FASHION EXPERT Carmine Rotondaro



- The situation in the world is very tense now. How has covid-19 impacted industries?

- Monaco is a very small country, and the people are very much abiding to the rules. Unfortunately, there are almost no visitors, which is a problem for Monaco, because it pretty much bases its life on hospitality. This has been the big issue of this year. The problem of this part of the world – we have the same problem with Italy, France – the situation seems under control, but what we lack are visitors from abroad.


- How do you think the coronavirus has affected the fashion industry as a whole?

- It has affected the fashion industry massively, because it is a social industry, an industry based on human interaction. It’s based on people gathering together for some recurring appointments. It’s a truly global industry – the fashion weeks of Milan, Paris, New York, London are all global happenings, where people from all over the world are invited to come and are used to coming. Since the beginning of coronavirus this availability is not there any longer and this is the problem. Secondly, the fashion industry retail is sized and dimensioned global markets. The fashion luxury boutiques in Paris, Milan, London, Madrid, Barcelona don’t gather the local market, they gather the world. In the past decades everything has been based on frenetic travels, on people moving for work and for pleasure all the time. And when this has been completely shut down the international mobility of people and therefore of goods and luxury lessened. For me, this is the major impact of coronavirus on the fashion industry. The social gatherings of the world of fashion are not happening in a way they used to any longer.


- How did the situation affect your factory? What changes have occurred in work process?

- I have several businesses and all of them depend upon social interaction, unfortunately. In Collini we tried to develop the ecommerce as much as possible. We tried to invest into it more and make our website more beautiful, functional, user-friendly and easy to understand. This has been very interesting, because it forced us to work on ourselves, not only on the graphic, digital part, but also on the collections – they needed to be easier to understand through the digital, which isn’t always the case. It happens sometimes that you create a wonderful piece with beautiful fabric, effects and prints but it’s hard to understand and to feel it through the web. Our digital presence didn’t only concern b2c business, it also concerned b2b business, because right now retail clients do not come to our showroom in Milan or in Paris (Collini has two showrooms – one in Milan and another one in Paris) and therefore, we need to trade with our retailers through the web. We had to work this way not only with our clients but also with the retailers. This, actually, forced us to create some digital showrooms and it was quite interesting. We asked ourselves “Where can we hold digital events for retailers? In the showroom or in the store? And how can we do it? How many cameras do we need? How many points of recording?”. What we wanted to do is to allow our retailers and our customers to grasp our collection, to understand what the strong points of our garments are. If I can summarize with one word what we did with Collini in coronavirus era – it would be ‘digitization’. We tried to go digital as much as possible. We also asked ourselves, what customers wanted during coronavirus and after and the thought was - customers want to be happy. They do not want to forget the joy of life, the beauty and the big satisfaction of dressing up. This is something that is really close to our brand’s DNA. A very bold, outgoing, let’s say even, unapologetic. Collini is very powerful and we think that there is a market for that during coronavirus. When you dress-up, you communicate through your outfit. It’s a social distance communication. You communicate without talking, hugging, shaking hands; you communicate through the way you dress. And this is what we want to propose at Collini.

- You talked about digital showrooms. Can you explain, these are showrooms on a website or what is it?

- No. It’s a tool on an absolutely different platform. The digital showrooms are not open to the end consumers, only to retailers, who ask to be there. It’s a digital environment where you have pictures of the collections and all the information about them, what is normally called a lookbook and a line sheet. Besides, you also have digital appointments: first, you invite digital retailers to your showrooms, let’s say, a digital catalogue of your collection and then make a digital appointment, which is a video appointment, during which they can participate live – choose the garments, that they want to see. There is trying on and other stuff, still except the fact that everything happens online.


- Everyone, including the fashion industry, is talking about virtual reality.

What do you think about the emergence of virtual models? Will they replace the real ones?

- I don’t think so. I think it’s very interesting to take into account, to study, to follow circumstances. But I don’t think VR models will replace the real ones. We live in the era of sharing – Instagram, TikTok and so on. To me, these are tools for people to share a part of their lives and other people are interested to see parts of other people’s lives. What I observe is that the Instagram posts with most success are the ones in which we show a part of our real lives. We always want to connect with other people and therefore, I think this human part of connection will never go away.


- Will fashion week die and get replaced by virtual shows?

- I don’t think that the fashion weeks will die because the people need to get together for the same reason, that I mentioned before. What people are interested in is human interaction – obviously, amplified and simplified because you can see what other people are doing thousands of kilometers away in their Instagram accounts too. However, I believe in real human interaction. By the way, the digital fashion shows are very interesting for me because they allow brands to communicate and hold fashion shows in a way that would not be possible with a physical fashion show. For example, you can hold a show in a place where there is no place at all, it is digital, created, a graphic place. Or in a place that cannot accept visitors, think of museums. A small place like a church or a lake or the sea, where it’s not easy to bring people to attend physically. I am fascinated by digital and virtual fashion shows because they represent an opportunity to push the borders of fashion communication beyond the boundaries of the physical.


- Will consumers benefit from this?

- I think they will get benefit a lot because a digital show is a leveled playing field. What I mean is that offline fashion show it is always a private event, it is limited. Only few people can participate live. Even if you want to make a huge production – you cannot invite everybody. There are limitations, which are made necessary by the physical nature of the fashion show. With digital – you have A-class attenders and B-class attenders. The first are the ones that are present live and the second are those who watch the ‘movie’. In a digital or virtual everybody attends digitally, meaning that final consumers are exactly on the same level as the people who have been invited to attend physically. If it is an event that is primarily addressed to a certain limited audience – it is planned in one way, if it takes place online and is addressed to a large audience – it is planned in another way. In my mind, it makes fashion communication more direct and understandable for the final consumer.


- During the quarantine period, a lot of small factories that produce goods for large brands were in trouble. Many of them are thinking about creating their own brands with the same product quality. What do you make of it?

- It is very sad, because the fashion industry is made of a network of small manufacturers that are really the bone of it. These are the factories that allow small brands to communicate, develop and express themselves. Because they are small – they do not have big reserves, resources or funds which is why they suffered during lockdown. Many of these companies happen to be in Italy (not only, of course). I think that it is natural to try to put your product into the market directly and also try to directly go to the end customer. I think, it’s a good plan. We live in an era when digital communication has made it possible for a larger audience. So, this is a good move, although not an easy one.


- Will they be able to compete?

- It’s not easy to find effective ways to sell your product, except ecommerce, which is an important option for every brand. Though it is not easy to find commercial players that want to sell your brand if you are, let’s say, an emerging brand. However, if the brand has the funding for this, then you definitely should try.


- What is needed to create a successful brand?

- Success is not luck. It comes from consistency, perseverance and a lot of work. Successful brands are built over a long time because you need to penetrate your customers’ minds, you need to get to know them. It this is a long process that doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re out to create a successful brand you will have to accept few years of failure, financing and investment. You have got be consistent and, most importantly, you have to be yourself. I think, authenticity is the key word. Customers look for authenticity. They can tell real stories from fake ones. You have to take the risk of being yourself despite what people tell you and what the market dictates.


- What matters to the brand? Only product quality or maybe something else?

- I am a product freak. I am maniac about the product. I love the products; I love the leather, the tissues, the finishing. By definition, a brand is suggestive. It is something that talks to you and makes you think about something else. When you think about Chanel or Dior, you think about Parisian chic, of the sunset in Paris, you think of sitting in a café on a terrace. It is this suggestive element that is key. In other cases - quality, the time levels, style. For example, in case of Loro Piana, you think about the quality of garments, the amount of work it took. A brand suggests your history and in order to do it effectively – you need to communicate and to be consistent, because constant changes are not sending a clear message. It has to be clear from the very beginning and consistent in shootings, testimonials, talents booked, in what is used – in everything. While the product is key, the consistency of communication is equally as important, as it allows you to make a clear, straight-forward suggestion to the customer.


- You are the owner of Collini Milano. Why did you choose this brand?

- The brand chose me rather. I always wanted to express myself through my look – my constant approach to fashion. What I wanted from Collini was a day-to-day glamour. Uncompromised luxury, something really bold, that you can put into your look every day. What I try to do with Collini is to create garments and shoes that are wearable, comfortable but also glamorous in terms of standing out. Obviously, if you wear the entire Collini look – you are dressed for a party. If you wear just one piece – that will allow you to stand out. Collini existed for many years; it was found in 1937 in Milan by a family of fashion makers. What I did was I injected this ‘virus’ of unapologetic, bold, outgoing fashion into an existing body that Collini was before. It was a marvelous body, because Collini has really experienced professionals that have been working for the company for their entire lives, and they allowed me to make my dream come true.


- Tell us about your NO KILL FURS concept. How did this idea come about?

- Originally, Collini was founded as a fur-maker brand. I worked my entire life in the fashion industry, and I have seen a lot of concepts. This taught me that unless you have an original idea you better do nothing. I think, you should talk only if you have something to say or if you can express an original point of view. I had this point of view on fur. For me, natural fur is a must, because it is something that is organic hence, not as damaging to the environment as certain types of synthetic fur. At the end of the day, synthetic is plastic. I really think that natural fur is more organic, more sustainable than most of synthetic fur. And, obviously, more beautiful. Fur is probably the first decoration of the human body. It is so ancient, so ancestral, so deep-rooted in the history of mankind that it deserves respect. But animals, too, deserve respect, so I thought of how I could make natural furs, at the same time having respect for animals. The answer was so easy! We have so much fur that “rots” in people’s wardrobes. They do not use it, they want to get rid of it, but can’t get their hands on selling. So, I decided to buy that fur and use it as a raw material. There are many companies that remodel existing furs. We do not do that. We completely disassemble the furs, transforming them into pelts and use the result as a raw material to make something completely new. This allowed us to engineer a manufacturing process that is entirely based on existing furs. As our final product, we offer our customers high-class, beautiful fur, totally organic (no plastic), which does not kill animals.


- Doesn’t fur have a wear-period?

- When furs are damaged by previous owners, we cut out those pieces. Because it is organic fur – it suffers during wear-and-tear much less than synthetic fur. Secondly, when we buy old furs, we regenerate them. First, we tear pieces into pelts, grease them and soften with machines. This takes time and money.


- What is the Russian market for you?

- We are trying to enter the Russian market right now. For the time being we don’t have a retailer, but there is a lot of interest from Russian customers. We have Russian clients who visit our store in Milan as well as our website. In our beautiful atelier in Milan many of our customers there are Russian.