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Entering an atelier the day before a show is always better than seeing the show itself. How often do you happen to see Gabriella Karefa-Johnson working on looks and accessories? Or designers stopping a model mid-walk to fix a shoe, the hem of a long transparent dress embroidered with flowers? How often do you happen, above all, to see a collection that has never been shown to the public, all hanging together on a long relay? This is the scenario that appeared in front of this writer when he entered the Etro atelier to talk to MarcoDeVincenzo, fashion veteran, creative director of Etro, and head designer of Fendi's leather goods, founder of his own brand - it seems that all roles at the top of the fashion food chain are easy for him, as he speaks about it with truly surprising simplicity. «I believe that every job is a team effort. Today there is no single creator - there is chirality,» he says with a smile - and in fact observing him at work one immediately notices the open attitude of someone who is used to coordinating a team, directing a brigade, or «this orchestra», as he calls it. «I’ve never had an office, I've always worked in ordinary places,» he explains, perhaps unconsciously evoking the idea of an absence of walls, boundaries, or watertight compartments, which is the same image he uses to later describe his work at Etro: «Men, women, home, accessories... It's like working with open doors. It often happens that the fabric of an armchair becomes a jacket, that of a jacket becomes a sofa. They are communicating vessels». This is also why his first three collections for the brand are so in tune with each other: «The men's and women's collections in January were born together, one was finished earlier on, but they were made at the same time».


If for the first collection, especially, there was a certain haste («I had very few weeks to do the first collection. And actually I couldn't study») for the one we saw a few days ago in Milan, FW23, things were different. «There is a desire to clean, not to layer too much. Perhaps what has disappeared from Etro's most recent collections is that hippie-chic aesthetic that defined it. But for this collection, I have taken back some of that bohemian spirit - which is another adjective dear to the brand». Months ago, De Vincenzo had in fact given the brand looks a more compact silhouette, less tied to the fringes and ruffles of Kean and Veronica Etro, less inclined to evoke boho-country atmospheres somewhere between Near Eastern tapestry and American Navajo, and more to explore the exquisite design of a geometric motif so charmingly vintage recovered from an ancient archive. The new collection, in fact, is like a patchwork, another image dear to De Vincenzo, of different eras and different fabrics: «All this,» he says, gesturing to the entire collection, «is a patchwork of their heritage, mixed up in no chronological order. There are patterns from a book from the late 1800s, and pulls made in the 1970s for Walter Albini - everything is mixed but everything is also the history of Etro. [...] This is a collection dedicated to the heritage, that's why it's called Etro Radical: because it has to do with roots». There is another element that fascinates De Vincenzo about the brand he now heads: «Everything can be Etro because the brand was born as a factory. There is craftsmanship inherent in the brand and you can breathe that here. I am a factory man». Etro, in fact, is a bit of a unicum in the field of Italian fashion, being born as a textile company, the brand has «its own credibility even in categories that have not yet become the brand's core business» and can therefore produce everything, from accessories to home textiles, without ever leaving its own sphere and aesthetic universe.

This, if we can call it so, ecumenism or eclecticism of Etro finds an unexpected reflection in De Vincenzo, who has «a symbiotic relationship» with the past, as he calls himself «an accumulator». Speaking on his personal taste as much as his work, as well as his past, he says: «I like all fashion. I like minimalism, I like maximalism... I've never been prejudiced. And this is something I have also paid for because especially if you have no experience it means being elusive and in fashion being elusive is both good and bad. Today I can control this machine better, but I remain attracted to opposites, I don't feel like excluding anything - maybe one day I will do a monochrome collection. I am attracted to the challenge». At this point, one naturally wonders what challenges De Vincenzo has taken on in this collection. After all, as previously mentioned, the designer's structured and textured language has already revolutionized the vaporous Etro silhouette of the past, even if «there is something lighter and more fluttery in this collection,» he continues: «There are personal challenges you give yourself. And it's nice to know you can challenge yourself. Undoubtedly, light clothes are an achievement for me and I can say that, at 44 years old, I had never made any. [...] The goal of this collection is to feel comfortable with lightness, which is also a key to understanding the brand». The nexus between the creative director's personal culture and Etro's collective and family culture lies somewhere between the two, between the individual and the multi-generational institution: «Bringing small personal gifts to this history of more than fifty years is a way of not being suffocated by it. [...] My experience and personal stories are the keys to not losing my point of view. In this collection there is a fetish object, it is the fox, a wooden object that comes from Sicily, I have had it since I was a child, I think it belonged to my grandfather. A toy, a decorative object that I turned into buttons, into trimmings for bags - and it fits because Etro has always been linked to the botanical world, to animals».

A compromise between stories is also realized when De Vincenzo confronts Mr. Etro and discovers that «we had a similar path even though we are geographically far apart». Etro began as a textile factory and De Vincenzo is a «factory man» who wants to see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands. «Despite the tight times, I have never lost my habit of visiting factories. [...] All my collections of the last 10 years were born in textile workshops. I would lock myself in there and start cutting and sewing. Everything was always born on the move». It is clear that faced with an inclination towards the product, the designer and creative director take a stand in the recent debate concerning the status of those creative directors without specific sartorial skills: «I am a designer first and foremost. Before being a creative director I am a designer and I have worked a lot in my position. I like to spend a lot of time working on things and I don't believe that the two roles can be disconnected - although the world shows that this is not the case. There are creative directors who focus on imagery and don't have that dedication. I believe in the team, there is never a job that belongs to someone in particular. I think sometimes both a creative director without a good designer and a designer without a strong vision doesn't work. For me you need both parts.» And how does he approach a collection? «I have been starting from materials for years, relying only on patterns and fabrics. It's a flat patchwork, which is not associated with any volume or silhouette, a harmonization of colors, textures, and patterns that is oftentimes ambitious, because combining flowers, squares, and stripes in the same collection is not always easy. But it is something that has always stimulated me. Then I imagine the garments, but I always start with the materials».

Another aspect of this question concerns opposing narratives. It is no mystery that the great debate marking the FW23 season differentiates two schools of thought: those who want wearable and commercial fashion, and those who instead, in the name of art, desire dreaminess and expressiveness crossing the boundaries of clothing, strictly speaking. De Vincenzo's opinion on the matter, once again, is one of critical sense and reasonable compromise: «Today everything has to be explained. Storytelling obsesses us - you can't do anything because you like it, you always have to give an explanation. This has become excessive, it has often emptied the product of content - which is a paradox, considering how there are stories built on just that and then you turn around and the product is not there. At the same time, I understand that a product for its own sake, today, [...] doesn't make much sense. I am in the middle, on the side of those who think that the world does not need this amount of clothes, but also that, at the same time, if you tell why you are doing something and ask yourself why you are doing it and do your work with intellectual honesty, you are safe». It is clear that according to this point of view, both anatomizing art in the cold light of profit and glorifying it romantically are extreme and, ultimately, incoherent positions to which De Vincenzo responds with a third way, that of depth: «Telling a story is always complex because no one wants to take the time to understand what you are saying, after all, you need a title, you need three simple words. They always tell me “Simplify, simplify, give us three words, three adjectives.” But what are they? How do I do it? Yet there is this tendency. If there was time I would like to tell things a lot, I don't believe in the short story and the simple title».

So if this «omnivorous collector» states that «the past is a key to interpretation, a source of inspiration, but leaves me complete freedom of interpretation» without ever reducing himself to a sterile copy, and if in his archival and «almost archaeological» passion with which he brings together personal history and the historical archives of fifty years of Italian fashion, given that Etro's archives also include fabrics produced for other brands having started out as a pure textile manufacturer, where will the future take him? Writer George R.R. Martin divided creative people years ago into architects and gardeners, the former plan and foresee, the latter cultivate and wait. De Vincenzo is a gardener. «I’m not really planning anything. That's the only approach I have, in general. Planning is impossible for me. I've reconciled myself with it, but going by arm's length is the only strategy for me».



Photographer: Marcello Junior Dino

Photographer Assistant: Davide Carlini

Interview: Lorenzo Salamone