Opinion: For Luxury Fashion, The Future Lies In Its Factories. But How Can Brands Go Deeper?


Susanna Nicoletti | June 22, 2023

Fendi's Capannuccia factory in Italy.Credit: Courtesy of Fendi.

Dior, Bottega Veneta and Fendi are just three of the brands that have recently announced the opening of new production sites in Italy this month. But beyond the creation of these state-of-art premises, how can companies add a second layer of richness to the artisanal craftsmanship that they wish to champion, asks Luxury Society Columnist Susanna Nicoletti.

In fashion and luxury, a large part of our industry is about creating the aspirational dream for consumers. So it can often be forgotten that we live in volatile times. Global concerns continue to persist over what experts are calling a “poly-crisis,” which factors in challenges like inflation, climate change, the war in Europe, supply chain disruptions and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which may dampen appetite for more expensive purchases like luxury goods.

And faced with unforeseen increases in product prices and the saturation of those very same products in the global market, often only distinguishable due to their logos or the look and feel of the creative director on duty, fashion and luxury brands need to inject a little more value to their leather products that contribute to the strategic core of their company’s turnover.

And these days, one of the things fashion and luxury brands are placing a lot of emphasis on is production. Gone are the dusty days of “factories,” which, if their mythology would have us believe, were dark and mysterious places, hidden from sight and full of industry secrets about how to make a product.

Today’s now-named production facilities are state-of-the-art sites where factory merges with art, where nature is integrated and visible, and where the spaces are expertly designed by renowned architects. And where brands can weave an impeccable and effective narrative about how they are helping to restore and revive artisanal craftsmanship in Europe’s beating heart.

And while this has been slowly building momentum for many years, it is no accident that in the last month alone, the following openings in Italy have been announced: the opening of a new Dior bag production facility of 7,5000 square metres in Scandicci, Florence; Bottega Veneta’s opening of 5,450 square metres footwear production site in Vigonza, Florence, as well as the Fendi Uomo fashion show at Pitti, being held in its new Capannuccia factory complete with a post-show party and a country-Coachella atmosphere.

And let us not forget Prada Group and Ermenegildo Zegna Group’s announcement in June that they will each acquire a 15 percent stake in Italian knitwear manufacturer Luigi Fedeli e Figlio, and Chanel and Brunello Cuccinelli’s join deal announced in May to each acquire a 24.5 percent stake in Italian cashmere supplier Cariaggi Lanifico.

While these announcements are of great benefit to all the companies involved, particularly the Italian districts that have seen the investment, what remains to be seen is how the revival of artisanal craftsmanship will evolve in the context of “Made In Italy.”

It is one thing to build the production facility after all, but another to add a second factor of richness like the Swiss do, where manufactures are treated as a centre of true excellence, or as a true niche atelier, where there is the highest level of savoir-faire, where the handmade sits alongside the latest technology to create a knowledge base of the truest know-how.

Because while we know that fashion has a high level of mass industrialisation, indeed, some of the benefits of this include control of the supply chain and logistics, quality control, recruitment of workers and investment in their training, there is also a lot to be said for the magic, mystery and uniqueness of ateliers because it is imbued with the wealth of knowledge and value of artisanal craftsmanship.

Let us take two examples: the Selleria by Fendi and the Cabat by Bottega Veneta. The preciousness and luxury that was communicated through these products, that were made by hand, with the utmost care, in the necessary time and with the "imperfections" of the unique product in the world, were brand positioning tools. The silver plate of the Fendi Selleria, complete with a serial number was a precious detail of great intrinsic value.

They were objects of desire that demonstrated the craftsmanship of these iconic brands and represented an uncompromising aesthetic vision. And for those who have had the good fortune to see, touch, analyse and possess these bags, and for those who have had the good fortune to build them, it is clear what we are talking about, and why it is clear that such superlative products are no longer created and are replaced by new versions that are perfectly industrialised but not so rich in emotional content.

We have seen new collections replace the truly iconic and unique products in the name of the thirst for novelty, instant gratification and the hit-and-run, that have become tiring even on the customer’s side. To think that once upon a time, there was a waiting list for Fendi Baguettes and a hand-made book available to customers in the shop to choose their own, special model of that legendary bag that was made in fabrics, materials, in unique and crazy colours.

This is a level of richness that would give “Made In Italy” the kind of narrative it has needed for a while. Because not only does the investment from luxury conglomerates like Kering, LVMH, Richemont as well as key players such as Hermès and Chanel, make Italy a central hub of the entire global fashion and luxury manufacturing industry, but it also provides the opportunity for something new and fresh.

Imagine if these production facilities were as they were promoted, as artisanal as we dreamed, making products with an emotional heart and value. Only then would the message of luxury craftsmanship be authentic and clear.

Craftsmanship | Luxury | Manufacturing