Altaroma: Fashion's Comeback Kid

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4 February 2015 By Kam Dhillon

AltaRoma: Fashion's Comeback Kid

Most insiders avoid Italy’s fashion scene beyond Milan altogether and it's taken a critical lashing in recent seasons. This past weekend, NJAL were on the front-line at AltaRoma—Rome's Fashion Week, and found an environment where youth was thoughtfully recoded with contemporary conviction, and all within the iconoclasm of its faded haute couture legacy.

Is Italian fashion really the old cripple in the corner? Ageing, tired and depressingly stagnant in vision, ideas and thought? This is the critical consensus typifying fashion opinion of late, especially at Milan Fashion Week, but is such a brutalist position totally fair? While creative critique of Italy’s staid powerhouses is certainly apt, a desperate call for a transfusion of fresh talent to revive Italian fashion is a little more complicated than fashion’s pen-power posse posits. Have these hardened editors even considered Italy’s economic crisis plaguing creative funding in their throwaway comments?

This past weekend AltaRoma–Rome’s Fashion Week played host to Italy’s undercurrent of both established and emerging talent, much to the ignorance of the global fashion press. Held at MAXXI: Museum of XXI Century Arts, the jarring museum designed by Zaha Hadid, it was a refined and successful attempt to showcase Italy’s take on contemporary fashion. Of course, there was more of the same antiquated (yet totally bewitching) gowns you might expect off-schedule, but the official streamlined schedule at AltaRoma ensured a stimulating circus of intriguing design. Back track a few months to when AltaRoma’s future was in complete question following the loss of local funding and you might expect her to be limping. Instead, AltaRoma was vibrant and buzzing with conversation–its audience were engaged.

Piccione.Piccione, Daizy Shely, Project 149, Greta Boldini and Quattromani are the young blood at AltaRoma that industry luminaries recently beckoned for. Yet since Suzy Menkes’ appearance at AltaRoma two years ago, there’s been little international re-focus and only a dismissive ignorance of Italy’s broader fashion scene beyond Milan followed, without any sincere investigation or appreciation. These young designers are burdened with familiar problems like funding, and backstage before their show, Project 149 told NJAL that “money is always an issue, and there just aren’t enough resources for young designers here”.

Rome isn’t the obvious fashion city, and its couture legacy waned when its biggest brands such as Valentino decamped to Paris in the ‘90s. Yet, the clout and commitment of fashion impresarios such as former supermodel Simonetta Gianfelici is forcing a renewal of faith in young design talent in Italy. The implementation of Room Service (Gianfelici’s curated showroom) and a recurring spotlight on the ‘Who Is On Next’ finalists–Italy’s foremost scouting contest developed in collaboration with Vogue Italia demonstrates this. NJAL’s own inVITRO were at Room Service and beamed proudly with a collection produced entirely in Italy. The young brand play on the contrasts between cotton, leather, lines and shapes in various, minimalistic forms to reinterpret the male-female dichotomy and instead let the wearer’s own identity take precedent. 

“Room Service is where press and buyers can engage with these young brands at a conversational level, and discover their stories as well as their connections to craftsmanship,” Simonetta tells NJAL. The brands on show are not in their infancy either, and Simonetta specifies “they are industry ready”, so Room Service is an incubator of sorts, and only becomes a platform for designers at the perfect opportunity. It’s not just an Italian-centric focus either, with Room Service maintaining a global view.

Simonetta invited design talents from Romania, Uzbekistan and Armenia where contemporary materials such as neoprene were matched with their respective cultural iconography. Pacing the showrooms with Simonetta, she was keen to emphasise that “we’re past globalisation, and big brands have expanded so big beyond return,” she says. “Now, there’s a return to craftsmanship and artisanal practices as the new avant-garde. The designers at Room Service strike the balance between contemporary direction, and their own rich cultures. It’s something that can’t be exploited by brands either, a sincere homage to heritage through a cross-fertilisation of techniques that consumers can really notice and feel.”

Elsewhere, at the Accademia Costume & Moda’s annual ‘Talents’ show–youth was communicated beyond a wash of disembodied colliding newsfeeds, but as a concrete aesthetic methodology. ‘Talents’ is essentially an elaborate graduate show where ten of the best designers from the school’s design cohort are showcased. Adrien Roberts, Director of Education at ACM tells NJAL that “these are ten very different collections, not just in genre but in conception, and there’s a visible commitment to in-depth individual research that is at the crux of their work.” An esteemed jury including Laura Lusuardi of Max Mara, the iconic Simonetta Gianfelici, Marco Falcioni of Diesel and Livia Carmini at Valentinto made the painstaking selection of choosing a winner. A clear commitment to ‘Made in Italy’ underscored the show with designers working directly with Italian manufacturers to source materials. It’s an initiative saturating younger Italian fashion in a wider scope too, and Simonetta Felici points out “these designers are proud of opening their minds and combining tradition with a contemporary sensibility.”

Nicolas Martin Garcia deservingly claimed the crown at ‘Talents 2015’, and his candy-crayola collection of exacted menswear titled ‘Lolito’ had the bubble-gum-pop tenacity that one would expect to find in a more subversive fashion capital. Overall, AltaRoma was an enriching experience that provoked and entertained, and made everyone in attendance think and blink about the future of Italian fashion. 

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