The Emergence of Italy as a Fashion Country

Creative Industries & Culture

publication date 26/09/2017

This study, carried out with business historian Valeria Pinchera from University of Pisa, reconstruct the emergence of Italian fashion in the 1950s-1960s, at a time where Paris was the unchallenged world’s fashion capital and all other countries would just imitate the style innovations coming from France.

Specifically, we investigated the role played by the collective fashion shows organized in Florence in the period 1951-1967 by Giovanni Battista Giorgini and their role in promoting the image of Italy as a country of fashion creators, which provided for the first time an alternative to French haute couture to North American consumers and retailers. While the Florentine fashion shows declined during the 1960s, these events succeeded in creating what the marketing literature call ‘country of origin effect’ – that is, a valuable image that differentiate a country’s products from those made elsewhere, resulting in consumers’ willingness to pay a higher price. In the late 1970s and 1980s, with the advent of prêt-à-porter and the emergence of Milan as the new Italian fashion capital, the idea of Italian fashion was well-established in the mind of international consumers. This facilitated the international success of designers such as Giorgio Armani, Dolce and Gabbana, and Versace.  

Sometimes, history repeats itself and learning about the past can help understand the future. The geography of production in established industries continuously change and new industries are established even today. Our work provides insight to collective actors of both emerging and established countries on how to successfully brand the nation. In our view, nation branding is best understood as a territorial form of collective branding that is built over time and requires the orchestration of firms and other stakeholders (local governments, the State, trade associations) with regards to joint promotional effort. Successful nation branding strategies should differentiate the country’s image in ways that the export markets will find valuable.

The key ‘ingredients’ for nation branding are firms themselves and their products, which provide the material and symbolic resources that connote the country’s collective image. Collective marketing events, such as the fashion shows organized by Giorgini, provide commercial platforms that can help mobilize actors towards common promotional projects and, at the same time, result in credible narrations for export markets that can establish and reinforce, year after year, the idea that a country’s is host to competent producers. Nation branding initiatives mediated by collective events are however inherently unstable: firms that grow and become internationally established have limited need for collective promotional projects and can therefore withdraw their support.

Pinchera, V., Rinallo, D. (2017) The Emergence of Italy as a Fashion Country: Nation Branding and Collective Meaning Creation at Florence's Fashion Shows (1951-1965). Business History, forthcoming. DOI 10.1080/00076791.2017.1332593