Military parka gets a new lease of life thanks to Italian designer’s luxe twist on an old classic
Meet the visionary who’s made a must-have of the humble parka, as seen on fashion royalty including Gigi Hadid, Sarah Jessica Parker and Cara Delevingne
The fashion world’s latest obsession with the military parka can be credited to one woman – the designer and creative director of Mr & Mrs Italy, Geraldina Bassani Antivari. Singer Rihanna started a fashion phenomenon when she was spotted wearing a technicolour fur-lined parka that Antivari designed for the brand three years ago. Now a growing list of celebrities, including Gigi Hadid, Olivia Palermo, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cara Delevingne, Soo Joo Park and Kate Moss, have become fans of the brand, while the parka is ubiquitous on the catwalks of almost every major designer brand.
Mr & Mrs Italy has done for the parka what Moncler did for the puffer jacket – and all in a relatively short time. The brand was founded in 2007, but was taken over by a private equity firm six years later in hopes of taking it to the next level. In 2014, Antivari was appointed creative director, with the task of bringing the brand to a new audience.
“One of the first things I told them, when I was interviewing, was that it’s not about me, it’s about the mission,” Antivari recalls. “The product was cool but it needed to be developed and not in a fashion way. If you start a brand this way you end up not creating a product but something that only has a short shelf life. I wanted to take the whole fashion side of the project and put it into an everyday reality for every customer.”
Although only in her 20s at the time, Antivari brought with her an impressive résumé. Born and raised in Italy, she hails from a family of entrepreneurs and artists, although, she realised early on that a career in art was not for her. Instead she chose fashion and studied at Central Saint Martins in London before being hand-picked to join women’s footwear line Aperlai. Other stints followed in the menswear and womenswear markets, before she decided to launch her own line of ready-to-wear. By the time she joined Mr & Mrs Italy, she already had extensive experience in several facets of the industry.
Antivari started with the parka because of its versatility as an everyday staple. She began experimenting with vintage styles and updating them with luxurious materials such as fur, creating iconic looks for the brand.
“I would always see people wearing parkas while I was growing up, although not so much in Italy,” Antivari says. “It’s one of those military garments, like the bomber, that kept on coming back because it has served so many purposes – whether it was keeping you warm on a cold day, or just adding a cool touch to your jeans and T-shirt.”
Over the next few years, Antivari updated the brand’s parkas with couture touches, such as sequinned labels, fur collars and patchwork in every colour of the rainbow. Her use of brightly coloured fur has attracted legions of fans, but also raised some eyebrows.
“Fur has always existed. Maybe 10 years ago it disappeared and now it’s back again,” she says. “The point is we have always had it so it’s not going away. Our job is to ensure that we check, control and work with the most ethical suppliers. If you produce and create it well, people want to wear it in a respectable and discreet way. At the end of the day it’s my job to give people options – some choose to buy it and others don’t.”
As such, Antivari and her team are continually looking for new ways to develop the collections while keeping customers coming back. In addition to experimenting with new fits, they have invested heavily in fabric development, including more technical wind and waterproof cottons. She has also started using by-product materials, such as lambskin for customers who are anti-fur, while experimenting with feathers to give the appearance of fur. As for the colours, they are still bold, although she’s developing more subdued tones such as blue and brown. New shapes include the parka puffer jacket which she says is fun and playful.
“We also need to move with the times. For returning clients, we have to give them the same concept with different ideas and execution,” she says. “We can’t just exploit the parka in different colours, it’s about exploring and creating pieces that are evolved but still identifiable.”
Also, on her list is expanding the brand’s other categories, including athleisure which she introduced a few seasons ago. This coming season’s collections include tracksuits, updated in fabrics such as jacquard, cotton and cashmere, and covered in more decorative elements such as appliqué.
That being said, her focus will always remain on the item that made the brand famous in the first place.
“The parka is going nowhere. I don’t believe that there’s anything that will ever finish per se. You can’t take away from a beautiful product – what you need to do is make it better,” she says. “The most successful brands are the ones that stay true to themselves and their speciality. There’s so much out there, so we really have to be the best at what we do.”