English advertising executive gives Italy fashion a makeover

As Milan Fashion Week gets under way, alongside the latest looks there is another novelty: Jane Reeve, the first chief executive of the Italian fashion industry’s powerhouse lobby Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana.

The arrival of Ms Reeve, a former advertising executive who has lived in Italy for almost three decades, heralds part two of the turnround of Milan Fashion Week after the big guns of Italian “moda” Patrizio Bertelli of Prada and Gildo Zegna of Ermenegildo Zegna became its vice-presidents last year. Tall, blonde and English, Ms Reeve brings visible change to the mostly male business side of the Italian fashion industry.

Ms Reeve, 54, was headhunted by Egon Zehnder and secured the role after running the gauntlet of a roster of Italian luxury goods tsars, including Mr Bertelli, Mr Zegna, Renzo Rosso of Diesel, Stefano Sassi of Valentino and Luigi Maramotti of Max Mara.

After the success of US Vogue editor Anna Wintour and Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet – both fellow Englishwomen – in burnishing their respective fashion weeks in New York and London, Ms Reeve has been given the task of entrenching Milan’s position on the global fashion stage as it increasingly comes under pressure from its rivals.

Indeed, Ms Reeve sees her goal as “really helping brand the entire Italian fashion ecosystem”.

Her main task is to use her past experience to boost the profile of the industry by giving it some much-needed marketing nous, say Italian industry veterans. Italian fashion has built a reputation on attention to product and detail – and it has become the manufacturing hub for the global luxury industry – but insiders admit privately it has skimped on advertising itself internationally.

She joins the lobby from global agency JWT in Milan, where she was chairman and chief executive and handled brands including Vodafone, Campari and Nestlé Italia, including their digital strategies. It may prove a crucial advantage given the increasingly need for Italian brands to raise their web presence, especially in the face of web savvy rivals such as Burberry.

Thus far, two months into the job, Ms Reeve has focused on bringing fashion into the city, which is often accused of being too closed in on itself, especially compared with better marketed London. For the first time, large banners in English welcome visitors to “Milan Fashion Week”. Ms Reeve has also negotiated to have several screens across the city streaming the catwalks shows, including two inside the iconic city centre department store La Rinascente.

“We are also thinking about involving Italy’s other cultural excellencies, art, music and food that can be part of the bigger event”, she says.

In the longer term, she aims to tackle what are considered core weakness of Milan, starting by boosting the presence of young designers. Also on her to-do list is Expo 2015, which comes to Milan for six months from May next year until October. Although it had a slow start, the event is gathering momentum: It will feature 142 pavilions, the largest number for a world exhibition, surpassing Shanghai in 2010. “If Expo is coming to Milan, fashion cannot not be there,” Ms Reeve says.

There has been the inevitable muttering among the Italian fashion press about the choice of an English woman rather than an Italian to lead the Camera della Moda, but Ms Reeve shrugs it off.

“I have a global perspective,” she says. “I’m an English person but I’ve lived here for 26 years and all my English friends think I’m Italian.”

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