What would happen if fashion really slowed down?

“For me fashion has always been fun and beauty,”Said Marco de Vincenzo, walking through his showroom at Casa Galimberti, one of the most sought-after Art Nouveau buildings in Milan. “But today, fashion needs to convey more important messages and my mission in fashion must go beyond mere creativity. “

De Vincenzo, 44, a Sicilian designer who emerged as one of the brightest new stars of the last decade of the Milanese catwalk calendar, was surrounded by the shelves of the latest collection for his namesake brand. His garments were proof of his newfound sustainability imperative: at fashion week in February, instead of clothes of new production, showcased revamped vintage with his own style, covering coats, suits, sweaters and more with sequin knits, fields of metal studs and shiny rivet accents in a handcraft-intensive transformation of thrift store finds into pieces unique, some running over $ 2,000. De Vincenzo said the collection, called Supérno, was a way to understand the potential of upcycling.

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“Anything I do next will be tied to this formula,” he said last month, looking at AC Milan’s distances beyond his window. “Maybe I will soon play a new role on a bigger stage and be able to incorporate this principle if I lead a bigger brand.”

Then, on June 1, de Vincenzo was appointed creative director of Etro, the Milanese maison known for its people high-end paisley prints and hippie glamor made in Italy. Long a successful global yet family-owned business, LVMH-founded private equity group L Catterton bought 60% of the brand last year, intending to expand its international growth. As the brand’s first chief designer outside the Etro family, de Vincenzo will be in charge of its oversight women’s clothing offersmenswear and interiors, while maintaining his long-standing position as chief leather goods designer at Fendi.

“I hope to include upcycling in the first collection on the catwalk in September or soon after,” he said in a recent interview, the first since the announcement of his new role at Etro. “There is a lot to do to understand what sustainability means when it comes to bigger brands like this one, but today at least they are embracing recycling to capsule collection and special editions. “

From the imagined vintage of his own line to his future endeavors at Etro, he sees a new form of luxury take shape, with unique or small-run pieces made with inherently limited supplies of reused materials. Although Etro declined to comment on what kind of project could happen under the new leadership of the designer, in the past the maison, born as paper mill and textile products for decades he has been creating capsule collections starting from archival fabrics.

For de Vincenzo, a new path was illuminated during the first contemplative years of the coronavirus pandemic, when there were no shows to worry about and his brand went on a two-year hiatus. In 2020 he repurchased shares that had been in the hands of LVMH for years, allowing him to retreat from the fast-paced, high-yielding, high-profit demands of work with powerful luxury conglomerate. When he then entered the Marco de Vincenzo archive to take stock, he was overwhelmed by the sight of 6,000 samples that have never seen the light of day. “Such an immense amount of wasted ideas, resources, money and time,” he complained. “I know how much effort the artisans have dedicated to these things.”

He returned with recycled clothes from the Supérno collection – clothing she personally purchased from charity stores, which he then asked the artisans to embroider and embellish, producing iconoclastic twists on their original stately shapes. But only a couple of longtime partners have agreed to give the niche project a chance. One that did it was CIM, a factory north of Milan that dazzles fabrics with rhinestones, studs and spikes of all kinds, in collaboration with fashion houses such as Balmain, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Armani and Prada. (“The high fashion of rhinestones,” as a riveter put it.)

De Vincenzo’s vintage garments must be worked on mannequins, where the artisans trace rhinestones and chalk the position of the studs before attaching them one by one, a much more time-consuming method than their typical embellishment of fabrics spread on the tables. And each piece of Supérno is one of a kind: a black swing overcoat with spikes spread along the collar and cuffs; a stern director’s dress with space-age silver bubbles finishing the bodice and pleated hem; an ice-cold figure skater short-sleeved sweater with rows of faceted crystals. “Industrial production,” said de Vincenzo, “is out of the question here.”

The Supérno collection received critical acclaim when it debuted in Milan, but store shoppers shunned, citing concern that the one-of-a-kind pieces would challenge their merchandising protocols, the designer said, so the fall season clothes will be sold on his proprietary website. But investors, he said, have expressed interest and will continue his eponymous brand and reuse mission, perhaps at a slower pace, as he leads Etro and continues to design accessories from Fendi.

Some of the biggest fashion brands have answered the call for sustainability with efforts like Miu Miu’s special remake series vintage clothes and the restyling of Levi’s, Marni’s patchwork coats of old cut dresses and the Coach bags of 1970s archive bags. And de Vincenzo pointed out that Fendi has made considerable efforts to use scraps of leather and fur that would have previously been discarded and to support artisanal crafts against industrialization, which he called “another key aspect of sustainability”. However, with a few exceptions, these are small-scale projects from large brands.

The fashion industry includes countless actors – business executives, factories, investors, designers, retailers, every human being who wears clothes – who will have to accept to produce and buy less, and to get more from what we already have to fight the wave of overproduction that is still planned in the supply chain in general.

“What was written during the block on slowing down and being more conscientious?” asked de Vincenzo. “But the old rhythms and expectations are proving too entrenched”.

Yet talking to the designer as he embarks at the helm of a global luxury brand means meeting an emissary of hope. Its own recycled line, like perhaps all sustainability projects, is imperfect. Its CIM gleaming surfaces – of quartz, metal and polymer – are not sustainably produced or easily recyclable and will have a long life in a landfill. “There are always compromises to be made”, replied de Vincenzo. “If I had gone in search of 100% perfection, I probably would never have been able to do anything. With Supérno I was able to stop producing new garments. Each of us must consider what he is capable of doing ”.

This article originally appeared in the New York Times.

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