Italy is one of the leading countries in fashion design, alongside others such as France, United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan. Fashion has always been an important part of the country’s cultural life and society, and Italians are well known for their attention of dressing-up well; “la bella figura”, or good impression, remains traditional.
Italian became prominent during the 11th–16th centuries, when artistic development in Italy was at its peak. Cities such as Palermo, Venice, Milan, Naples, Florence and Vicenza started to produce luxury goods, hats, cosmetics, jewelry and rich fabrics. During the 17th-early 20th centuries, Italian fashion lost its importance and lustre and Europe’s main trendsetter became France, with the great popularity of French fashion; this is due to the luxury dresses which were designed for the courtiers of Louis XIV. However, since the 1951–53 fashion soirées held by Giovanni Battista Giorgini in Florence, the “Italian school” started to compete with the French haute couture, and labels such as Ferragamo and Gucci began to contend with Chanel and Dior. In 2009, according to the Global Language Monitor, Milan, Italy’s centre of design, was ranked the top fashion capital of the world, and Rome was ranked 4th, and, despite both cities fell down places in subsequent rankings, in 2011, Florence entered as the 31st world fashion capital. Milan is generally considered to be one of the “big four” global fashion capitals, along with New York City, Paris, and London; occasionally, the “big five” also includes Rome.
Italian fashion can be also connected to the most generalized concept of “Made in Italy“, a sort of merchandise brand expressing excellence of creativity and craftsmanship. Italian luxury goods are renowned for the high quality of their own textiles and the perfect elegance and refinement that goes into making them up, as well as for the guarantee of quality materials. Many French, British and American high-top luxury brands (such as Chanel, Dior, Balmain, Ralph Lauren, to name a few) also refer to Italian craft factories, located in highly specialized areas especially in the Centre-North of Italy, to produce either part of their apparel and accessories.
The non profit making association which disciplines, co-ordinates and promotes the development of Italian Fashion is the National Chamber of Italian Fashion (Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana), now headed by Carlo Capasa. It was set up in 1958 in Rome and now is settled in Milan and represents all the highest cultural values of Italian Fashion.
This association has pursued a policy of organizational support aimed at the knowledge, promotion and development of fashion through events with a highly intellectual image in Italy and abroad.
Italian fashion houses, designers and luxury brands
Clothes by Valentino
Examples of major Italian fashion houses focused on both menswear and womenswear, but also accessories, are: Armani, Byblos Milano (designed by Manuel Facchini), Bottega Veneta (designed by Tomas Maier), Roberto Cavalli, Costume National, Brunello Cucinelli, Diesel (created by Andreas Melbostad as long as the Black Gold line is concerned), Dolce & Gabbana, DSquared², Etro, Fendi (directed by Karl Lagerfeld for women’s clothes and ready to wear and by Silvia Venturini Fendi for accessories and men’s lines), Salvatore Ferragamo (designed by Paul Andrew for women’s shoes, Fulvio Rigoni for women’s apparel and Guillame Meilland for men’s lines), Fiorucci, Genny (designed by Sara Cavazza Facchini), Gucci (directed by Alessandro Michele), Hogan, Iceberg (directed by James Long), Kiton, La Perla (directed by Julia Haart), Loro Piana, Marni (founded by Consuelo Castiglioni and now directed by Francesco Risso), Antonio Marras, Missoni, Moncler (created by Giambattista Valli for women’s collections and by Thom Browne for men’s division), Moschino (directed by Jeremy Scott), Prada, Richmond, Jil Sander, Ermanno Scervino, Tod’s (designed by Andrea Incontri regarding men’s lines), Trussardi, Valentino (directed by Pier Paolo Piccioli) Stone Island and Versace (directed by Donatella Versace)  to name the most significant.
Examples of major fashion brands which are specialized mainly at womenswear (and also accessories for women) are Agnona (designed by Simon Holloway), Luisa Beccaria, Laura Biagiotti, Blumarine (created by Anna Molinari), Chiara Boni la petit robe, Capucci (directed by Mario Dice), Alberta Ferretti, Elisabetta Franchi, Giamba (created by designer Giambattista Valli), Krizia (founded by Mariuccia Mandelli and now art directored by Zhu Chongyun), Max Mara (created by Laura Lusuardi), Miu Miu (founded and directed by Miuccia Prada), Philosophy (directed by Lorenzo Serafini), Emilio Pucci, Simonetta Ravizza and Mila Schon whilst luxury houses which focus only on menswear and accessories for men are Brioni, Canali, Caruso, Corneliani, Lardini, MP Massimo Piombo, Stefano Ricci, Ermenegildo Zegna (directed by Alessandro Sartori) and Pal Zileri.
A few Italian designers head some important fashion brands outside Italy. Riccardo Tisci has been working for French luxury house Givenchy for twelve years until 2017, Maria Grazia Chiuri after co-heading at Valentino together with Pier Paolo Piccioli now is the first female creative director ever at Dior, French fashion brand Rochas is created by Alessandro Dell’Acqua, Marco Colagrossi heads Ungaro after a few years under the directorship of Fausto Puglisi, Nino Cerruti founded his own Paris-based fashion house, Giambattista Valli‘s main ready to wear and high fashion lines are set in Paris and Stefano Pilati was for almost eight years Saint Laurent‘s head designer.
Among the newest labels or younger designers, the most prominent are Aquilano.Rimondi (latest Gianfranco Ferré‘s directors and also Fay’s creatives), Arthur Arbesser, Au jour le jour, Sara Battaglia, Angelos Bratis, Cristiano Burani, Paula Cademartori, Gabriele Colangelo, Co-Te, County of Milan (created by Marcelo Burlon), Marco De Vincenzo, Stella Jean, Damir Doma, Leitmotiv, Atos Lombardini, Angelo Marani, MSGM (directed by Massimo Giorgetti), N°21 (created by Alessandro Dell’Acqua), Rodolfo Paglialunga, Maurizio Pecoraro, Christian Pellizzari, Piccione.Piccione, Andrea Pompilio, Fausto Puglisi, San Andres Milano, Francesco Scognamiglio, Vivetta and Alberto Zambelli.
Other luxury labels which are mainly focused on the production of leather goods such as accessories, especially shoes (but not only), are Aquazzura, Baldinini, Ballin, Bontoni, Bruno Bordese, Roberto Botticelli, Rene Caovilla, Casadei, Alberto Guardiani, Gianmarco Lorenzi, Loriblu, Bruno Magli, Vic Matié, Moreschi, Alberto Moretti, Cesare Paciotti, Pollini, Fratelli Rossetti, Gianvito Rossi, Sergio Rossi, Santoni, A. Testoni, Giuseppe Zanotti design, while fashion brands or labels which produce primarily bags, totes, suitcases are Bertoni, Borbonese, Braccialini, Coccinelle, Cromia, Fedon, Furla, Gherardini, Mandarina Duck, Piquadro, Serapian, The Bridge, Valextra, Zagliani and Zanellato.
Other Italian accessory and jewelry brands, such as Luxottica (owner, amongst several luxury eyewear brands, of Ray-Ban and Persol), Marcolin, De Rigo, Safilo, Damiani, Vhernier, Pomellato, Morellato, Officine Panerai and Bvlgari are amongst the most important in the world.
Modern Fashion History
Fashion in Italy started to become the most fashionable in Europe since the 11th century, and powerful cities of the time, such as Venice, Milan, Florence, Naples, Vicenza and Rome began to produce robes, jewelry, textiles, shoes, fabrics, ornaments and elaborate dresses. Italian fashion reached its peak during the Renaissance. As Italy is widely recognized as the cradle and birthplace of the Renaissance, art, music, education, finance and philosophy flourished, and along with it, Italian fashion designs became very popular (especially those worn by the Medicis in Florence. The fashions of Queen Catherine de’ Medici of France, were considered amongst the most fashionable in Europe).
After a decline in the 17th to mid-20th century, the nation returned to being a leading nation in fashion, and Florence was Italy’s fashion capital in the 50s and 60s from the very first high fashion parade at the Sala Bianca of the Pitti Palace in 1951 with names such as Emilio Schuberth, Emilio Pucci, Sorelle Fontana, Simonetta, Mila Schön, Fausto Sarli, whilst Milan led the way in the 70s and 80s, with then-new labels, such as Armani, Enrico Coveri, Dolce & Gabbana, Gianfranco Ferré, Romeo Gigli, Krizia, Missoni, Moschino, Luciano Soprani, Trussardi and Versace and opening up and setting up their first boutiques and emporia. Until the 1970s, Italian fashion was mainly designed for the rich and famous, more or less like the French “Haute Couture“. Yet, in the 1970s and 80s, Italian fashion started to concentrate on ready-to-wear clothes, such as coats, jackets, trousers, shirts, jeans, jumpers and miniskirts. Milan became more affordable and stylish for shoppers, and Florence was deposed of its position as the Italian fashion capital and replaced by Rome, which grew in importance as high fashion pole in the country thanks to the creations of Valentino, Fendi, Roberto Capucci, Renato Balestra and Gattinoni.
Today, Milan and Rome are Italy’s fashion capitals, and are major international centres for fashion design, competing with other cities such as Tokyo, Los Angeles, London, Paris and New York. Also, other cities such as Venice, Florence, Naples, Vicenza, Bologna, Genoa and Turin are important centres. The country’s main shopping districts are the Via Montenapoleone fashion district and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (Milan), Via dei Condotti (Rome), and Via de’ Tornabuoni (Florence).
Capitals of Fashion
Italian fashion is dominated by Milan, Rome, and to a lesser extent, Florence, with the former two being included in the top 30 fashion capitals of the world. Nonetheless, there are numerous other cities which play an important role in Italian fashion.
In 2014, Milan was regarded as the world fashion capital (based upon frequency of mention in global media outlets), even surpassing New York, Paris, Rome and London. In 2011, Milan was ranked #4, behind London, New York, and Paris. Many of the major Italian fashion brands, such as Valentino, Versace, Prada, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni, Iceberg, Missoni, Trussardi, Moschino, Dirk Bikkembergs, Etro, and Zegna are currently headquartered in the city. international fashion labels also operate shops in Milan, including an Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store which has become a main consumer attraction. Milan also hosts a fashion week twice a year, just like other international centres such as Paris, London and New York. Milan’s main upscale fashion district is the “quadrilatero della moda” (literally, “fashion quadrilateral”), where the city’s most prestigious shopping streets (Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea, Via Manzoni and Corso Venezia) are held. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the Piazza del Duomo, Via Dante and Corso Buenos Aires are other important shopping streets and squares.
Florence is regarded by some as the birthplace and earliest centre of the modern (post World War Two) fashion industry in Italy. The Florentine “soirées” of the early 1950s organized by Giovanni Battista Giorgini were events where several now-famous Italian designers participated in group shows and first garnered international attention. Florence has served as the home of the Italian fashion company Salvatore Ferragamo since 1928. Gianfranco Lotti, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Ermanno Scervino, Stefano Ricci, Patrizia Pepe, Enrico Coveri and Emilio Pucci were also founded and most of them are still headquartered in Florence. Other major players in the fashion industry such as Prada and Chanel have large offices and stores in Florence or its outskirts. Florence’s main upscale shopping street is Via de’ Tornabuoni, where major luxury fashion houses and jewelry labels, such as Armani and Bulgari, have their elegant boutiques. Via del Parione and Via Roma are other streets that are also well known for their high-end fashion stores.
Rome is widely recognized as a world fashion capital. Although not as important as Milan, Rome is the world’s 4th most important centre for fashion in the world, according to the 2009 Global Language Monitor after Milan, New York and Paris, and beating London. Major luxury fashion houses and jewelry chains, such as Valentino, Bulgari, Fendi, Laura Biagiotti, Gattinoni and Brioni, just to name a few, are headquartered or were founded in the city. Also, other major labels, such as Chanel, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and Versace have luxury boutiques in Rome, primarily along its prestigious and upscale Via dei Condotti. The Rome Fashion Week is an important global showcase.
Although Milan, Rome and Florence are commonly regarded as the leading cities in Italian fashion, other cities, such as Venice, Vicenza, Turin, Naples and Bologna, are also important centres for Italian clothing design and industry. Venice, for instance, is the home of Italian fashion house Roberta di Camerino, which was founded in 1945. The brand is famous for its handbags, and is most notably associated with the creation of the it bag, a form of handbag which is recognisable due to its status symbol. Brands such as Max Mara and United Colors of Benetton, despite being major Italian brands, are not headquartered in Milan, Rome or Florence, yet, the former has its headquarters in Reggio Emilia, and the latter in Ponzano Veneto.
Italian holding OTB held by Renzo Rosso, owner of different ready-to-wear brands such as Diesel and also fashion houses like Marni, Dutch label Viktor & Rolf and Belgian Maison Martin Margiela, is headquartered in the countryside near Vicenza in the region of Veneto. Italian companies Cesare Paciotti and also Tod’s, owned by businessman Diego Della Valle (which produces luxury shoes, other leather goods and also clothes under the labels of Tod’s itself, Roger Vivier, Hogan, Fay and haute couture brand Schiaparelli), Santoni, Bontoni are headquartered in the region of Marche, a very important manufacturing district for shoes and leather components in the Adriatic coast. Fashion houses Fabiana Filippi and Brunello Cucinelli‘s home is the region of Umbria and luxury brands Kiton and Harmont & Blaine were founded in Naples  which is also another prominent area of the country for the manufacturing of apparel and accessories (especially shoes).
It is impossible to discuss Italian Fashion without also considering acknowledging extraordinary automotive fashion design…truly one picture is worth a thousands words –