This article is part of a series examining Responsible Fashionand innovative efforts to solve problems facing the fashion industry.
“For me, fashion has always been about pleasure and beauty,” said Marco de Vincenzo, surveying his showroom at Casa Galimberti, one of Milan’s most ornate Art Nouveau palaces. “But fashion today needs to convey bigger messages, and my own mission in fashion needs to go beyond just being creative.”
Mr de Vincenzo, 44, a Sicilian designer who has become one of the brightest new stars of the past decade on the Milan catwalk calendar, was surrounded by racks of his eponymous brand’s latest collection. The clothes were proof of his new imperative for sustainability: during fashion week in February, instead of newly made clothes, he presented revisited vintage clothes with his own panache, covering coats, skirts, sweaters and more with sequin mesh, metallic stud fields and shiny rivet accents in a craft-intensive transformation of thrift store finds into one-of-a-kind pieces – some costing over $2,000. Mr de Vincenzo said the collection, called Superrno, was a way to understand the potential of upcycling.
“Everything I do next will be tied to this formula,” he said last month, gazing at Milan’s longshot beyond his window. “Maybe I’ll take on a new role on a bigger stage soon, and I can incorporate that principle if I run a bigger brand.”
Then, on June 1, Mr. de Vincenzo was named creative director of Etro, the Milanese fashion house known for its high-end paisley prints and made-in-Italy hippie glamour. Long a globally successful but family-run business, LVMH-founded private equity group L Catterton bought 60% of the brand last year, with plans to expand its international growth. As the brand’s first chief designer outside of the Etro family, Mr. de Vincenzo will oversee its womenswear, menswear and interiors offerings, while maintaining his longstanding position as designer. head of leather goods at Fendi.
“I hope to include upcycling in the first runway collection in September or soon after,” he said in a recent interview, his first since announcing his new role at Etro. “There’s a lot to be done to understand what sustainability means when it comes to big brands like this, but today they’re at least embracing recycling for capsule collections and special editions.”
From the whimsical vintage of his own line to his future endeavors at Etro, he sees a new form of luxury taking shape, with one-off or small-batch pieces made from the inherently limited supply of repurposed materials. Although Etro declined to comment on what kind of project might happen under the designer’s new leadership, in the past the fashion house, which started as a fabric factory and produced textiles for decades, has created capsule collections from archival fabrics.
For Mr. de Vincenzo, a new path was blazed in the early contemplative years of the coronavirus pandemic, when there were no catwalks to fear, and his brand went on a two-year hiatus. In 2020, he bought back shares that had been in the hands of LVMH for years, allowing it to step back from the frantic, high-production, high-profit demands of working with the powerful luxury conglomerate. When he later entered Marco de Vincenzo’s archives to take stock, he was overwhelmed by the sight of 6,000 clothing samples that never saw the light of day. “Such an immense amount of wasted ideas, resources, money and time,” he lamented. “I know how much effort craftsmen put into these things.”
He returned with the recycled clothes from the Superrno collection – clothes he personally bought from charity shops, which he then had artisans embroider and embellish, producing iconoclastic twists on their feminine forms. original. But only a few long-time partners agreed to give the niche project a chance. This is the case of CIM, a factory north of Milan that dazzles fabrics with rhinestones, studs and spikes of all kinds, in partnership with fashion houses like Balmain, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Armani and Prada. (“The haute couture of rhinestones”, as a riveter said.)
“No one had ever asked us to work on vintage before,” said Angela Galbussera, who had overseen Mr. de Vincenzo’s collections for years at CIM, as more than two dozen artisans worked, setting the rhinestones in place and fixing the nails with the table top. riveting presses, scrap trinkets scraping underfoot. The drawers were filled with deposits of pearls, imitation gemstones, mirrored tiles and glued confetti, each bin overflowing with sparkling pieces packed as densely as sand.
Mr. de Vincenzo’s vintage clothes have to be worked on mannequins, where craftsmen map out the rhinestones and chalk out the placement of the studs before attaching them one by one – a much longer method than their typical embellishment of fabrics laid flat on tables. And each Superrno piece is one of a kind: a black swing coat with flared spikes along the collar and cuffs; a stern headmistress dress with space-age silver bubbles adorning its bodice and pleated hem; a short-sleeved figure skater sweater glazed with rows of faceted crystals. “Industrial production,” Mr. de Vincenzo said, “is out of the question here.”
The Supérno collection received critical acclaim when it debuted in Milan, but store shoppers turned away fearing the unique pieces would challenge their merchandising protocols, the designer said, so the clothes from the fall season will be sold on its proprietary website. But investors, he said, have shown interest, and he will continue his namesake brand and repurpose mission, perhaps at a slower pace, as he runs Etro and continues to design accessories at Fendi.
Some of fashion’s biggest brands have answered the call for sustainability with such efforts as special runs of revamped vintage dresses from Miu Miu and restyled Levi’s, patchwork coats from old cut clothes from Marni and handbags from Coach from archival handbags from the 1970s. And Mr de Vincenzo pointed out that Fendi had gone to great lengths to use scraps of leather and fur that would previously have been thrown away and to support craftsmanship against the industrialization, which he called “another key aspect of sustainability”. Yet, with few exceptions, these are small-scale projects from big brands.
The fashion industry encompasses countless actors – business leaders, factories, investors, designers, retailers, every human being who wears clothes – who will have to accept to produce and buy less, and get more from what that we already have to fight against the wave tide of overproduction always programmed in the supply chain as a whole.
“How many things have been written during lockdown about slowing down and being more conscientious? asked M. de Vincenzo. “But the old rhythms and expectations are proving too deeply ingrained.”
However, to speak to the creator as he launches himself at the head of a global luxury brand is to meet an emissary of hope. His own recycled line, like perhaps all sustainability projects, is flawed. Its CIM flake surfaces – of quartz, metal and polymers – are not sustainably produced or easily recycled, and will have a long life in a landfill. “There are always compromises to be made,” Mr. de Vincenzo replied. “If I was looking for 100% perfection, I would probably never have been able to do anything. With Superrno, I managed to stop producing new clothes. We each have to consider what we are capable of TO DO.
The most crucial step for brands is to reduce excess production of fabrics and garments, he said, an approach companies are working to perfect, using the best predictive sales tools available today.
“The culture of waste is coming to an end,” he said. Individually, “the important thing is to do your part in the macro picture. The battles we face are too big to be discouraged when we don’t see immediate change.
At Etro, he considers the possibility of integrating sustainability into at least part of the brand’s production. “You create change by contributing what is possible, not what is perfect, to the cause.”