‘Create your own niche ... and you will always have a space in the market’: Etro fashion at 50

  • Known for its paisley prints, Italian fashion, homewares and furniture house remains family-run despite recent takeover trend
  • Founder’s son Jacopo Etro isn’t hung up about control, though, saying, ‘it doesn’t matter who runs the business if you are still able to express your values’
PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 December, 2018, 7:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 8:20pm

Italian fashion brands like to keep business in the family, but things are changing fast. This year alone Missoni sold a 41.2 per cent stake of its business to a private equity firm, while Michael Kors acquired Versace for a cool US$2.1 billion. The recent death of Wanda Ferragamo has raised speculation that many of Ferragamo’s remaining family members are looking to sell their shares in the luxury brand.

While this might be taken as signalling the imminent end of Italy’s fashion dynasties, Jacopo Etro has a different take on the matter.

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“Is this the end of an era? It depends on how you look at it. We still have some family-run businesses, like Dolce & Gabbana and Alberta Ferretti, for example. You can still be a family business and be on the stock exchange.

“The trick is to create your own niche which makes you different to any other brand – independent or otherwise. Because you’re special you will always have a space in the market and there will always be a demand. To me, it doesn’t matter who runs the business if you are still able to express your values,” he says.

Etro was founded by his father, Gerolamo “Gimmo” Etro, in 1968 and made its name by creating and developing textiles for fashion companies. The 56-year-old scion joined the family business when he was just 20 years old and has been hooked ever since. He started his career in the sampling room and, over the years, he has taken on bigger roles including overseeing textiles, homewares and, more recently, accessories.

What has made Etro a success isn’t just the family members who run it (siblings Kean and Veronica are responsible for ready-to-wear, while Ippolito looks after the business and operations). Nor is it the extensive range of products.

What makes it different is its expertise in textiles, which are inspired by everything from the Silk Road to Rajasthani palaces and paisley motifs – the latter is still its most enduring signature.

“Fabrics are at the foundation of everything we do. We do a lot of research. For example, if we decide to explore India one season, there are so many different versions to choose from, from the spiritual to the gypsy side. We have a great archive that includes books from the 18th and 19th century, and patterns and textiles, including a 40-year-old collection of cashmere shawls. We literally have to dig in the dungeons to find them. I’ll also go travelling and pick up fabrics from remote villages in different countries,” says Etro, who likens himself to a researcher.

Although the brand’s fabrics are inspired by faraway lands, they are Italian through and through.

The trick is to create your own niche which makes you different to any other brand – independent or otherwise. Because you’re special you will always have a space in the market and there will always be a demand
Jacopo Etro

While it’s common for designers to source their textiles outside Europe, the Etro house is adamant that everything is made in Italy. Etro even sits on the board of the Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italiana as the delegate for the Italian textile industry.

“If you really want to see beautiful wovens, woollens, cashmere or even novelties, done from a creative point of view, Italy is still the best place. Italy is still important for the research of new techniques, yarns and fibres. We do a lot of trials in-house and are always trying new things and ways. It’s what Italy is good for and we will always strive to celebrate this,” he says.

Thanks to a strong foundation in textiles, Etro designs lend themselves to a broad range of categories, including home furnishings, shawls, leather goods and of course ready-to-wear, which has been their major focus for the past decade. More recently attention has shifted to home interiors, specifically furniture, which was launched at the Salone del Mobile in Milan earlier this year.

“We started with four different stories, including an over-the-top collection with lots of colours, while another is inspired by the 1920s with a twist. We used animals and paisley patterns, exotic woods and coloured marbles in purple and orange, which is more unusual. Everything we do has to be recognisable as Etro,” says Etro.

The furniture is also coming at a special time for the brand, which celebrates a big milestone – its 50th anniversary. In addition to hosting various events – including a recent exhibition in Hong Kong – the brand is working on bigger long-term projects, such as an exhibition for the reopening of the Paisley Museum in Scotland in 2020, as well designing the communal areas for a luxury flat complex based in Mexico (hotels are not on the cards, says Jacopo). Children’s wear is also next on the list.

“Saying this, we are not the company that is after revenues all the time. We really just do what we like. We are not a logo company. We don’t want to put Etro everywhere to make money. Etro is about a culture.

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“In the long run, people with culture will recognise our product as more desirable versus wearing a T-shirt with a logo on their chest. They can choose to come to us via whatever product they gravitate to, be it the clothes or homewares. I just hope by doing what we do, we give a little happiness to people who own our things,” says Etro.