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Conversing with a Sensation

There are very few individuals who leave an indelible mark on people and in the industry they strive for. Adriana Mulassano is one of them. A strong hand in yesteryears for today’s elite designers and a silent observer of all that is happening…she is one woman who never lets her passion for fashion die out, even at the prime age of 72!

There are very few individuals who leave an indelible mark on people and the industry they strive for. Adriana Mulassano is one of them. A strong hand in yesteryears for today’s elite designers and a silent observer of all that is happening…she is one woman who never lets her passion for fashion die out, even at the prime age of 72!

In her beautiful apartment in Rome, Ms. Adriana Mulassano, Italian fashion journalist, author of many reference books on fashion, Professor and an amazing friend, shares with me the spirit of Italian fashion – where genius and inspiration are part of one’s lifestyle.

First of all, Adriana is a dear friend and admired by many, as well as feared by the rest. She is, and remains ‘the reference’ in the history of the fashion institution.

From Amica to El Corriere de la Sera, passing by Giorgio Armani’s Press Office, she has played every role in the theatre of fashion – being the adviser, the friend, the confidante of many renown designers, such as Versace, Missoni, Valentino, Fendi, Ferrè, Armani, to name only a few. Ms. Mulassano knows by heart the wheels of this unpredictable business and never stops to astonish us in predicting the trends.

It was a delight to coax out of her some memories of those glamourous times. She is a woman who has a huge contribution in the history of fashion. Indeed, she is the history of fashion…

HH Alexandra Orloff: You have worked for magazines, newspapers and fashion designers. You have written books, and are at present a lecturer at IED – Instituto Europeo di Design in Rome. What is next? What else do you wish?

Adriana Mulassano: Today, at the age of 72 years, my goal is to live long enough to transmit to my Fashion Communication students not only the emotions and history of fashion that I have experienced first hand, but above all, my love for the discipline. I would like to change the perceptions regarding the fashion industry, and eliminate the belief that this is a futile industry. The future of fashion lies in our continued ability to create and push the boundaries of this industry. It demands an intuition, which will allow you to find new talents that will change history.

AO: What was your vision for the fashion industry early in your career? Has it changed now and if so, how?

AM: My vision, particularly in the 60s and 70s, was groundbreaking as I moved away from the concept that fashion was only achieved by fashion designers and manufacturing companies. On the industry side there was a will and challenge to invest in emerging talents. On one hand, designers were ready to accept challenges, while I enjoyed the ability to scout and discover new talents.

Designers like Giorgio Armani, Gianni Versace and Gianfranco Ferré, truly revolutionized fashion, as they were willing to take risks and set trends. Nowadays, this is much more difficult as there is little openness and credit by the manufacturers. Designers, with rare exceptions, are no longer willing to drive their career step by step, which 20 years ago would have created established brands. Fashion journalists are too conditioned by advertising and therefore, it is very difficult to rely on their judgments, perhaps with the exception of Suzy Menkes.

AO: How was it to work with Armani, to be surrounded by Valentino and all the other stars of the Italian fashion industry? Do you have any particular memories which you can share?

AM: Working for Armani? An unforgettable experience! A perfect professional, a great creator, a man of great taste and above all, a human. It is impossible not to respect and love him. Ten years of working with Armani felt like six months, and I learnt from him a lot of precious things that I will be forever grateful for. My links with other big Italian fashion designers have also been wonderful, and that’s because I’ve always used the invincible ‘weapon’ – loyalty, constructive criticism, and open judgments free of any sign of flattery.

Versace, with his modern and glamorous style, earned the celebrities trust. He always wanted me to see the collections before the fashion shows and tell him what I thought. We would have hour-long discussions, and rightly, he never changed a thing. .

Ferré is among the great designers. I have always called him ‘Monsieur Couture’ because every dress had a grand and luxurious potential. He, on the other hand, had a playful attitude, almost a boyish joker and he was ‘embarrassed’ to show me that he was a man with a vast culture.

Valentino, a wonderful interpreter of ‘forward-thinking’ fashion that has made millions of women rave. In human relations, he has always been impenetrable and distant, but also the most formidably loyal, coupled with a perfect education. He always thanked with adorable hand written tickets, smiling even when he received a negative opinion about the collections, and above all, always spoke French like a gentleman from another era.

Who were the nicest in the absolute sense? Tai and Rosita Missoni, a formidable pair who made a magnificent and still existing fashion brand, all within a fantastic family. All of the children and grandchildren have been taught to do their own job, which is also a wonderful example.

AO: Italy, France, UK and USA – who do you think represents / will be the future of fashion?

AM: A hundred million dollar question that I will try to answer with sincerity and professionalism.

In my opinion, France and Italy are, and will continue to be the near future, the impregnable stronghold. The professionalisms of their tried and tested products are not yet attacked, as creativity has an enviable continuity. In Italy, a name like Prada says everything in terms of style and quality. It has a long-standing record few can match, and the robustness of the company is a plus for the market. I have always focused on English fashion. Although it may be less productively ‘reliable’ than the French and Italian, it remains creatively generous towards new directions, new trends and with an openness and courage that are not exactly the strong point of its European sisters.

As for America, I would not want to seem trenchant, but apart from sportswear and street style in which Americans are masters, they cannot even begin to compete for taste, creativity and quality that is intrinsic to Europe in prêt-a-porter. Americans miss a school, tradition, craftsmanship and taste, and excluding the great revolutions that I am aware of, American designers do not promise any shock in the fashion world!

AO: Do you still believe in ‘Made in Italy’?

AM: Although Italy has done minimal efforts to encourage it (but the same goes for tourism if we want to console ourselves) I believe it is a reality of the tradition and craftsmanship that established Italian fashion

AO: You know the who’s who of the fashion world, and have written a book about it. Are the players still the same? Is there a new generation of ‘who is who’?

AM: Hey hey – my who’s who dates back to 1978, more than 30 years ago! That means more than two generations ago… Oh my God!

From 30 people, a third are still firmly in the market, another third have a successful life, and less than a third have changed but remained in the fashion business with different roles or specialized in accessories or jewellery. Not bad as a redemption! Obviously there is a new generation and I am interested in them. Internally, I proposed to four of my amazing girls, as a thesis over the course of three years, to start a blog to be read by those who are entering the fashion world.

In one month, they wrote and sent their work to 300 children throughout the world. We will make the selection and then we will create a card catalogue that will become a working tool for those looking for new talents. Isn’t it a good idea? I will be happy!

AO: What is closer to your heart now – transmitting knowledge to your students? Or helping young designers become the next Versace?

AM: I think one can understand it from the first to the last answer. Both. Ambitious? Maybe, but he who hesitates is lost!

AO: In the digital age, do you see Italian fashion media following in the steps of their American counterparts i.e. Vogue America, having your IPad, Iphone applications? Using digital media? 3D catwalks?

AM: So far, certainly not as much as the Americans. However things are moving in this direction and it will improve day by day, without any doubt.

AO: Burberry recently transmitted their catwalks in 3D over 40 cities worldwide – what are your views on brands using innovative marketing tools to differentiate themselves to other brands? Do you think it changes their image positively or negatively?

AM: I find absolutely positive everything that is new, experimental and above all, that can be built on the vast amount of resources we have today. I think it will have a positive impact on the image of a brand, and I appreciate being able to blend technology with creativity.

AO: Brands like Burberry do virtual trunk shows in India, with a server, a warehouse, a stock list, and Ipad or phone, and internet connection and a collection – do you think it is the future of sales efficiency and client retention?

AM: Absolutely yes. I hope so, but I will not be there anymore!

In my point of view the human contact, and the relationship between buyer and seller, as I know it, would be irreplaceable. It’s a relationship of trust that strengthens the brand and gives the customer the feeling of being unique and privileged. And it is a big thing.

AO: What do you think of luxury and fashion brands on social media such as Facebook and Twitter?

AM: I see they are all present in social networks, although I have not studied it beyond a click on the ‘I like’ button. At this stage, I would question if a presence on social networks has produced tangible results for brands.

AO: What are your views on emerging economies such as India in the fashion industry? Do you believe they will renew the fashion industry?

AM: It is impossible to envisage a future in the fashion world without taking into consideration the expressed potential of India and China. And fortunately, the freshness of the emerging industrial countries is vital, especially in the case of India and China which have an important cultural tradition.

Personally I have always loved and purchased many things made in India and I find Indians naturally elegant and very well dressed. Everything that belongs to their tradition is wonderful. I hope it will not be the West who diverts their tastes and cultural heritage.

AO: What do you think of your colleagues Ms Anna Wintour, Suzy Menkes – does the devil really wear Prada? Did you recognize yourself in the movie as well?

AM: It is always very difficult to judge but I’ll try. For Suzy Menkes (I have already mentioned her) I think that she is the only fashion journalist in the world that I hold in esteem. She is fair, writes well, is severe when it is necessary (and she never fails!) and enthusiastic when deserved. Her criticisms are always detailed and authentic. I love Suzy! But I cannot say the same about Mrs. Wintour. Yes, the devil really wears Prada! She is not an affable woman, she is not sincere but she is very good at doing her business, so chapeau!

Do I recognize myself in the movie? No way, when I say ‘I love Suzy’ it is the same as ‘I love Adriana’!

Russian and Spanish aristocrat, HH Alexandra Orloff, is the CEO and owner of Sacha Orloff Ltd, a consultancy offering services and products in luxury jewellery, watches, and fashion industry. Having worked in numerous prestigious luxury brands, she has enormous expertise in strategy development for luxury brands across emerging markets.