by Karen Alberg Grossman

Welcome to MR’s Made-in-Italy week, a celebration of the superlative handcrafted made-in-Italy fashion that’s been driving sales in upscale menswear stores for many years now. Starting today and for the entire week, we’ll share why retailers are growing their penetration of Italian-made luxury product (such as Belvest, pictured above), how the Italians are meeting and surpassing global sustainability standards, what you can expect to find at next week’s Chicago Collective, and today’s interview with Paola Guida, ITA’s Director of Fashion, Jewelry and Beauty, who candidly addresses all these issues. 

“After two difficult years, there’s been a notable surge in the U.S. demand for Italian product.”  

Paola Guida

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She’s been working with the Italian Trade Agency since 1992, including 11 years in China, part of that time as director of the Hong Kong office. She’s overseen everything from aerospace to fashion/jewelry/beauty (and candidly confides that her expertise is stronger in fashion than machinery!) Smart, beautiful and dynamic, Paola Guida talks here about the growing stature of made-in-Italy product, why Italian companies are recovering nicely from the pandemic, and what U.S. retailers can expect at the Chicago Collective next week.


In your opinion, how has the fashion business changed since the pandemic?

I think today’s consumers, both here and abroad, are becoming less obsessed with designer labels and more interested in quality, in investment dressing, in the price-value relationship, and in protecting the environment. The pandemic might have accelerated these trends but they were starting to happen pre-pandemic, and not just with luxury shoppers. Fast fashion is becoming less important, largely because of its impact on the environment. People understand that we need to give value to what we wear. Young people especially really do care about saving the planet. This bodes well for made-in-Italy fashion.

Nicola Santarelli

Why is that? How does made-in-Italy make a difference?

Italian-made fashion can fulfill many of the new sustainability requirements based on our logistics. We have fewer problems managing supply chain since our sourcing and production are nearby. The mills, the dying/printing facilities, the workshops are all in close proximity in Italy; we are less dependent on other countries and have far fewer transportation issues. Based on the closeness of textile producers to garment manufacturers, our carbon footprint is much smaller.

What’s more, the Italian textile industry has the most stringent environmental protections in all Europe. We even reward companies for their sustainability efforts, for example at our Green Carpet Fashion Awards Italia that the ITA has always supported.

Voile Blanche

How are Italian fashion companies faring since the pandemic?

It’s very exciting that after two difficult years, there’s been a notable surge in U.S. demand for Italian product.Our export to the USA has mostly recovered the 2020 losses with sales that are equal to or exceeding the 2019 export value. Clearly, in the past six to nine months, there’s been growing demand for new Italian suppliers. Since getting goods from Asia is still problematic, U.S. retailers are seeking out Italian companies, both for branded and private label goods. The fact that consumers are becoming more eco-conscious is truly helping Italy come out stronger. Although the numbers are not yet huge, every day we receive more requests. The fashion sector was up by 68 percent in the last nine months of 2021; menswear was up more than 30 percent. And the trend is still positive: customers today understand the value in Italian-made clothing and they’re increasingly willing to pay for it.

Tell us what retailers can expect to find at the Chicago Collective.

We will be showing, in a designated central section of the show, 54 companies. (And there’s a long waiting list! We’re hoping to get even more space for more exhibitors at future shows…)

Offerings for fall ’22 range from handmade tailored clothing to luxury knitwear to unique handcrafted accessories and fine furnishings. A notable change in all categories is a subtle shift from traditional/classic to more contemporary styling, more casual chic. As lifestyles evolve, many Italian ateliers are moving toward clothing that’s somewhat younger and easier to wear, but always with a certain elegance that’s still the signature of Italian menswear.

On Monday February 7th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm, Mr. Antonino Laspina, trade commissioner and executive director of the ITA, is hosting a private VIP Cocktail Reception on the second floor of The Mart, by invitation only with RSVP.

And as a small thank you to our retailer guests at the show, we’re presenting (while supplies last) gift bags with Italian goodies. So come by early: we look forward to welcoming you and showing you our fabulous made-in-Italy fall ’22 collections. We’re very certain you will fall in love.