
On the trade side, India is the eighth largest exporter to Italy, accounting for goods worth €500 million. But as a market for Italian goods, India is the 51st on the list, accounting for just about €45-50 million. So there is a huge trade gap and, therefore, a huge potential for Italian brands to grow here. But taxes are too steep.
You also have to understand that the young generation is more connected and won’t take no for an answer. If they want something, they will buy. If the product is too expensive in India, they will go to Europe or Dubai and buy it, and it is eventually a loss of revenue for the Indian fashion industry.
Fashion is among the most important exports from Italy. What do you think makes Italian fashion aspirational? What is the status of Italian fashion today?
Fashion manufacturers contribute about €96 billion to the Italian economy. We are the second largest manufacturing segment. We represent about 42% of the European fashion industry as a whole. To put that into perspective, Germany represents about 38% of the European automotive industry. That is the kind of dominance we have. We are producing almost 100% of the luxury goods in fashion across the world. We are not only producing for the Italian brands but also for all the big French brands.
As to why, we are the children of the Renaissance men. So there is a rich history and tradition in terms of not only fashion but also architecture, design, food and innovation. And since World War II, we have also started developing different regions across Italy for different crafts.
How has Pitti Uomo evolved as a platform for men’s clothing and accessories vis-à-vis fashion weeks in, say, Milan and Paris? What is the future of Pitti Uomo?
About 15 years ago, big men’s brands left Pitti. It made us question the format and think about the way forward. So what we have done over the years is that we have evolved from being just a fair. Today, Pitti is a confluence of manufacturers, distributors and customers across the world. It is held twice a year and has evolved into a platform, bringing together all the stakeholders to understand the finer details of every business aspect and the bigger trends.
So you don’t go to Pitti just to see the products anymore. You visit to understand the trends and participate in the ongoing conversation around them. And we have been successful in doing that. Pitti today attracts the who’s who of menswear and has become the first choice for young designers to showcase their debut collection.
What are the biggest trends in the world of fashion and luxury today? What do you think are the major driving forces?
Personalization and bespoke are the biggest trends. The future of fashion is in understanding the consumer better and getting to know them personally. If you look back a few years, people used to buy whatever brands produced. There was no exchange of knowledge. That is changing today. There is a greater focus on interaction. And young millennials are the key to this shift in focus. They are better connected and better informed. So there is a lot of exchange happening. And this is very important for the fashion industry to evolve.
Sustainability is another major driving force in the world of fashion today.
What are the biggest threats to the global fashion industry?
The biggest challenge is sustainability. As an industry, fashion is the second biggest polluter. So we have to cut down on waste generation. There is no other alternative. And we have to come out with stricter guidelines for some parts of the world that are not respecting our sustainability efforts.
But do you think fashion can simultaneously be appealing and sustainable? Isn’t the fashion industry based on buying more and consuming more?
It is a good point. But the mass market is not really about innovation or fashion. The mass market is copying the luxury items, which are consumed by a certain demography, and democratizing them for a larger number of people.
But at the same time, they are generating large amounts of waste because they are simply producing in unrealistic numbers. Which is why I said the future of fashion is bespoke and exclusivity. Brands will eventually make something special for every single customer in the future.
But wouldn’t the industry shrink if brands just start making bespoke?
That could be the case. But you know, the fashion industry as a whole is producing about 30 billion pieces every year. In five years, at the current pace, we will produce five times the number of pieces that we are making today.
I will give you another example. Wool accounts for only 4% of the fashion material globally but China wants to double it in five years. If you think about it, it means doubling the number of sheep in the world in five years.
So there is a need to reduce fast and move towards exclusivity and sustainability. It might sound dramatic but we are at war right now with fast fashion and sustainability is the future.
What are your suggestions to the Indian fashion fraternity? How can they grow further and expand globally?
What I have understood so far is that there is potential. Indians understand heritage, craftsmanship and quality. The task in front of Indian brands right now is to make the global consumer understand Indian lifestyle, heritage and craftsmanship. They have to convince a man sitting in New York to wear a vest (half-jacket with the Mandarin collar).
That is the next step, to educate the world about what Indian fashion is all about.