Carlo Capasa: The White Knight of Italian Fashion

Jessica Michault,

In less than three years Carlo Capasa, the president of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, has given the Italian governing fashion body a radical head to toe makeover. Like a strong shot of expresso Capasa has jolted the sleeping Italian giant awake and giving it a dynamic new direction. Today supporting young talents, embracing the digital age and incorporating sustainable, environmentally friendly fashion practices are what is getting the ground rumbling in Milan.

A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 13th issue of ODDA Magazine.

Q: First question, it’s about 2 years and a half ago you took this job one, it’s been a huge task and I feel there has been a great renaissance here in Milan. What was your mission when you started out?

A: When I arrived, I thought what was most important was to have a look at the future and think how fashion could evolve. So I thought together with the board, which is a very nice board in the camera because there are very nice brands that are participating in a direct way to these ideas. So we thought future would mean today sustainability, digital and new brands and new talents. So all our efforts were going in that direction. So we started with the education and promoting new designers, to create possibilities for those designers to interfere with big brands and also to have the chance to launch their own brand. We made many initiatives in that sense, starting with Milano Moda Graduate…


Q: That was my next question so, Milano Moda Graduate The Competition, I think it’s 29 different schools. How did you get everyone on board?

A: It was a good challenge because we had to talk with those schools and convince them that it’s not a competition, it’s something to be together and sometimes to « compete » in the sense to make everybody better. In Italy we are very individualistic so it’s easy to say, difficult to make. At the end, all the schools were convinced and sent the portfolios of students that were graduating: not just designers but also stylists, accessories designers, marketing and communications people. So we created 5 different categories and we chose the ones we believed were the best to make something very straight, so people could feel it’s a real competition.


Q: I love that it is so it’s much more well-around than maybe other “competitions” that are out there. And another thing is sustainability, and you have this new initiative. It’s called the Green Carpet Challenge. How did it come about?

Green Carpet Challenge 2016

A: Sustainability is the future of fashion. We cannot go further of fashion if we don’t finally understand we need to make something, we need to make a statement for sustainability. So we said let’s try to make together something that we can measure. We took our 12/14 brands that are trying to work on that direction, I insist on the word “work on that direction” because we don’t have the financial solution yet. Even from there, let’s make 4 different stories: one is about toxicological substances. We made the list: those ones we cannot use them anymore and those ones we can use them but as little as possible with the technology we have today.


Q: So you’re talking about toxic products and materials?

A: Toxic products and materials that you use maybe for example for dying. In Italy, we are much more advanced on terms of sustainability. Many of the factories are paying more attention to the environment. We are working now to make a list of very precise processes that you can measure and then we are working on social sustainability.


Q: What is social sustainability then?

A: You cannot today buy a tee-shirt for 5 dollars or a dress for 20 euros without thinking that somebody made this dress for almost nothing. We have to evaluate how much of the work was behind the product.  We should not buy a product that do not respect the lives of these people. For me it’s a very central idea of fashion. We are the top of aesthetics; we also must be the top of ethics because otherwise it doesn’t work.


Q: And so the competition then, is that to help the next generation to grow up with sustainability from onset as part of the design process?

A: Everything starts with education and culture. So I thought: Let’s use something that is will grab media attention like a big competition. We are doing it at La Scala with the Mayor of Milan, a lot of celebrities and all the brands. Let’s make a big media impact, first to show that you can be sexy, sensual, beautiful and sustainable. Second, to try to use that to promote the new designers in this field, that sustainability is the future. We launched this completion for new brands at the end we will choose 10, finally 5 and 1 will be the winner. So I think this is something that helps people to understand more and change their culture about fashion sustainability and the relation between those 2 areas.

Q: And then you said the third pillar of your master plan for Milan is digital? So how have you been transforming that aspect in what you do?

A: You know in Italy, we are used to very small towns so everybody can find products in those little shops, and there is a lot of personal communication and this made Italian people very lazy about digital. We are not champions of the digitalisation but the world is more and more global and you have to understand more and more how to deal with all the aspects of digitalisation. For example, when you look at ecommerce selling, in Italy we do 5% of luxury products selling online, in Germany 25%, in England 21%. So there is a big difference. And I don’t talk about China or the US where it’s very strong. So this is ecommerce but we have to think about communications, and organisation of companies.

So I push very much this by organising a lot of workshops, to meet more advanced people that could talk about the digitalisation. At the 1st meeting, there were only 10 brands, at the last meeting, we had to rent a huge enormous place because most of the brands were there. Also, in Italy, we are organised by district production to have a strong exchange. Because digital can mean so many different things, even at that level to link all the production source to digital means to save time, to not make mistakes. The culture must be deep in every system.


Q: Another transformation is that there seems to be this transformation of the men’s and women’s collections and basically the way we present fashion in general. I wanted to know what you thought about that.

A: Fashion is always representing very much the society. we are facing this liquid society. I always talk about Balmain. What’s happening in this liquid society? the most important word is to break the rules. When you live in a global world with so much communications. If you want to have a voice, your voice must be different, otherwise people they don’t notice you. This is what all the brands are trying to do: to break the rules, first the break was the division between men and women, the dates of showing. Everything we thought was obvious is not obvious anymore. Let’s restart. For example, the cruise shows became more important and everybody is doing that. Mixing men and womenswear together because it makes it easier for some brands, also because the tendency is for much more sportswear.

And this is the result. So when I am asked: how is doing the Milan Fashion Week? First of all its fashion week, it’s not men fashion week. We have a lot of men showing. And it’s not all fashion show either. There are fashion shows, presentations and events. You cannot count anymore on fashion shows. We have about 80 different things happening, which is a lot. And this is what we have to face today. This is the difference. We have to be flexible and understand it’s a new way of showing fashion.

Carlo Capasa and Stefania Rocca

Q: One of the growth spurts is this idea of See Now Buy Now…I know you were never a proponent of that.

A: Because I was against the production system that would have kill all the new generation of new brands because they could have not afford to produce before and show after. I thought it was antithetic to the meaning of fashion. I think it’s good for big companies that are product-oriented, not much creative. It works very well for mass companies; it is fast-fashion, fast because it copies fashion brands. So that I don’t like because I respect the creation. When somebody creates something new, you have to respect it. In fashion, the copy right is very low. I think the culture could help to respect the copy right.


Q: I agree very much. And that goes with this idea of Made in Italy?  How do you define it? What makes it so important?

A: It comes from very deep tradition. Because Made in Italy is not like in China with big companies. In Italy, you go in an area where there are small companies with people that work together on each part of the product. Everybody is making each part of the shoe. This idea to create a big area with small company makes Italy very flexible. You can make a great product with strong quality in short time.

Then you go to a fabric area because it works with fabrics as well: silk, cotton… So for example you say listen this is cotton. This is my color and I want it after tomorrow because I have a fashion show. Another goes and say You know this cotton, I want it broached and I want to have it tomorrow. This producer is going to do that fabric.

BUT nobody makes this effort to create a new fabric for you in 3 days and this makes Italy special. Because you find very different products, very personalized, in small quantity and in a short time.


Q: What is the next big challenge for you?

A: The next big project for me is of course sustainability. So this is something we are going to do to document and that we hope to finish by 2020. Because technology can save us from pollution. We want to push fashion companies to invest in technology.


Q: Fashion and tech is a big buzz word right now. We are talking about French tech, fashion tech…

A: As you read these days, there are these special fabrics. There is already very much technology in fashion. Of course, the point is not to arrive to something gimmick but to something that is real, more usable, and of course sustainable too.


GPS Radar

Jessica Michault is the Senior Vice President of industry relations at GPS Radar by Launchmetrics. She is also the editor-at-large for ODDA magazine and contributes to publications like the New York Times, the Business of Fashion, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Mixte magazine.

the writer

Jessica Michault

Jessica Michault is the Senior Vice President of industry relations at GPS Radar by Launchmetrics. She is also the editor-at-large for ODDA magazine and contributes to publications like the New York Times, the Business of Fashion, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Mixte magazine.

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