In October 1992, bitter fashion rivals Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace both insisted on having the closing time slot on the Milan Fashion Week schedule—and neither designer would back down. (After protracted dramedy, Armani finally prevailed.) Such ego-fueled theatrics have come to define the Italian fashion industry, which to this day is dominated by a handful of powerful brands. But in the past year, change has been in the air. New names and fresh faces, like Lorenzo Serafini, Arthur Arbesser, and Massimo Giorgetti, have taken up posts at Philosophy, Iceberg, and Emilio Pucci, respectively. And unlike their predecessors, they’re more inclined to meet for a negroni at the buzzy restaurant Il Carpaccio than to have it out on the front page of Corriere della Sera.
“It’s something that doesn’t exist anymore,” the soft-spoken and utterly polite Serafini says of those over-the-top fashion feuds. “The times we are living in—they’re completely different. There are so many more designers now. Plus, the older generation are businessmen and the owners of the factories; we are mostly individuals working for companies.” Serafini, 43, became the creative director of Philosophy in late 2014. Although he’s part of a new wave of Italian designers, he’s hardly a neophyte to the stately Italian industry, having held senior design positions at Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana for more than a decade combined. And, in stark contrast to his employers, Serafini, whose sensitivity is a perfect fit for the sweetly sensual Philosophy woman, has been more than happy to avoid the spotlight: “I’ve been a very lucky guy, working with some of the biggest names in fashion. I have never been frustrated about being behind the scenes.”
He is not alone. In New York and London, fresh-out-of-school designers can and often do take the plunge and launch a label on their own. A Milan-based designer, on the other hand, might clock up to 20 years of experience before even attempting to put his or her name out there.
Arthur Arbesser, 33—who, it is perhaps worth noting, is Austrian and not Italian—is one exception. The Central Saint Martins graduate moved to Milan to work at Emporio Armani, then launched his namesake label seven years later, in 2013. “I turned 30, and I thought, If I don’t do this now, I never will,” recalls Arbesser, who goes around in blue jeans and sneakers, his mop of brown hair and tortoiseshell glasses lending him a boyish look. He succeeded with the help of friends like Luca Cipelletti, an architect who hosted Arbesser’s first presentation in his striking modernist apartment, and Agathe Singer, a French illustrator who worked with him on prints.
If he did not get much support from the local industry, he got it in spades from the media, which took notice of the upstart label. Indeed, anytime a new name crops up on the Milan fashion calendar, it makes the news. “I instantly sensed that there was this great interest in anyone young in Milan who was doing something decent,” Arbesser says. In 2015, he was selected as a finalist for the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers; his appointment as creative director of Iceberg soon followed.
Arbesser divides his time between the Iceberg atelier, in the coastal town of Cattolica (where, coincidentally, Philosophy also produces its collections), and his own studio, a shared space in the midcentury Casa Caccia Dominioni, in Milan’s Piazza Sant’Ambrogio. He compartmentalizes his creative process in much the same way. “I split my story in half, and I put all of the happiness, fun, and color into Iceberg, while I try to make my brand more elevated, elegant, and a little bit more fragile,” he says. His eponymous fall 2016 collection, for example, was inspired by the somber, arresting paintings of the Belgian artist Michaël Borremans; for Iceberg, a brand known for its pop-y playfulness, he drew on the graphic aesthetic of the 1960s and ’70s Florentine design collective Superstudio. “I thought their sense of humor and oddness went really well with the DNA of Iceberg.”
Similarly, Massimo Giorgetti juggles his own line—the youthful, energetic, and hugely successful MSGM, which he debuted in 2009—and his responsibilities as the new creative director of Emilio Pucci. The two roles have him ferrying between Milan and Florence and designing, unbelievably, 10 collections a year. Which raises the question: Why would the 38-year-old designer willingly subject himself to such a workload? “How could I say no? Pucci is the story of Italian fashion!” he enthuses with a dazzling grin.
He certainly makes it seem easy. Giorgetti likens his creative process to “putting together a beautiful dinner.” At Pucci, that means finding a balance between “the palazzo and the street” and rethinking the brand’s athletic origins in a modern way. “Many people had forgotten what Pucci truly is, because in the past few years, it was the red carpet. I’m bringing back Pucci sportswear,” he says, citing the ski slopes as inspiration for his graphic fall 2016 collection. The brand, he acknowledges, will always be about lavish prints, but a shake-up was otherwise in order: “It’s important to move on from the old. And be of the now.”