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International Edge
Photographs by Rustam Vajifdar
PUBLISHED: Volume 12, Issue 1, First Quarter 2004
We would like to invite another Indian designer to present a collection at next year’s Fashion Week. Someone like Tarun who had an aroma of India in a very international collection
Inventor of Fashion Weeks, Giuseppe Modenese, wants to make it happen for Indian designers, in Milan. Can he do it, wonders Shirin Mehta, who encounters the very stylish Italian, in Mumbai

Casual is definitely not his style — not where his hand-tailored shirt and custom-made suit are concerned, anyway. Yet, he wears his look with the easy air of one who has grown stylishly and matter-of-factly into it. The bold-striped blue and white shirt and polka-dotted toe combo is suitably formal while his manner is charmingly disarming. You will not find Giuseppe Modenese, ‘Beppe’ to all, slouching around in the new sporty look, though he admits to succumbing to jeans on a recent Goa visit. Nor will you see him slacking off — not with his wardrobe or with his sartorial mission. This is Italian cool at its Milanese best that Mumbai welcomed with open arms at the recently concluded Festa Italiana.

Modenese, honorary president, National Chamber of Italian Fashion, is the man who had the right idea at the right time and, as a result, put Milan firmly on the fashion map, marking it irretrievably the fashion capital of the world, with a stylish turnover of around 48 billion euros. He is the lone brain behind the concept of Fashion Week, as it is known today, the backbone of the global fashion industry. His biodata presents a seamless listing of great ideas, well-known brands and awards for exceptional contributions to the fashion industry. He is the man who hobnobs with the cream of the Italian fashion fraternity and organises the world’s most important style events.

So, what is this mainstay of Italian fashion, doing traipsing around Mumbai’s Fashion Street, making the rounds of the newly-opened shopping experience,

The Courtyard, accompanied by a largely-eccentrically attired Vogue korrespondent, Anna Riva? Invited to India by The Indo-Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Modenese is full of enthusiasm displaying an un-jaded freshness even as he discusses ideas that could put India on the international fashion map, finally. Perhaps, it is time for another ‘right’ idea to dawn, for the time and place, all agree, are decidedly ‘right’. Here, he speaks about an industry close to his heart while the ever-bubbly Riva interjects.

Fashion Week? Fashion Week was my invention. For us, it was very difficult since we had to create everything. We had to create a special room to show the collections, we had to decide to invite journalists, to give them a desire to be there. Paris and New York copied us, which I take as a great compliment. I have given a guide of our fashion week to the organisers here.

Towering style? We are now building a Citta Della Moda, a fashion tower, in Milan, which will house a university, fashion school, museum, workshop and hotel. This will be a global project for the fashion world. We do recognise, though, that there is a risk involved here. Because, normally, fashion people like to be very individualistic and special. They like to think that they are unique.

In fact, this is what happened to me…. When Fashion Week first started, the designers were very happy to be together. Then, Versace said that I have a big place in my home and I will show there. Then Armani said I will show in my own place. But, even so, they are all in our calendar and that is very important.

(Designer egos obviously remain the same everywhere, we discover.)

Tarun Tahiliani, at Milan Fashion Week? We were so impressed with Tarun in Milan that we want to check out other Indian designers. We hope to open our market and so it was very important to have Tarun there. We would like to invite another Indian designer to present a collection at next year’s Fashion Week. Someone like Tarun who had an aroma of India in a very international collection.

(Riva: "I love anything Indian but sometimes, Indian clothes must be less Indian, more international.")

Indian designs on Italian streets? It is too early to say. We need time to show the Italians how to wear these clothes. The important thing is to interpret fashion in a personal way. If an Italian lady prefers, she can wear a jewelled T-shirt of Tarun, a skirt by Prada, a bag by Fendi….

(Riva: "Fashion is flexibility. It is your feeling when you wake up in the morning…!")

Prada in India? No, they are too expensive. Do you think you have a market for them? In India, you have rich people but they do not buy here. Like in Turkey — rich ladies buy in Paris and Milan. But, this is not so important, in my opinion. What is, is to find a way to cross the two markets.

(Crossover films, now crossover couture! Go for it, Monisha, Manish….)

Crossover fashion? I mean that we can get an Italian designer to design a special collection here, to be manufactured here, together with an Indian designer and have a joint label. If I was a designer — not top, top, top but new, young and Italian, I could interpret your fabric to a global look. It is complicated but not so complicated. We would need to work out the terms of the agreements and payments.

(Italian cuts and expertise with Indian fabric and sensibilities, sounds really happening!)

Indian designers at Milan Fashion Week? Tarun has pointed out to us that it requires a very strong investment to show in Milan. So, what could be interesting would be to be present when we have the fair, Milano Vende Mode, which coincides with the Fashion Week. They rent a little space at the fair to display their collection and that is all. We have found India a very great source of inspiration. We believe that it is very important for Indian designers to be able to do this. It is like helping a baby to grow up. Maybe some Indian designers are already adult but the image projected is not and that is very important.

India? I love it! What I find is a different way of life — everything is so alive here. This is a personal feeling that I have, of course. I shop a lot here. We visited Pantaloon and it was nice, it was great. I shopped at Fab India. No, I have not bought any of the designers, yet. I have to get familiar with their work. Your scarves are beautiful. In Rajasthan, I bought a lot of tablecloths.

(Riva: "He has bought one hundred shirts in every colour.")

Personal style? I don’t wear a designer. My suits are all custom made at two of Milan’s best tailors, Mario Caraceni and Mariano Rubinacci. I have maybe 100 suits, I wear a different one every day. Earlier, I had at least five fittings for every suit, now maybe three. You have four or five people tugging at your sleeves, pulling at you, it is like a comedy. Very Italian!

I wear only handmade shirts tailored to my size and I don’t know how many I have. I am, surprisingly, not very keen on ties, I have maybe 50, that’s all. I think, for a man to be elegant, you do not need too many styles, like with a woman. What’s important is mainly the combination between shirt, suit and tie. People find this difficult to do perfectly but now, as an old man, I do it naturally. I love shoes and own at least a hundred pairs.

(Riva: " And me, I have 300 hats!")

Indian dress? I would wear it if I found the right one. I like everything in my mind but when I wear it, I don’t like it anymore.

(Aside: "Elegance is a personal pleasure. But, it also shows that you respect people around you.")

Italian designers? In my opinion, Armani in Milan has become a sort of Chanel in Paris. As Chanel made the revolution in the ’20s, Armani too completely changed the woman.