Saturday, 10 May 2014

Fashion Heaven Rants Exclusive ~ A Chic Moment with Veronica Etro

Fresh from the recent cultural gala event at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing, Fashion Heaven Rants is thrilled to have an exclusive, long distance exchange – or correspondence since it was done via email – with Veronica Etro, Creative Director of Italian fashion house, Etro, where the topics run from the house’s profound history and heritage to what avid Etro fans could expect from its upcoming fall/winter 2014 collection.     

It must have been a long journey for Etro to be at its current position as one of the leading fashion labels of the world.

My father, Gimmo Etro, started the company in 1968 as a producer of high end textiles. He travelled a lot around the world, and these exotic travels greatly influenced the original designs, bold colour and rich embellishments of the Etro fabrics. 

It wasn’t until my brothers and I entered the company in the 1990s that we began to make finished clothing. But no matter how far we extend our product offering—from furniture and fashion to fragrance – the root of the company is always finely crafted fabrics made in Italy from the noblest fibres possible. We’re extremely dedicated to quality, craftsmanship and impeccable detailing.

Fashion is a competitive industry and being distinctive, besides offering a plethora of product range, would be the absolute key to success. Thus, what is the key strength of Etro that sets it apart from other fashion labels and houses?

At the heart of the brand is our family’s tradition with high-end fabrics and highly researched patterns.  We always try to keep a balance between what feels new and fashionable, with what is traditionally relevant.  

We aren’t interested in creating trendy fashion collections, only timeless clothes.  We want to be experiential but grounded; modern, but timeless. It’s a finely tuned balance but it’s what makes our company unique.

Fashion designers are known to have distinctive ways to initiate the designing process, which sometimes could take up to months in order to create a critically acclaimed collection, season after season. How do you start yours?

I start every collection with an intensive research period. I spend many months gathering images, swatches of fabric, and taking notes of things that inspire me.

What about the inspiration for your collections, both present and past?

The inspiration comes from many different sources and it changes with each collection:  it could be a movie, or a trip I’ve taken, an exhibit I’ve seen, a book I’ve read, or a special corner of the Etro archives.    

Once the theme starts to emerge, I dive more deeply into the research and this begins to inform the development of the materials. I love colourful landscapes and the scents of a new place and unexpected countries.

Your father is an avid traveller. Do you inherit his passion for travelling as well?

I travel frequently – whether it’s a quick trip to the mountains in Switzerland or a more exotic adventure to India or Africa. I am always looking, watching, and ingesting what’s around me.   

I also travel in my head with books, exhibitions and photographs.  Even in my dreams, I’ve visited many fantasy-laden places, sometimes Ancient worlds or thrilling situations that have found their way into a fashion show.

Which one would come first – the material selection or the sketching?

We always start with the fabrics at Etro as this is the most important part of our brand’s DNA.  Each season we push new techniques [and] new boundaries to create innovative materials and prints. Once I have established this stimulating visual playground, then I begin to design the silhouettes of the clothes.

As you can see today, only a handful fashion labels and houses are run by families while the majority of it is either being listed on the international stock exchange boards or being bought over and operated by major investment companies. Thus, what do you like most about being able to work in a family-run business like Etro?

It’s a very unique environment because it’s not often that you can blend personal with professional.  As everything in the fashion world gets bigger and our company gets bigger, I like the fact that family at the centre of it all remains tight and small. 

We work very closely together and we rely on one another to share ideas and discuss our vision.  We are also able to make very quick decisions without getting bogged down in bureaucracy.

Yet, there is always a setback when it comes to working with family, right?

Obviously when you’re working with family members, you can get into heated debates over the dinner table, but this honesty and openness is also probably one of our greatest advantages. You’re in a safe place to push the boundaries.

In your opinion, what is the key to Etro’s enduring success for being in such a competitive and challenging industry for more than 40 years?

We are a very tight family and we share a common appreciation of our heritage, respect for our history and love for what our father started. Everyone has their own individual taste, but we have a very similar philosophy of the brand and what it stands for.  We all share the same goals and the same vision.
 
I think what is key to our success is that we each have clearly defined roles inside the company and we respect one another.  Each of us is responsible for a different aspect and we allow one another the freedom to make decisions.

Now, let’s talk about Etro woman. Through your own perspective, how do you define Etro woman?

The Etro woman is individualistic and independent. She likes to play with clothes, but she doesn’t take them too seriously.  In fact, I’d say she is more interested in style than she is with pure Fashion.  

For her, clothing is a creative expression. There’s a sense of freedom when she gets dressed. She follows her whims and enjoys the fantasy, and exoticism that fashion can bring.  I design for a woman who is bold and isn’t afraid of colour, or a touch of eclecticism

How do you view your work as a fashion designer and a creative director?

My work is an emotional endeavour. I observe everything, storing sensations and inspirations to share with my creative team. I keep a notebook in which to record things that strike me. 

Then I work by subtraction, gradually cleaning out the notebook and throwing away most of the notes until it is time to muster up the courage to close the circle. What is left forms the heart of the collection.

From your point-of-view, what is your idea of fashion?

I went to Central Saint Martins and it is an art college before being a fashion one. I discovered the meaning of contamination of different cultures and experiences; I was in contact with art, photography, scenography, jewellery, sculpture.  

So, today my idea of fashion it’s not related only with the shape, cut or style of a dress but it’s something more, it’s a wide and open vision, rich of contamination and inspiration, 360°. I still work today with that open-minded head at the beginning of my research.

When an avid fashionista sees paisley print, she or he could not help it but to conjure an immediate association between the print and Etro. What is the significant of the print to Etro?

Pattern is central to Etro’s past, present and future. Every season, we take a new journey with the print.  For me it’s always an exciting personal challenge to create, new interesting patterns using innovative techniques. 

 I love to discover an original way of looking at print, a fresh way of dealing with it. It may be that I look back and resuscitate a lost tradition or an ancient technique from the past, or I might look far to the future for cutting-edge, high-tech processes that has never been used before. In any case, the process is heavy with research.

And creating new and unique offerings such as new prints must be a genuine challenge in its own right?

It’s a challenge to come up with something unique each season but taking a brand new voyage with every collection is what makes my job very exciting and satisfying. Though we have invented thousands of prints, the paisley is by far the most famous and well known of our family’s patterns. 

Divulge more on Etro’s paisley design heritage and how the relationship was built?

The noble roots of this sinuous, stylised palm frond can be traced back thousands of years ago to Mesopotamia.  Since then, the design has been used on ancient Indian shawls, on Celtic embroideries and on 19th century Parisian shawls. 

My father began using the pattern in the 1980s and it quickly become the symbol of the Etro brand.  Its journey, over the course of thousands of years, is very inspirational to me.  I love symbols that are rich in history.

Paisley is an evergreen print, yet it seems to look refreshed, modernised and enticing each time Etro debuts its collection on the runway.

Every season we develop and reinvent the classic paisley design in new ways. It’s always stimulating to deal with such a decorative pattern as you can easily blend it with more geometrical designs, mix with flowers, stripes and polka dots or work it with different techniques.  

Sometimes I look at it through a very classic lens and sometimes I like to completely revolutionise it. Either way, the design remains very powerful.   

What is the story behind Etro SS2014 collection?

My vision this season was deconstructed elegance: the joy and simplicity of dressing with glimpses of hand crafted detailing. It had to be undeniably relaxed, optimistically blurring the lines between formality and informality. 

Inspiration came from a collection of found objects, from vintage books covered in patterned fabric remnants to the exotic blooms of Indo-China and precious metalwork from the Ottoman Empire, after which the ideas were subtracted and refined until the final collection was born.

What is the inspiration behind this season’s collection?

I was completely inspired by this colourful bookshelf, where my grandmother’s books were covered in bold printed pop figurative patterns; naïve micro designs from the forties mixed and piled up created new strong patchworks. 

The idea was that the new print was constructed around a small scale splintered patchwork pattern instead of a single giant print from head to toe. 

The signature Paisley is preserved in its classic guise this season. Hand sewn into complex collages with tie fabrics patterns, exotic floral and the season’s new figurative drawing:  the ‘new’ print has been formed from a splintered, patchwork pattern. A play on scale occurs with single giant dahlia that diffuses into an explosion of smaller blooms. 

Etro recently held a gala event at the CAFA in Beijing. That being said, does that mean Asia, especially China, will be a priority market for Etro compared to other regions such as the Americas and Europe? 

China is the fastest growing market in the contemporary art and luxury worlds; you can feel the energy, the positive atmosphere of rising China. I love the balance between tradition, past memory, heritage and the completely new contemporary reality. 

I really like the Chinese films and directors like Yimou Zhang, the traditional costumes, the red lacquered art craft and the amazing decoration and colours of the Forbidden City. 

Last but not least, the readers are eager to know what will be in store for them come fall/winter 2014 season. Mind to spill some beans on the collection?

It is a crossroads of nomadic cultures, travelling on the Silk Road between East and West. A folk couture mood waves throughout dusting surfaces with a gilded finish and wrapping the body with a cosy embrace. 

The Paisley pattern has been cut with a fresh new exoticism blending into a floral motifs or oversized checks. Pattern is contained in decorative panels reminiscent of antique Asian screens or pearl boxes and the shapes are easy and flowing.

Million thanks to Ms Ingrid How from Graha Lifestyle for arranging my first ever email interview with Ms Veronica Etro. 

Etro’s spring/summer 2014 collection is available in Etro stores and selected multi-brand stores and department stores worldwide now.  

*Photos courtesy of Etro

Etro – Parkson Pavilion, 168 Jalan Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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