Are Artisans The New Influencers?

by Joshua Graham on 19 June 2023

Fendi's Pitti Uomo show was the latest example of brands putting the spotlight on artisanal craft. In an increasingly fast-paced world, SHOWstudio's editorial assistant Joshua Graham sees it as a cultural shift in favour of slowing things down.

Fendi's Pitti Uomo show was the latest example of brands putting the spotlight on artisanal craft. In an increasingly fast-paced world, SHOWstudio's editorial assistant Joshua Graham sees it as a cultural shift in favour of slowing things down.

Move over Addison Rae because there’s a new fashion influencer in town. Or should I say influencers? Last week Silvia Venturini Fendi presented her S/S 24 menswear collection as this year’s guest designer at Pitti Uomo Immagine 104, which was a tribute to the brand’s family of artisans. Held at the recently unveiled Fendi Factory in the city of Capannuccia just outside of Florence, as a homage to the people who bring Fendi’s designs to life, models donned workwear jackets, leather aprons and tool belts reminiscent of their artisans' uniforms. Following the footsteps of other Italian brands, including Bottega Veneta and Zegna, in highlighting their devotion to craftsmanship, Fendi's Pitti show begs the question; why are artisans having a moment?

Fendi Factory for leathergoods Capannuccia, Tuscany, © Andrea Ferrari

When Fendi announced they would be showing as part of Pitti instead of Milan Fashion Week, the artistic director called the Fendi Factory ‘the pulsing heart of Fendi, a place symbolic of creation, where development, innovation, craftsmanship training and production are reunited under the same roof’. The 30,000-square-meter factory was unveiled in 2022 to highlight the maison's dedication to meeting the highest standards of creation for Fendi’s luxury products but also a commitment to environmental sustainability. This is reflected in the factory’s integrated indoor and outdoor spaces, surrounded by seven hectares of greenery.

Fendi S/S 24 Menswear

Before the show started buyers, stylists, and press from around the world watched the Fendi artisans at work - before meeting again post-runway atop the factory’s rooftop garden for aperitivos and a set from Diplo. The choice to host the S/S 24 collection here goes beyond just highlighting the impressive building developed by Fendi’s architecture department. After all, Florence is where Fendi’s grandmother Adele Fendi had gone to learn the bespoke art of leather craftsmanship, which is at the core of the brand’s ethos. Still, the move is more than a sentimental gesture, as it put the spotlight on Fendi's community of artisans.

In fact, the last year has seen Fendi really push this narrative by inviting influencer and editor Bryan Boy to not only tour the Fendi Factory but also show the world what goes into making their iconic Peekaboo bag. ‘Italy is synonymous with tradition, history, beauty and above all excellence. We embrace the opportunity to invest in the Made in Italy and to sublimate the core values of craftsmanship, artisanal savour-faire and the power of handcrafting', said Fendi chairman and CEO Serge Brunschwig in 2022.

Fendi S/S 24 Menswear

It’s no secret that ‘Made in Italy’ continues to be synonymous with exceptional craftsmanship. Since it began in 1971, Pitti Uomo Immagine has been instrumental in solidifying the status of ‘Made in Italy’ by providing a platform to some of the nation’s greatest designers including Giorgio Armani and Ermenegildo Zegna. Once the trades-fair began opening up to international designers and press it became apparent that Italy’s manufacturing structure was aeons ahead of its competitors. By the end of the 20th century, it became an honour for international brands to be asked to present their collections as a guest at Pitti Uomo, with a who’s who including Martine Rose, Raf Simons, and Craig Green.

Fendi S/S 24 Menswear

While Pitti Uomo continues to be revered as the fashion week rooted in exceptional craftsmanship, that doesn’t explain why brands have been so fervent in marketing that side of their business. Since he joined Bottega Veneta as creative director, Mathieu Blazy’s slogan has been ‘Craft in Motion’. This has been showcased not only in his innovative (and headline-making) leather looks that are printed to look like denim but in the number of initiatives he has implemented. From introducing the ‘Certificate of Craft’ lifetime warranty on Bottega’s most iconic designs to the ‘Bottega for Bottegas’ campaign which put the spotlight on artisans around the world, craft has been central in his brand revamp.

Of course, Fendi isn’t the first Italian brand to spotlight how and where their garments are created. For over a century, the Zegna Wool Mill has been renowned internationally for producing some of the world’s finest textiles. Founded in 1910 by Lanificio Zegna, the mill has been part of the Zegna family for four generations and has been integral to the brand’s international success. More than a heritage site, since it was founded the mill has been a space of textile innovation with Zegna pioneering fabrics to be lighter, smoother, and more refined. Along with Zegna Group’s family of brands including Thom Browne, designers around the globe source from Zegna’s factories.

The Making of the Fendi Peekaboo

In the last decade, no creative industry has been safe from adopting a more is more mentality. From social media, to AI, and fast fashion, it's evident that we live in a world where it is easier than ever to create and disseminate product and information (of admittedly varying quality) at an alarming rate. This of course has led to not only normalising this idea of convenience but has created a voracious appetite for more. In their report on the environmental affects of fast fashion the United Nations Environment program 'estimated that people are buying 60% more clothes and wearing them for half as long'. With sustainability one of the industries most pressing topics, its statistics like these that have many reevaluating their spending habits.

The Making of the Peekaboo © Fendi

Which is exactly what brands like Fendi and Bottega Veneta are not only aware of but are implementing into their marketing. Rather than pushing notions of newness to the forefront, they are utilising their heritage of handcraft to showcase a slower model that focuses on quality over quantity. Coming out of an era defined by hype culture, there is also a deeply personal element to handcraft that can't be replicated by a machine. Fendi's show put a face to the many talented individuals at the Fendi Factory who are responsible for bringing the brand's designs to life. With more consumers being more conscious about their spending habits, these ideas of personal connection and quality are beginning to level out the longstanding appeal of hype and newness.

And it isn't just the Italian brands who understand the changing consumer landscape. Earlier this year WWD broke the news that Burberry spent 21 million euros to acquire a technical outerwear factory from one of their Italian partners, which includes facilities, equipment, and employees. Burberry CEO Jonathan Akeroyd explained the investment would 'provide greater control over the quality, delivery and sustainability of our products.'

Burberry Creative Expression by Daniel Lee © Courtesy of Burberry photographed by Tyrone Lebon

Still, this expansion doesn't mean that Burberry's centres in Yorkshire, England where the brand produces its gabardines and trench coats won't remain central to the brand's manufacturing. The Yorkshire Post reported earlier this year that in a call with journalists Burberry's chief operating and financial officer Julie Brown reaffirmed the brand's commitment to Yorkshire manufacturing calling their commitment to the region 'very strong'.

The debut collection of creative director Daniel Lee (Mathieu Blazy's predecessor at Bottega Veneta) was a love letter to British archetypes, taking inspiration from punks, fox hunters, and heavily featuring English rose iconography. This inaugural statement of Britishness follows the return of the Burberry Prorsum logo showing Lee's tenure at the brand is sure to be rooted in a celebration of heritage. We wouldn't be surprised if Burberry and more British brands followed in the footsteps of Italy's heritage houses in putting the spotlight on their manufacturing and the people who bring the brand to life.

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Fendi S/S 24 Menswear

Creative Director: Silvia Venturini Fendi
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