Everybody can conjure great images in their mind, but not all of us can make them come to life. Every month, a new tool or strategy to visualise ideas used by students at Istituto Marangoni Firenze is selected and commented on by the editorial staff of I’M Firenze Digest. This month we are presenting the designing works of Sun Huiyi, aka Cali, a Shoes and Accessories Design student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
By Elsa Hawkes and Anabella Pacheco. Cover Image: Courtesy of Sun Huiyi.
Sun Huiyi, also known as Cali, from Jiling, China, is a Shoes and Accessories Design student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze. As the youngest and only girl in her family, Cali was bound to be as competitive as possible. She wanted to show she was more than just a lady-like girl and, in particular, more than her older brother’s sister. She wanted to be known as something more.
Having a passion and drive for something design-related, Cali decided to study fashion design for four years. After graduating, Cali put effort into designing footwear, as she thought she could express her ideas more uniquely and creatively. Cali’s uniqueness is transferred into designs that go further than just paper. The gears behind her art can be seen in each style and portfolio. The designer explains that she was “always into minimalism”, but her designs speak otherwise to me. Perhaps they are a vessel for clearing out her mind so that it feels more minimalist. Designs are a vacuum to put ideas, making it easier to let go of those thoughts after expressing them into the physical world.
Her footwear pieces include a specific dynamism and movement that seem otherworldly, specific to her style. She takes inspiration from her life experience and that of the people closest to her, creating beauty from fears and inabilities.
In her latest designs, Cali has taken tough subjects such as manipulation, gaslighting, and facing fears, and she has used them for inspiration to create beautiful final products. Cali explained that many of these ideas spawned from discrimination in her home country, China, and Italy. In China, she faced gender discrimination as men are expected to succeed and be better at school. Growing up, she realised she would rather lead her life than rely on someone else. As an artist, she likes to break the rules and decided to put everything into designing and show that she would rather not be ‘lady-like’. She created a collection, thinking about what life would be like underwater. This idea came from her lifelong fear of water, which she decided to face head-on by learning to scuba dive, an experience that helped her get out of a rut and overcome her fear. She describes it as a rebirth experience, which influenced her designs and helped her realise that “if you give life meaning, it will give meaning back to you”.
Many of Cali’s designs relate to her human experience of this world and the psychology behind it. Through her Lost in the Maze collection, she highlights that outer beauty does not always mean absolute beauty within. To illustrate her point, she used the Datura flower, juxtaposing beauty versus poison. It is a story of a person within a maze, unable to find the way out. It is a story of finding the right direction. The more you panic, the trickier the maze becomes.
She has also created her Inner Freaks collection, which looks into the darker side of human nature and tries to transform it. Each product is inspired by someone close to her, taking one of their darker qualities and transforming it into a beautiful product.
Cali’s designs will forever be attractive because of her human-life interpretation of shoe design and her take on life experiences, humanity, and real-life stories and issues. We are excited to keep up with her and see what she creates next.
What does femininity mean to you? This question was our starting point for this series of interviews with female fashion designers worldwide in honour of International Women’s day. Celebrating our multicultural student community at Istituto Marangoni Firenze, these articles focus on new international brands headed by creative women. In this article, we interviewed the three founders of the Mexican brand Minena.
by Cecilia Vareman & Daniela Valle. Cover Image courtesy of Minena.
Minena is an experimental studio of ideas based on the collaboration of founders María José, María del Mar and María Gabriela, who brought together their studies in Fashion Design (María José and María Gabriela) and Communication (María del Mar). Some of their core values as a company is “to encourage creative freedom, value work, and ensure project quality.” As the founders explain, Minena is a girl who lives inside each of us, representing our naivety and embracing the wisdom time has given her. She just wants to have fun and express herself unrestricted; she can be as playful as she likes. In a chaotic world, she managed to find a way to escape through fashion and embrace that inner child. She is not excusing herself in any way; no explanations are needed. Her femininity just is. “That is her philosophy: the natural development of the mind.”
I’MF: What does femininity mean to you?
M: For me (Maria Del Mar), femininity is like an element, a fire that starts when dreaming, believing, and imagining. A way of thinking beyond our limits. Imagination, dreams, creativity, impulsivity, beauty, birth, children, love and family. It’s an irrational side of life. Very abstract, in my opinion. At Minena, we compare it to a surrealist way of seeing things we do not understand or understand differently, like the Dalì landscapes.
I’MF: How do you bring femininity into your designs?
M: At Minena, we are inspired by our dreams when we sleep, that side of life that brings surreal things to the picture. We feel that it interacts with our creative process. It happened a lot in the beginning. When we share this dream, femininity becomes free, like a butterfly, a flower, whatever you can imagine it to be. That’s when we talk about dreams and reality, about femininity as a valuable quality in dreaming and masculinity as a quality in living. We sleep at the same time that we are awake. Important things happen when we are sleeping, as when we are living. Every day. At Minena, we bring these qualities together to make it real without losing its own mystery.
I’MF: What is the story behind your brand? What motivated you?
M: We weren’t looking for it, but it came to us like something we really needed to do. The three of us (Maria José, Gaby and Maria Del Mar) felt connected with what we were asking ourselves about what we hoped for a brand in Mexico City. First of all, we just started to talk about what we liked – movies, music, designers, authors, artists, artistic movements, quotes – and Minena’s identity was built by just sharing references of everything that felt inspiring. When things felt right and honest, we started making accessories; gradually, we became confident about this process that turned into the Minena world we can now share with our friends and customers.
I’MF: What other female designers inspire you?
M: Mary Quant started as an inspiration in our mood boards combined with the language in the fashion world of Franca Sozzani, the interpretation of camp that Susan Sontag wrote, Leandra Medine’s cute jokes, Ono’s shouts. We also feel very inspired by female designers right now. For example, Beate Karlson’s Avavav show was incredible, with the clothes peeling off and scratching away by themselves. These kinds of situations inspire us. Our time inspires us. Maybe because we are a little bit Dada.
“Minena is the girl I used to be. Amusing enough to forget her, free enough to stay a girl…. May reaching the exact place of your memories always be your purpose. You have stopped being a girl, but you are still Minena.”
In a present world that dreams of far-away spatial travels and life on Mars, Palazzo Strozzi has brought the main stars of the art’s sky on Earth with its recently inaugurated exhibition Reaching for the Stars: from Maurizio Cattelan to Lynette Yiadom-Boakye,starring contemporary artworks from Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. During a limited-access opening, the Editorial Staff of I’M Firenze Digest had the opportunity to preview the artworks and watch a live performance by the artist Ragnar Kjartansson.
By Jonathan Paonetti and Giulia Piceni. Cover image: Goshka Macuga, GONOGO, 2023. Exhibition view: Reaching for the Stars: from Maurizio Cattelan to Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Palazzo Strozzi. Courtesy of Palazzo Strozzi. Photo: Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio.
A constellation in the art world galaxy shines brighter than the others. You can recognise it not only for the size of its stars but mainly for the colourful gasses that burn in its orbit: a concentrated blend of diverse beauty. With a stylised star as its logo, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo is a major institution in today’s cultural panorama. Displayed in Palazzo Strozzi for the exhibition Reaching for the stars: from Maurizio Cattelan to Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, seventy of its masterpieces can pull visitors into an otherworldly journey among the big names of the art world of the last 50 years.
GETTING OFF TO REACH THE ART PLANET
While entering Palazzo Strozzi on Friday night, a varied fauna inhabited the Renaissance palace, including journalists, collectors, curators, gallerists and guests who had the chance to partake in the exclusive opening. Around the internal porch, the participants of this fascinating art ritual were bewitchingly pointing their orbits to the site-specific installation at the heart of the courtyard: based on a reticular platform, the 15-metre high silver and blue rocket GONOGO (2023) by the Polish artist Goshka Macuga was the launch platform of the exhibition. With no engines, the megalithic artwork delivered an oppressive sense of missing chance. Potentially able to get off, its desperate immobility allowed the viewer’s mind to wander while keeping their feet on the ground in search of new worlds.
Before taking the stairs to reach the underground exhibition, Strozzina, it was impossible not to glance at the cafè inside, where the true star of the night, the collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, was chatting with her entourage. Having part of her immense and assorted art collection hosted inside the cultural institution, she celebrated like this the first 30 years of her eponymous foundation. The underground floor of the building featured works ranging from the video installation Thaw (2001) by Doug Aitken on climate change to the covers of magazines on the Twin Towers attacks in Hans-Peter Feldman’s installation 9/12 Front Page (2001). We silently witnessed a series of intense emotions that left no room for words. We understood, metabolised and proceeded to the main floor.
THE NOBLE FLOOR: MEMENTO MORIAND THE FEMALE FIGURE
With the artwork The Acquired Inability to Escape, Inverted and Divided (1993), Damien Hirst welcomes us to the first room of the piano nobile. The cigarettes that can be glimpsed–a symbol of pleasure that leads to death–allow us to understand one of the exhibition’s themes: the memento mori.
Maurizio Cattelan, poster-boy of this exhibition, impressed us again with two artworks: La rivoluzione siamo noi (2000) and Bidibidobidiboo (1996). In the former, one of his puppet caricatures hangs from a coat hanger leaving room for infinite interpretations, as does the latter, where a humanised squirrel takes his own life with a gunshot after one last drink: a perfect expression of life’s transience.
Another theme is the female figure, present in artworks and artists such as Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Vanessa Beecroft and Sarah Lucas: names that evoke the visitors’ amazement.
We acknowledge a desire and the need to go beyond stereotypes and understand the strength of the female figure in history and the violence women still have to bear. The latter is expressed with a high-impact work: Femmes sans tête (2004) by Berlinde De Bruyckere. A woman’s lacerated and mutilated body is displayed in a compelling showcase that makes people feel the victim’s pain.
ASCENSION TO THE LOGGIA
After visiting the exhibition and metaphorically embarking on new adventures with the GONOGO shuttle (2023), the visitors were invited to the upper Loggia of the palace. There, during the after party, the multidisciplinary artist Ragnar Kjartansson – the creative mind behind the five-screen video installation The End: Rocky Mountains (2009) displayed in Strozzina – emerged from the dark underground to brighten the night with the ironic melancholy that characterises his work. The combination of instruments represented in the previously mentioned installation found its physical folk counterpart in the performance of the Reykjavik-based artist.
“The weight of the world is love”, said Kjartasson through a wistful melody and rose petals tossed to the public while showing off his flashy leopard-print suspenders. Seated at the foot of the stage, with a pleated, high-waisted, mulberry silk taffeta skirt, the Turin collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo was the ultimate art fan girl for the Islander artist, accompanying the tune with jingles of her heavy necklace.
The striped pumpkin orange tie of the director Arturo Galansino was rustling from one attendee to another; meanwhile, the performance bewitched the crowd and multiplied on the listeners’ screens. Over us, the entire ceiling was plunged in blue neon lights and covered by a swarm of tiny lights, mimicking the buzzing of the stars on a clear night. There, with the illusion of dancing suspended in the celestial vault, it was impossible to say that the sky was the limit.
A Renaissance garden and a mysterious figure wandering around it. A dark mask conceals its face, and it wears garments from a luxurious era. These are the key elements in Multimedia Arts student Lorenzo Risani’s project Involutus (2023): an investigation of the decadence of excellence through Wes Anderson and Guy Bourdin’s visual codes.
By Giulia Piceni. Cover image: Lorenzo Risani, Involutus, 2023. Model, concept, styling and creative direction by Lorenzo Risani. Giorgia Bulli as Camera Assistant.
A fountain’s distant gurgling accompanies the birds chirping as they seek shelter: rain is about to wet the garden’s sculptures, make the soil fertile and replace the birds’ singing with the melody of its gentle drops. A slight breeze makes the cypresses’ branches sing stories of a distant past that once inhabited the giardini all’italiana inside Villa La Pietra in Florence. An aristocracy that no longer exists would play games of seduction and pure otium among its bushes and flowerbeds, yet their lavish lifestyle still attracts us, inevitably affecting our imagination.
THE DECADENCE OF EXCELLENCE
For his recent project, Involutus (2023), the Multimedia Arts student Lorenzo Risani has been inspired by this opulent world and reshaped it according to his artistic sensibility. The starting point of his research was the extraordinarily colourful and fashion-friendly Wes Anderson: a contemporary director who has addressed on multiple occasions (The Tenenbaums, 2002, and Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014, to mention the most known) this ‘decadence of excellence’ concept: the aristocracy’s disastrous fall of costumes and morality with recognisable bitter irony and sarcasm. In this sense, the choice of the location was especially fitting: built inspired by Renaissance, a time when man was the measure of everything, Villa La Pietra perfectly highlights the self-centred mentality that dominated the aristocracy of the time: self-reliant of their golden bubble, nothing else existed outside it.
The young artist and photographer has also considered another two aspects of Anderson’s filmography: the surreal images and imagination and the theatrical composition of his shots. And who could transform any picture into a glossy page better than anyone else? Madames et Monsieurs, it’s Guy Bourdin! The great photography master, once a pupil of Man Ray, was a great role model for Risani in the case of this project. Bourdin signed a long collaboration with the shoe house Charles Jourdan, which made it boom. The photographer established a colourful, geometrical aesthetic in the 1960s.
Towards the end of his contract with the brand, however, Bourdin gradually depersonalised the woman, keeping the legs as the only attribute to show. The 1960s Surrealist version so dear to his master was successfully achieved. In this sense, Lorenzo Risani’s shots, in which he also appears as a model, go back to this concept as he conceals his face.
With all the above ideas in mind, Lorenzo had all the winning ingredients to create a successful photoshoot. Well, maybe not all of them: the clothes were missing. But why look around when you can simply DIY them? One day, in the company of his collaborator on set, Giorgia Bulli, Risani started looking for the perfect outfit in the street market in Cascine. Red and blue windowpane tartan, a brown houndstooth jacket and a beige checked top, a blazer cut from the underarm to reach almost the hem. Lugubrious but with a significantly sophisticated allure, the clothes the young couple has given life to are the physical proof that when there are strong ideas, the technique can simply follow.
Many prominent designers adopted the same method: in SS 1992, Martin Margiela gave life to a collection mainly consisting of garments shaped from colourful square scarves from Paris’ marchés aux puces flea market. Those were the years when deconstruction dominated the more avantgardist runways.
Lorenzo Risani applied the same approach to the clothing he bought: a true act of resignification, accompanied by a curious discovery of how certain garments were made. Even the choice of patterns is no coincidence and refers to a particular way of dressing; we could describe it as old money, using Gen Z-friendly vocabulary.
If you are tired of the vending machine mood, literary cafés are hidden gems in Florence. The options listed below are open for most of the day, so why not explore Florence and the student life at Istituto Marangoni Firenze in a new light? Take some time to enjoy a good read, the aesthetics of dried flowers or contemporary music, and an opportunity to meet new people.
Texts and digital illustratios by Margaret Mitchem for I’M Firenze Digest. Cover image: Libreria Brac, Florence.
By now, there must be very little that surprises the literary cafés in Florence. From the 1800s, when intellectuals would gather to discuss politics and society, to the modern day: students finishing group projects (or in the midst of starting them), dog owners spending some quality time with their pets, and a typical first date location, literary cafés in Florence play a unique role in the lives of the local citizens. Therefore, we set out to try and investigate the cafés we felt were the most worthwhile, noting Wi-Fi strength, hospitality, seating, and the general atmosphere. Whether you are fed up with tourist traps or simply looking for a new setting, the literary cafés you’ll find below promise, at the very least, a decent amount of sweets, books, and opportunities to meet people.
LIBRERIA BRAC: A VAST BOOK SELECTION AND CALM ATMOSPHERE
Offering the most diverse book selection in town, Brac provides a modern and quieter atmosphere. The first ten minutes inside were not spent trying to find seating but choosing a book, with a selection from culinary arts, travelling and philosophy to a more general creative genre. Exposed brick and carpeting, it is tempting to spend hours cuddled in one of its many mini lounges. The spacing makes Brac an ideal location for an aperitivo or group project brainstorming. As it is primarily a restaurant, it lacks proper desks or tables, so if you are okay with adjusting to the limited space of a coffee table, Brac should definitely rank in your top five student hubs in Florence. With vegan lunch options, and a balanced variety of sweet and savoury, Brac has plenty of food and books to choose from, yet the limited desk space makes it better for social events than schoolwork.
Wrap up: A 12-minute walk from Istituto Marangoni Firenze, friendly staff, and the least busy atmosphere on the list. Opening at 11:00 am, Brac stands out for its literary variety and more of a modern atmosphere than a vintage aesthetic.
IL CONVENTINO: SOCIALISING, AESTHETICS, AND FRIENDLINESS.
Il Conventino, either for its affordable prices or Instagram worthiness, meant most of the tables were reserved by midday, leaving only the so-called “hermit spot” available. If you are okay with a small work area and a limited book selection, then Il Conventino is highly recommended. Also provides outdoor seating, warm lighting, a varied menu, and artistic decoration.
Wrap up: 15-minute walk from Istituto Marangoni Firenze, opens at 9:00 am, and largest (inevitably busiest) Café. Extra points: Slightly hidden within Florence, offering potentially undiscovered areas for both new and adjusted students.
LA CITÈ: INSPIRING ATMOSPHERE, SEATING, AND CONVENIENCE
Instantly welcoming guests with a mix of art, 70s R&B, and a lovely selection of seating, La Citè stands out for friendliness. “A breed between a pub for tourists and a café for us”, says Niccolò, Barista. The staff is happy to chat and provide literary and menu suggestions. Despite being smaller than Il Conventino, it has a strong group of regulars and seating options, including benches, armchairs, and tables (indoor and outdoor).
Going alone or with friends, you will find a comfortable spot, regardless of your plans. Cappuccino quality falls a bit behind compared to other cafes, but it compensates with reasonable prices and treats such as lemon pie, brownies, and, most importantly: solid Wi-Fi strength. With large tables and distributed seating selection, you can sit in a more occupied area or remain mostly undisturbed on the second floor.
Wrap up: Less than a 10-minute walk from Istituto Marangoni Firenze, opens at 10:00 am (except on Sundays), and the book selection is mainly in Italian. It also provides significant entertainment, such as cards and board games. Extra points for the many bars located on the same street.
Will digital fashion revolutionise the system? Istituto Marangoni Firenze held a crypto fashion contest for its Fashion Design students in partnership with digital fashion companies Customix and DRESSX. I’M Firenze Digest had the opportunity to talk to executives from both companies. In this article, we asked Marco Bisato, CEO and Co-founder of Customix, about his views of this new fashion frontier.
By Anabella Pacheco. Cover image: Fortown project. Courtesy of Customix.
Customix is the first italian fashion tech hub specializing in 3D production, NFT and Metaverse creations, and immersive technologies for the fashion industries. They offer digitisation services to brands that want to bring their products to the digital world, helping them use new technologies to their advantage. Digital fashion is the most recent mountain that fashion designers and brands want to climb. For those with no background in 3D fashion design, Customix can be an ideal partner to translate their designs to the digital world and teach them how to do it themselves. I’M Firenze Digest got the opportunity to talk to the CEO and Co-founder of Customix, Marco Bisato, about his views of this new fashion frontier and what companies like Customix expect from students in contests like this one.
I’MF: How do you see the future of digital fashion?
MB: Thanks to digital fashion, people can express their identity within virtual environments, representing new places of socialization and interaction for the new generations. The ability to express one’s digital identity will be as important as being able to express one’s physical identity, if not more. In our time, self-expression is not only limited to the physical dimension but extends into the digital world. Thanks to digital fashion, companies can use physical products even in virtual environments.
In a few years, it will no longer be conceivable to buy a product that does not have a digitally wearable replica; it would mean limiting the occasions for its use. Companies must consider how to allow customers to dress their avatars, which could be hyper-realistic or gaming avatars. Additionally, if we consider the potential of 3D technology, digital fashion is a powerful tool for companies to accelerate their time to market, decrease prototyping costs and reduce waste, in line with the demand for a more sustainable production model.
On e-commerce platforms, 3D models and AR visualisation make it possible to improve the level of interaction with products by partially bridging the experiential gap between physical and digital and allowing for improved KPIs such as conversion rate and return rate. Finally, digital fashion will democratise creativity, allowing anyone with talent to showcase their collections.
I’MF: What do you think are the greatest benefits that digital fashion can contribute to our society?
MB: Inclusion, democratization, sustainability.
I’MF: What impact does this kind of contest have on developing digital fashion, especially for Fashion Design students?
MB: The first step to evolving the traditional fashion business is to create consciousness about how technology can be applied and used to generate new opportunities and solve specific issues. Fashion Design students can approach a new way of thinking about the creative process, leveraging the 3D modeling techniques that will represent a technological standard for most fashion companies in the coming years.
I’MF: What did you look for in the designs submitted to the contest? What sets students apart?
MB: I expected innovation, freedom, and self-expression from the projects. I was not disappointed. The students provided an incredibly fresh and genuine take on contemporary fashion, demonstrating that they have control over their creativity and sensitivity to the technique. The winners found the right balance of imagination and function, creating collections and outfits that are highly representative of their identity, and feeling free to experiment with 3D design.
Dissociative disorder and post-apocalyptic fashion have more in common than one could imagine, as this sombre-toned photoshoot by Fashion Styling and Creative Direction student Margherita Mangani showcases while setting up the garments of Fashion Design student Matilde Tasselli.
By Giulia Piceni. Cover image: Margherita Mangani, Sopravvivresti in un costante loop dissociativo?, 2022. Creative Direction & Styling: Margherita Mangani. Design & Garments: Matilde Tasselli. Models: Jared Sparacino and Caty Karavidas. Photographs by Greta Peccia.
Margherita Mangani, a young stylist and creative director in her second year studying Fashion Styling & Creative Direction, has given life to a photoshoot projected into a dystopian future along with Fashion Design student Matilde Tasselli. After considering the shots in an oniric way, this article further analyses the two main themes of the photoshoot: post-apocalyptic fashion and dissociative disorders caused by the turbulence of our time.
Fishnets, soft leathers and ropes tied around the body imprison the portrayed figure, relegating it into a corner between broken glass and ceramic tiles that are nothing more than the phantom of a kitchen. The squeaking of broken glass, combined with the flattening of decaying leaves under the model’s boots, clashes with the summer light coming from above. A breeze from the walls’ cracks stirs up the putrid smells of the ghost factory, a returnee of decades of dereliction. Inside this gloomy venue, everything is precarious, like the mental balance of the figures that trudge through its abandoned rooms, emerging from the darkness and halting for just a few seconds in front of the photographic lens.
They writhe inside a cocoon made of thin plastic film: the last bastion of social contact after a mysterious human tragedy. In it, the models, one leaning upon the other, back and forth in a precarious balance, hint at a desperate abandonment after the apocalypse destroyed everything they cared for.
FROM THE PHOTO SHOOT TO THE AESTHETIC
The project Would you survive in a constant dissociative loop? is the collaborative effort of Fashion Styling student Margherita Mangani and Fashion Design student Matilde Tasselli. They accidentally found themselves dealing with the same theme of a post-apocalyptic world in their artistic research. From this lucky coincidence, they decided to work together on a provocative, dystopian photo shoot.
The post-apocalyptic style belongs to the great category of futuristic style but with a high dose of dystopian elements. This way of dressing has been a relevant fashion niche since the early 2000s when uncertainties accompanied the beginning of the new millennium due to the rising technologies and speculations related to the end of the world. This manner of dressing had a massive comeback in the last couple of years through the uncountable aesthetics that TikTok has made come to light.
Post-apocalyptic fashion has a long history that goes back to the Japanese creatives of the 1980s, such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo (the so-called post-atomic designers), who shocked the luxurious Paris of that decade with their ripped clothes, innovative volumes, and worn-out textiles. In recent times, Rick Owens is certainly a master of this style. In counterposition to the pinkish bimbo vibe of the 00s, he materialised his artistic sensibility based mainly on a series of post-human, functional and protective garments that reflect the survivalist mode for which he strived. Almost three decades after the foundation of the homonym brand, Rick Owens remains relevant and coherent with this aesthetic.
Today, supported by the micro-trend craze from social media, post-apocalyptic fashion has known a new season, probably more mainstream than before, but still preserving its signature exclusivity. Designers like Windowsen, Angostura, Austin James Smith and Hamcus are shaping this new way of dressing in a contemporary way, adding some elements of tribal punk along with high-tech and trekking-technical features.
Is digital fashion the future of fashion? Istituto Marangoni Firenze held a crypto fashion contest for its Fashion Design students in partnership with digital fashion companies Customix and DRESSX I’M Firenze Digest had the opportunity to talk to executives from both companies. In this article, we read the comments from Natalia Modenova and Daria Shapovalova, cofounders of DRESSX.
by Anabella Pacheco. Cover Image: Isabelle Boemeke in Nuclear Power Dress. Courtesy: DRESSX.
DRESSX is an international multi-brand retailer that exclusively carries digital clothing; it is a “Meta closet” of digital-only clothes that customers can wear using AR. When a customer buys a dress, they must attach a photo they want that piece of clothing to be tailored to; after a few days, they will receive the same picture of them wearing the purchased garments. Digital fashion is the newest frontier to be conquered by the fashion world. However, the world of digital clothing remains a big unknown for most people, and the benefits this innovation can bring are still unclear to some. I’M Firenze Digest got the opportunity to talk to executives from DRESSX, Natalia Modenova and Daria Shapovalova, cofounders of the company, to clear up some doubts about digital fashion and their views on competitions like the one they held for Istituto Marangoni Firenze students.
I’MF: How do you see the future of digital fashion?
NM: The transformation of traditional fashion into its Metaverse counterpart, which we call “Metafashion”, happened and continues to happen very naturally, supporting the overall change in how we live and explore the world around us. Digital assets were in place in gaming for a while. Still, the game is changing, and we have become “the avatars of ourselves” in multiple social media channels, messaging and streaming services. Digital fashion is designed to dress our digital selves. People from tech and gaming backgrounds get it fast, and a mass audience is starting to actively follow – a common pattern when innovative products are launched. Wearables are the most natural extension of the metaverse and the most critical pillar of the metaverse economy.
DS: We believe that, in the future, every fashion brand will own a digital fashion line. Same as high-fashion luxury brands with perfumes or accessories. With its difference from the physical items’ price point yet high precision, digital fashion will become a new way for customers to enter the high fashion world. They will discover a new way to shop luxury, reducing their environmental footprint and receiving the same sense of belonging and excitement from wearing designer pieces digitally.
I’MF: What do you think are the greatest benefits that digital fashion can contribute to our society?
DS: Coming from a 15-year background in the traditional fashion industry, we know that fashion needed this shift, signalling it with all its sustainability, diversity, and accessibility issues. Barclays Bank research has shown that 9% of customers in some developed countries only buy new clothes to take a picture for their social media, only to return them later. While we genuinely share the beauty and excitement that physical fashion creates, we believe that technology can become a solution to producing less, enhancing creativity, and solving the numerous problems that traditional fashion has been facilitating over the years. Our big aim is to provide an endless digital closet to every person in the world for their digital presence with no boundaries to express themselves creatively. Same with the creators – 3D and fashion designers, we want to empower talents and provide them with a safe place to create and grow professionally.
NM: We built DRESSX as a “Metacloset” – an ultimate destination for both consumers and digital and traditional fashion brands to enter the Metaverse. DRESSX not only sells virtual clothing but also offers the whole spectrum of services, from digitising physical collections or creating digital clothes from scratch to adding another layer (utility) to fashion NFTs, allowing collectors to wear those in augmented reality through the DRESSX app, in Roblox, Decentraland or other virtual realities. There are already numerous Digital Fashion Weeks emerging in the Metaverse to address the new trends and ways of self-expression. We expect only more of them to appear in the next couple of years, reflecting the overall growth and development of the digital fashion industry.
I’MF: What is the impact of these contests on digital fashion development, especially for Fashion Design students?
DS: Digital fashion expands beyond the limitations of the traditional fashion industry, opening an endless room for self-exploration and creative expression for both digital fashion creators and consumers. By engaging in these contests and providing young and prospective students with an opportunity to sell their items at dressx.com, we encourage the growth of a new generation that will eventually make a huge impact on the whole industry and its problematic issues by absorbing the knowledge and standards we endorse at DRESSX: innovation, responsible consumption, and production, sustainability.
NM: Metafashion creates an excellent opportunity for the industry to get to the next level, open new opportunities, develop new markets, and enter a digital creative economy.
I’MF: What did you look for in the projects that were submitted to the contest? What sets students apart?
NM: With DRESSX, we aim to give equal opportunities for creators all around the globe to showcase their designs and make their creative voices heard in the industry. While we have our vision for digital fashion, with more complicated and bold 3D assets exceeding the boundaries of physical reality, we are trying to keep a fair balance by featuring different styles and aesthetics, celebrating creativity and building a diverse community of future fashion creators.
DS: When checking the submissions, we were looking for creative ideas and the ability to think outside the box and utilize the endless possibilities of digital tools for fashion creation. Knowing what performs best on DRESSX, we considered the future digital dressing processes and how easy or versatile the designs would be for the DRESSX users when wearing them in their photos in the Metaverse.
A green colour that is not that green, and sneakers infested with chia plants. Bottega Veneta’s trademark colour and Loewe’s SS 2023 menswear collection seem a call of nature, but what are these brands’ commitments and strategies to the green economy and sustainability?
By Giulia Piceni. Images by Francesco Agazio for I’M Firenze Digest.
Sustainability is one of those big words that has made its way into the fashion vocabulary, especially for brands that strive to bring a greener approach to the industry. Loewe and Bottega Veneta took this input quite literally by respectively letting grass grow on clothes and colour garments with a hypnotic green hue. For the two bands, style and sustainability go hand in hand. Still, as this article uncovers, sometimes it can be hard to reconcile business strategies and design with environmentally conscious choices.
BOTTEGA VENETA: THE MASTERY OF MAKING GREEN A “IT”
Going green in 2021 was made so easy under the now ex-creative director of Bottega Veneta Daniel Lee, now succeeded by Matthieu Blazy1. The tremendously trendy, captivating and highly noticeable Zoomer Green developed by the above-stated creative director shifted Bottega Veneta from a silent luxury brand to a GenZ-friendly label. Resembling the green of traffic lights and its implicit meaning – “go” – this particular hue symbolised the craving for freedom after the pandemic. An artificial shade almost impossible to find in nature, Bottega’s Green paradoxically became a symbol of the ongoing sustainable economy thanks to its similarity to the colour of the universal recycling symbol with three spinning vectors2. Bottega Veneta hasn’t simply shown to care for the planet through a captivating colour choice but through materials as well. For the brand’s already iconic Puddle Boot (a pair of seamless ankle-length rain shoes) from FW 2020, the design team opted for a specific type of rubber made of a biodegradable polymer3. Also, the Kering Group, to which Bottega Veneta belongs, has recently launched an initiative that leans towards sustainability: The Certificate Craft4, a life-long warranty that sees the brand eternally committed to fixing its leather items. A generous act for the planet and a well-executed attempt to reshape clients’ approach to luxury. However, according to Good on You, a trusted sustainability rating5 platform for fashion brands, at the end of February 2022, Bottega Veneta earned only 41-50% in the Fashion Transparency Index6 due to its high use of leather7. Nevertheless, the brand’s objective for the future is to minimise CO2 emissions and adopt a more sustainable approach8. Overall Bottega Veneta seems to manifest a genuine interest in the environment, and it is indeed the leading brand in sustainability.
LOEWE: DON’T BRING ME FLOWERS. DRESS ME IN GRASS INSTEAD
Jonathan Anderson, creative director of Loewe, showcased the brand’s SS 2023 Menswear in a vivid atemporal white setting accompanied by a futuristic melody made of clicking, chiming and piping9. The event aimed to trace connections between technology and nature, underlying the recallings between these two worlds. The invitation was a pot of watercress shoots: quite an undeviating anticipation.
Chia plants appeared on the multiple items displayed on the runway paired with padded nappa bomber jackets and ozone-treated cotton shirts. The brilliant intersection of nature and artificial was orchestrated by Anderson and the bio-designer Paula Ulargui Escalona, who started to grow plants on the garments twenty days before the show in a greenhouse outside Paris10. Unavailable to purchase, the grass-covered items were the tangible proof that fashion delivers ideas first of all, and garments accompany them, animating these concepts to please the eye.
With this incredible initiative straddling art, fashion and science, Loewe spread a positive message on several fronts. On top of that, the brand has always proved sensitive to the environmental issues that jeopardise our present. As stated on their site’s Sustainability section, the menswear permanent collection “features a range of functional essentials in low-impact performance fabrics”11. As with Bottega Veneta, leather has always been a critical point for the brand, and for Loewe in particular, being it one of the leading brands under the “it bag” radar. To upcycle, in 2021, the company launched the Surplus Project12, an initiative that aims to reuse exceeding materials from previous collections to create low-impact accessories.
According to the Quality and Sustainability Policy, the brand offers the recipe for a greener future, pursuing excellence and a responsible environmental approach: both aspects starting from the sourcing of the raw material and ending in the retail13. Furthermore, it is essential not to let these values be dispersed in the process but to keep them in mind at all times. How can we do this? In Loewe’s words, it is vital to develop “a corporate culture of sustainability that benefits the company in the long term and continuously improves [its] performance overall”14. Nevertheless, according to good on you, Loewe has been rated in 2022 as “not good enough”15, highlighting that there is still a long way to go to achieve a good sustainability rating. The reason behind it remains the use of leather which, after the previous considerations about Bottega Veneta, seems the major discriminating factor when it comes to sustainability.
To conclude, it is undoubtedly true that Loewe’s environmental concern is honest. Since Jonathan Anderson was appointed creative director in 2013, the brand has pursued an ecological breakthrough through projects such as the Craft Prize16. Launched by Loewe Foundation, the contest calls for artists and designers of different backgrounds, including ceramics, jewellery, bookbinding and obviously fashion, to submit a recent work that has been able to rethink traditional techniques for a more sustainable future made of high-quality craftsmanship17.
How are fashion design students approaching the rapidly evolving concept of digital fashion? In partnership with Customix and DRESSX, Istituto Marangoni Firenze recently hosted a digital contest for its fashion design students, allowing them to hone their skills in this new state of fashion. I’M Firenze Digest had the opportunity to talk to them and get their opinion on the matter.
by Anabella C. Pacheco, Yasemin Yıldırım and Jean Luca Troian. Cover Image: Lorenzo La Commare, Kidraw, 2022.
Istituto Marangoni Firenze partnered with Customix and DRESSX, two companies in the virtual fashion world. The purpose was to launch a contest where students had to create a fashion collection of two to six outfits using CLO3D. Students were judged by a panel including Istituto Marangoni Firenze Tutor Stefano Vasile and an executive from both companies. The projects were judged on theme consistency, innovation, execution excellence, feasibility, and synthesis and clarity of the concept. As a reward, the winners can promote and sell their designs on the e-commerce website dressx.com, and the projects selected by Customix will have access to advanced digital software training. I’M Firenze Digest had the opportunity to talk to the winners and get their opinions on digital fashion and how they see their roles as fashion designers in this evolving environment.
CARMINE NAPPI, WINNER OF BEST COLLECTION AND BEST OUTFIT
I’MF: What/who inspired you to become a fashion designer?
CN: First of all, my past, my family of Neapolitan tailors. I was inspired by the idea of pursuing the dream someone I love didn’t have the chance to achieve, so let’s say I continued their path to reach their objectives.
I’MF: Can you tell me something about the collection’s theme?
CN: I started with the concept of talking about my life in a different context, another country, at a different time. I told the story of a man named Oliver Rush, which I invented. When he loses his mother and discovers that he has a brain tumour, there is one solution: hibernation. So we can see light-blue thermosensitive garments reminiscent of ice, fur coats inspired by Inuit tribes, or the knit balaclavas used by Inuit tribes to warm themselves up.
MARIARITA SORRENTINO, WINNER OF BEST MATERIALS RENDERING
I’MF: Should digital fashion be pushed to the mainstream? How?
MS: Yes, it should be done to allow as many people as possible to participate and have people “touch” it firsthand. Obviously, the more people discover it, the more this (digital fashion) can grow, evolve, and maybe show us things we never thought we could find.
I’MF: What is the central theme of your project?
MS: The focus is on showing the woman in a different environment; I had to synthesise this specific point of view for the contest, so I wanted to offer clothes that revealed a new kind of woman. That dares to be more vulnerable and dares to show off points that aren’t shown often in today’s society while contrasting these to a more powerful point of view. So, the main point was to show this contrast between softness and strength
LORENZO LA COMMARE, WINNER OF BEST STYLING
I’MF: What is your ultimate career goal?
LMC: My future on a career level would take place in a collective of creatives that work together under one idea, mood or concept to have maximum expression. Music, arts, fashion, I really do not want to limit myself because, in my inspiration, there has always been material from all artistic fields and philosophy.
I’MF: Why do you think that digital fashion matters today?
LMC: I always try to mix functionality and my way of expressing myself, so I feel it’s right and important to talk about digital fashion when it’s only serving a purpose. When I create clothing on CLO3D with samples, patterns etc., I do not use materials and resources that may be thrown away just because they’re not good enough. Hence, it serves the purpose of being more sustainable in making clothing. Digital fashion makes it possible to determine the feasibility of ideas and prevent waste at the beginning of the design process.
ROBERTO CORTI, WINNER OF BEST PATTERN MAKING INNOVATION
I’MF: What was the biggest challenge in this contest?
RC: First of all, time, because the contest was after our exams, we basically had to hand in both projects at the same time, which made the whole thing a little stressful. I’m happy that I managed to get everything done in time. That aside, in my case, there were also so many details that were quite difficult to create and patterns.
I’MF: What was the central theme of your collection?
RC: The main theme was inspired by nightmares, but Alice in Wonderland also influenced My whole collection is a voyage of someone under the influence of hallucinogenics. I had to research colours, distortions, and forms that may be part of such an experience. There are many rather “ugly” parts of history and life, the Victorian age, and the illnesses that came with it, but this is precisely what inspired me the most: the more complicated and not-so-beautiful parts of the world.
Looking at recent fashion collections, the fascination for the 70s is palpable in the clubbing allure, music references and genderless garments. Starting from disco-inspired elements taken from the recent Fendi show at Milano Fashion Week and the latest menswear collection displayed at Pitti Uomo by Martine Rose, this article covers a series of style references under the aegis of the disco decade that was one of the highlights of this fashion season.
By Giulia Piceni. Cover image by Alessandro Corradini for I’M Firenze Digest.
Tony Manero might have had an arguable wardrobe, but if there’s one thing he taught us, it is that preparation for nightlife is a serious thing: at the end of the day, shining brighter on the dancefloor is what truly counts. Considering the latest runway shows from Fendi and Martine Rose, the 70s allure of these two runways will unfold in all its mesmerising attractiveness.
SWITCH OFF THE SUN AND GET READY TO CONQUER THE NIGHT
Sunset. The city is going to sleep, but the FENDI man is getting ready to turn heads with his style and dance moves. In dark blue, black, mauve, moka brown and oat tones, the FW 23/24 collection featured at Milano Fashion Week elevated garments from daily to partywear, sophistically quoting the 70s disco allure. Referencing this period, fringes and shearlings dominated the show, with apparently sprayed leathers for the outwear. Trembling in the day’s fading lights and reflecting clubs’ neon lights, sparkles were present on Fendi’s runway in the jewellery designed by Delfina Delettrez and in luminous details applied to an asymmetrical wool vest and a jacket’s lapels.
Likewise, reflective surfaces and long-haired green carpets invaded Piazza del Mercato Nuovo: the setting of the latest FW 2023/2024 collection by Martine Rose, the London-based designer who partook as a guest designer in the 103rd edition of Pitti Uomo.
Rose paid tribute to Florence With her creations, eclectic and familiar at the same time, that combine sportswear with tailored boxy shapes while staying consistent with her British aesthetic.
Models included locals and Londoners, “calcio fiorentino” soccer players and look-alike hooligans wearing the latest collaboration with Nike. Like a novelist, she proved her powerful visual storytelling skills by giving life to a selection of characters we’ve all encountered during a Saturday night nocturnal odissey.
MUSIC: THE COOL KIDS PARAMETER
Having always manifested a genuine interest in Italian electronic music, FENDI has asked the triple Oscar-winner DJ and music composer Giorgio Moroder to create the soundtrack for their latest menswear show. After Dark is a catchy synthesised melody that culminates with I Feel Love by Donna Summer; it carried the runway participants into the extravaganza of Studio 54 or the excess of its Roman counterpart: the Piper. In the same spirit, for her Pitti Uomo fashion show, Martine Rose carefully selected the soundtrack, integrating Italian house pieces from the ‘70s, which invaded clubs across the Channel back then.
A South Londer by birth, Rose has breathed nightlife since a young age because of the proximity to numerous gay clubs and discos in her area.
Around nine, her sister got her inside some record studios, but she started going to raves at thirteen. Her relationship with music is so strong that even one of her brand’s first shows was held inside Blanks, a private Club in London, Soho.
GENDERLESS WARDROBE REVOLUTION
Characterised by the achievements of the feminist movements in terms of emancipation, the 1970s were when women started appropriating typically masculine items: an attitude that developed in the following decade with the establishment of the so-called power dressing. Today, we are witnessing a countermovement: men leaning towards a feminine aesthetic as a sort of 21st-century dandy, blurring the lines between the two distinct attires.
The Fendi collection confirmed this aspect with sensually transparent wool knitwork, colour choices and even asymmetrical one-shoulder cuts in knitwear and cotton shirts. Models were also non-binary and not strictly cisgender: a strong statement in favour of the current genderless attitude in fashion.
Since establishing her brand in 2013, Martine Rose has integrated an antipodal androgynous aesthetic into sportswear under the aegis of genderless fashion. As a matter of fact, during her latest collection showcased at Pitti Uomo, she brought on the runway a draped pant version of the bumster: a silhouette that lowers the waistline front and back to the groin. The bumster is the most democratic silhouette because it isn’t designed for a specific gender and can attract all genders and sexual orientations.
In addition, Rose employed a series of 1970s feminist protest slogans and added them to the fashion show’s jewellery thanks to the craftsmanship of Lia Lowenthal’s New Yorker brand LL, LCC.
THE 2020s ARE THE NEW 1970s
A time when social contact was an integral part of the nightclub experience, the 1970s are the decade the post-pandemic world looks up to, idolising its positivity and bringing it into the catwalk. In this context, both Fendi and Martine Rose created a wardrobe appealing to a vast clientele, celebrating the craved clubbing nightlife of that colourful decade while staying true to their houses’ codes.
Giulia Piceni is an Arts Curating undergraduate student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze. Alessandro Corradini is Master Digital Arts postgraduate student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
On the second day of the Milan Fashion Week, FENDI invited around thirty students from Istituto Marangoni Firenze to attend their menswear fashion show. For many, the event’s first in-person runway was the direct confirmation that fashion is where they see themselves in the future.
By Giulia Piceni. Cover image: Michael Ward, Luca Guadagnino and Nicholas Galitzine. Photo: Jacopo M. Raule/Getty Images for Fendi. Courtesy of FENDI.
On the second week of January, Milan had already warmed up the engines for its trademark event: Fashion Week. Having collaborated with Istituto Marangoni Firenze for a sustainability project, FENDI invited a select group of students from Istituto Marangoni Firenze to join the Fall-Winter 2023-2024 Menswear show. The result is a reportage unfolding the impressions that I, an art curating student striving to get into fashion journalism, had about this first experience.
QUEUEING: MELTING POT OF EMOTIONS
Attending a fashion show for the first time is an experience packed with a constant feeling of estrangement from reality. The anxiety-filled moment of queuing in front of the runway’s venue creates the expectation that one will witness an otherworldly experience. While shakingly reading the invitation for the umpteenth time, you’re touched by the attendees’ superb glares, making you feel like an impostor among the privileged.
Apart from the sense of immediate inadequateness, a mixture of excitement and anxiety is felt right in the stomach, increasing the event’s aura. For half an hour, you’ll be part of what is pop-culturally represented as a sugar-coated world of frills and fringes that traditionally manifests itself in all its majesty two seasons a year. For a student, it’s a fanciful occasion in which an aspiring insider has the unbelievable luck to partake.
A GROUND-ANCHORED FAIRYTALE
All the insecurities intrinsically present in fashion start to fade the instant you realise that this incredible machine called fashion is actually made of people. Contrary to the sector’s hushed depiction, very few attendees were there to enjoy themselves. Every person had to contribute to giving life to a memorable moment.
Posing in front of a screen with a blue background and the enormous metallic double-F logo, influencers and special guests – from Stranger Things actor Caleb McLaughlin to the acclaimed director Luca Guadagnino – showcased their looks from recent collections. As you might expect, an extensive array of Baguettes and Peekaboos were all over the place, confirming themselves as an accredited piece of the trendiest men’s wardrobes.
Every step inside the venue came with constant gawping at the outfits and the influential fashion system personalities there. As an aspiring fashion journalist, seeing in person that mythical bestiary of faces familiar only thanks to social media inevitably caused a pleasing sensation of alienation and a subtle encouragement for the future: one day, I will be one of them.
SEATS FIGHTS, FRINGES AND ENDINGS THAT SHOULD NEVER ARRIVE
The late-comers struggling to find their seats in the gloom and elegantly-delivered fights for the best spot were accompanied by chit-chats on the show that came before it. Then it was complete darkness and silence before the music and the show began. A riot of fluid cashmere coats, white sprayed shearlings, and Shetland wool fringes in tones of mauve, blue, moka and beige, accompanied by silver and sparkly details, crossed over the runway over the notes of After Dark, the soundtrack by the legendary Italian composer and producer Giorgio Moroder.
Transforming established womenswear’s features into genderless items was an elegantly-delivered operation that enriched the FENDI menswear show through sexy asymmetrical cuts, impalpable knitwear, delicate tones and dandy-like layering. After the finale, Silvia Venturini Fendi – Artistic Director of Accessories and Menswear for Maison FENDI – appeared to thank the attendees, generating a smartphone craze in the audience that fast disappeared for the next event. Being the venue almost empty, I stayed there like when a party’s over and the melancholy of things ending starts to build. In those moments, when you stop your body and let the mind drift, the bittersweet taste of just-experienced things is painfully pleasant to savour.
I still had butterflies from the show as I walked to the Sant’Agostino underground station. While waiting for the train to reach the city centre, I noticed right behind me a couple of models seen on FENDI’s runway a few minutes before, giggling at their backstage photos and still wearing bold lavender eye makeup. I am not superstitious and believe that you build your success through hard work; still, at that moment, plunged in gratitude for the just-concluded runway show, I decided to interpret the models’ presence as an encouraging epiphany for my working future. That day, dreams seemed a little bit closer.