The designers leading Italy’s fashion renaissance
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Italy has long been home to some of fashion’s biggest power players, including Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Fendi and more. Now the country is experiencing a creative rebirth, with a new crop of designers invigorating its design scene, putting collaboration and community at the fore. Meet the names shaping the fashion capital’s future…
Rambaldi grew up on the outskirts of Bologna, studied fashion design at Venice’s IUAV university and worked at Dolce & Gabbana before returning to his hometown in 2017 to launch his namesake brand. “You don’t need to be based in a specific city full-time to build a successful business,” says Rambaldi of his decision to set up shop in Bologna’s bucolic suburbs rather than in the traditional fashion capital Milan.
The freeing sensibility of provincial life, surrounded by nature, inspires his ready-to-wear collections, which often include vibrant knits and punchy jackets. Bologna’s cultural heritage is aligned with the young designer’s values too: “It’s renowned for being an inclusive place, with a strong LGBTQ+ history and community,” he says. “Representation is everything – that’s why the brand exists – and Italy is still behind when it comes to representing different ethnicities and genders.’’ Rambaldi ensures his ebullient, contemporary, kaleidoscopic pieces and printed patchworks are shown on a range of body types, ages and genders.
Sustainability is woven into his work too, using recycled yarns to create his signature crochet styles, which are handmade by local elderly craftswomen. “We hope to broaden people’s mindsets – in a way that is celebratory and inclusive – too.”
A single shopping bag-style tote brought success to this accessories brand, founded in 2018 by 33-year-old twins Giulia and Camilla Venturini. The sisters grew up in a small town by Lake Garda before their careers took them to Milan, Paris and New York – Giulia worked for Toiletpaper, the magazine founded by artist Maurizio Cattelan and photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari, while Camilla worked with Ari Marcopoulos in the US.
“We knew we wanted to work on our own project, but we didn’t have a plan,” Camilla says of their brand, which came about after a chance encounter with an Italian artisan. Medea – which takes its name from the 1969 film by Pier Paolo Pasolini – was picked up by Selfridges and now counts Beyoncé and Gigi Hadid among its fans. The simplicity of its signature style has served as a blank canvas for art-world provocateurs too, with hit collaborations with Judith Bernstein and photographer Nan Goldin. “We had a strong community of artists and musicians around us who definitely helped us get noticed,” Giulia says.
The original design has spun off into cigarette-sized belt clips, gigantic biodegradable totes and patchwork shoppers made using deadstock leather – all crafted in Italy. As for what comes next: “We’re a strong accessories brand; you’re going to see sunglasses and shoes.”
The work of designer Jezabelle Cormio is deeply Italian, despite her peripatetic past – she was born in New York and raised in Rome by an Italian-Croatian father and Italian-American mother before studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.
“I guess I’m more patriotic than I realise,” laughs the 30-year-old, who founded her punk-infused knitwear brand in 2019, inspired by the province of South Tyrol and working closely with Emilia-Romagna craftspeople. “I was never planning on launching a knitwear brand, but I met an embroidery expert who works with her mother and granddaughter in a small family business, and thought the techniques were incredible – it felt serendipitous. So now we develop a lot of the lace and knits together.” The looks riff off the classic bourgeois aesthetic associated with the Tyrol mountains – knitted twin sets are remade in neon sherbets, with cheekily placed breast pockets and provocative cutouts.
“It’s challenging to launch a young brand in Italy,” she adds. However, Cormio has grown quickly and attracted the support of Gucci, which invited her to participate in GucciFest, a film festival dedicated to emerging talent, and stocking Cormio in its concept store, Gucci Vault. “There’s an appetite to see something new from Italy. I think we’re a part of that.”
Founders Loris Messina and Simone Rizzo, who have backgrounds in sales and visual merchandising, launched Sunnei in 2014 with a simple mandate: to reflect the sunny spirit associated with Italy but with a dose of good-natured irony (the brand’s name, from the Italianisation of “sunny”, was chosen while listening to Stevie Wonder’s 1968 cover on a road trip). “Sense of humour is important for us,” says Rizzo, who co-creates collections with punchy palettes, soupy silhouettes and entertaining lookbooks.
Since launching, the Milanese brand has grown from a clothing label into a fully fledged lifestyle hub. The vision has earnt them a global following – and a €6m investment from fashion and lifestyle fund Vanguards. “Now we’re at a turning point,” Rizzo says, noting that the future of Sunnei lies in supporting young Italian creatives in order to maintain the country’s global reputation. “We want to foster an energy that stimulates everyone to create.” That means showcasing Milan’s rich – albeit underfunded – community of photographers, artists and architects at three gallery-like spaces: Bianco Sunnei, Palazzina Sunnei and Via Vela. “A lot of what we do is about building a community, which we hope is the future of fashion,” adds Rizzo.
Marisa Jiwi Seok is all for embracing Italy’s rich design heritage – but with a wink, producing jewellery that she describes as “a little witty and weird”. Since launching her Jiwinaia brand in 2015, the 32-year-old Korean-born, Italian-raised designer has found fans in Rihanna, seen wearing Seok’s painted freshwater pearls, as well as Dua Lipa, Post Malone and Wiz Khalifa.
Seok speaks to a generation of internationally connected digital-first consumers sold on the graphic appeal of her designs: surrealist styles with campy outsized cabochons, ghoulish handpainted pearls and earrings declaring: “I’m lost pls call mom.” And while Seok’s approach is playful, her training is formal, with a degree in jewellery design from Central Saint Martins and experience in diamond grading in the US. She also has a reverence for quality and craft. “It’s very traditional in Italy,” she says, “but that’s also a strength; the best of the best factories are here, and I think trying to create something different helps you stand out.”
Bringing Italian craft to global collaborations is also important to Seok, with collections produced with animation studio DreamWorks, photographer Petra Collins and Eastpak. Fine jewellery is on the cards too – all with that signature Jiwinaia wink.