Synonymous with chic style and the irresistible Dolce Vita, Italy is the undoubted King of world fashion. Home to the most recognizable and well loved fashion brands, the country didn’t just rise to the peaks of elegance in recent years. For more than 1000 years, Italy has been a prominent center of fashion, dating right back to the 11th Century; while most of the rest of Europe was still mired in the midst of the Dark Ages!
Fashion has long played a major role in the cultural traditions of Italy with the concept of ‘la bella figura’, meaning good appearance, inspiring the relaxed, healthy, well dressed lifestyle that the country is so well known for.
One of the things I love to do as an expat is window shop at Quadrilatero della Moda (the fashion district of Milan). The best time to do this in my view is during the Christmas season.
A Brief History Of Italian Fashion
Between the 11th and 16th Centuries Italy specialized in making superb quality hats, jewelry, cosmetics, luxury fabrics and leather goods, including gloves and shoes. Some of the major cities in Italy that are still famous for their fashion industries first rose to prowess in the 11th Century, including Milan, Venice, Rome, Naples, Florence and Palermo.
This explosion of fashion coincided with the rise of the artistic culture in Italy that went on to form the foundation for the Renaissance that swept Europe; and for this reason it can be understood that it was the craftwork and artisanship of the early fashion industry that led up to the artistic and cultural Renaissance!
By the 17th Century however, the center of European fashion moved to France, largely due to the flamboyant Kings including Louis XIV. However, by the mid 20th Century, following the fashion shows put on by Giovanni Battista Giorgini in Florence, the center of fashion once more returned to Italy after a hiatus of a couple centuries.
There was still tough competition between the French ‘haute couture’ and the ‘Italian school’; however, the Italian labels such as Gucci and Ferragamo began to take the upper hand over the big French fashion houses such as Dior and Chanel.
Italian Fashion Rises To Modern World Acclaim.
The center of Italian fashion and design is Milan, consistently ranked as the fashion capital of the world. The city has a huge range of global fashion brands but there are also smaller, lesser known fashion designers, craftspeople and tailors who work in the back streets supplying their own modest pools of clientele. Other great fashion cities in Italy include Florence and Rome, both of which are home to important fashion brands and superb collections of exquisite design work.
The ‘Made In Italy’ Label Is The Linchpin Of Quality In Fashion.
The Italian government takes fashion seriously, not only because it’s a huge source of revenue, but also because it plays such an important role in the cultural heritage of the nation. As a result, there is a special designation for high quality goods which are made within the country’s borders. This means that items which are designed in Italy but made overseas are not eligible for this coveted label.
The ‘Made in Italy’ label means that the items are made within the country and express the highest levels of craftsmanship, materials and creativity. Italy is famous for its high quality textiles, leatherware, and other materials; so much so in fact, that foreign luxury brands such as Chanel, Dior and Ralph Lauren, depend on the Italian craft factories for their materials!
Many of these craft factories are located in specialized districts in Naples, Tuscany, Veneto and Piedmont. These factories work to orders from the fashion houses and make parts, or all of, the accessories and clothing, as well as shoes, hats, gloves and much more besides.
The National Chamber Of Italian Fashion.
This national non-profit helps to promote and direct the development and growth of the Italian fashion industry. Originally founded in the late 1950s in Rome, it has since moved its headquarters to Milan. It aims to promote the highest quality and values in the fashion industry and ensures that good standards are maintained throughout the production process.
The National Chamber of Italian Fashion also holds an annual competition, called the International Talent Support Awards, of ITS, which helps to promote young, up and coming fashion designers. The competition is held in Trieste and the winners often go on to play major roles in the fashion industry.
Milan – The Undisputed Fashion Capital Of The World.
Milan is mentioned more times in relation to fashion in the global media than any other city, clocking a higher count than the other fashion giants including Paris, New York, London or Rome!
Milan holds a famous fashion week twice a year which attracts all the top brands and labels from around the world, including their own huge names. Milan’s fashion district, known as the ‘Quadrilatero della Moda’, or the Fashion Quadrilateral, is a huge tourist attraction throughout the year. The quarter is home to the city’s top shopping streets including:
- Via Montenapoleone.
- Via della Spiga.
- Corso Venezia.
- Via Manzoni.
- Via Sant’Andrea.
Other important shopping streets in Milan include the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Via Dante, Corso Buenos Aires and the Piazza del Duomo. However, as well as these well known streets and districts the entire city is teeming with incredible craftspeople, local merchants and backstreet tailors and fashion designers.
Milan is the headquarters of some of the best loved fashion brands; many of which lead the markets in both design quality and sales volumes. The top fashion brands in Milan include:
- Dolce & Gabbana.
- Dirk Bikkembergs.
This amazing list of fashion brands that swirl around Milan ether is quite incredible and is all the proof you need to see why the city is known as the fashion capital of the world!
Florence – Old Meets New In Fashion And Design.
In many ways Florence is the original birthplace of Italy’s fashion industry; playing a major role in its earliest stages. However, following the Second World War, it also came to the fore to host the soirees organized by Giovanni Battista Giorgini which put Italy back in the center of the fashion world after several hundred years of playing second fiddle to France.
Florence’s major fashion shopping street is the Via de Tornabuoni and is the second home of Armani and the flagship store of the jeweler Bulgari. The secondary shopping streets in Florence include the Via del Parione and the Via Roma, where high end boutiques sell elegant fashion, jewelry and accessories.
Florence is home to some of Italy’s most exclusive fashion brands, most of which were founded in the ancient city, including:
- Salvatore Ferragamo.
- Roberto Cavalli.
- Ermanno Scervino.
- Emilio Pucci.
- Enrico Coveri.
Some of the other huge fashion houses also have major stores in Florence including the French company Chanel and the Italian company Prada. The outskirts of Florence also host many fashion company’s offices and large out of town stores.
Rome – The Eternal City.
Although it doesn’t quite have the same prestige as Milan in terms of fashion, Rome is still a major player and is always ranked in the world’s top 5 fashion cities. The annual Rome Fashion Week is a significant event on the fashion calendar and showcases all the biggest brands on its catwalks.
The main fashion shopping street in Rome is the Via Condotti, where you can buy luxury clothes, jewelry and accessories. The Via Condotti is a serious draw for tourists and no trip to Rome is complete without visiting it, even if you just want to do some window shopping!
Rome is, unsurprisingly, home to many big fashion and jewelry brands, including:
- Laura Biagiotti.
There are also many other fashion brands that have elegant boutiques in the city, including Prada, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace and Armani.
The Top 3 Italian Fashion Brands.
There are so many Italian fashion brands that I like, but here are my top 3:
Originally founded in 1913 and synonymous with elegance, style and luxury, Prada has become one of the world’s most important leaders of taste and fashion. Renowned for their fresh designs and unique perspectives on what’s possible it’s loved by customers for its unusual prints. As you might expect, it’s headquartered in Milan and is always a headliner at fashion shows around the globe.
Heralding from Florence, Gucci saw a huge resurgence in popularity after Alessandro Michele took the helm to steer the behemoth fashion house towards new success and acclaim.
In the last few decades Gucci has seen record sales and is currently the most profitable fashion brand on the planet.
As one of Italy’s strongest and most resilient brands, Giorgio Armani is known for its high quality tailoring and elegant designs for everyday use. Since the mid 1970s it’s seen massive growth in its sales and reach and has fans all round the globe.
Italian Fashion – More Than 1000 Years Of Leading The Way.
For countless generations now Italy has led the world of fashion and during this time it has built up a solid industry that prioritizes quality materials and textiles, superb craftsmanship and high volume sales. The perfect combination to dominate the global industry and set the trends for the future!
Whether you’re a tourist visiting Italy, or an Expat living there, you can’t afford to miss out on exploring the incredible fashion districts of Milan, Florence and Rome! However, don’t forget that even in the smaller towns the local craftspeople, tailors and textile merchants take fashion very seriously as well, so no matter where you are there are plenty of gems to discover.