The adage “dolce far niente” (Italian, roughly translated to “doing sweet nothing”), is one of those magical impossible-to-precisely-translate turns of phrase. Here at Dukes Avenue, we believe this to be a fundamental pillar of enjoying the good life “Italian-style” in food, drink and culture – not idleness or laziness, but rather, simplicity and effortlessness.
Fortunately, many Italian luxury brands seemingly did not get the memo. With many of these brands characterised by bright colours and prints that represent Italy’s history, and bold designs on the cutting edge of fashion, many luxury Italian brands are daring, unapologetic and full of passion. Just as the country itself balances rolling plains and mountainous terrain, beaches and skiing, rich and poor, rustic and rich cuisines, this is all reflected in the creations of the finest Italian fashion brands that have a place in every wardrobe.
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The History Behind the World’s Favourite Italian Luxury Brands
Fendi is a name that has become synonymous with luxury Italian fashion, and one that is renowned for true opulence. Started by husband and wife duo Adele and Edoardo Fendi back in 1925, the house of Fendi made a name for itself as a leather goods and fur boutique in Rome, and continues to be known for its impeccable craftsmanship and precision today just as much as when it was first founded.
It remained a family business over the years, and was owned and run by members of the Fendi family up until 2001, when it was bought out by LVMH. Despite now being owned by LVMH, the brand still counts family member Silvia Venturini Fendi as Creative Director for accessories and men’s lines.
Things took a turn for the brand after Fendi appointed Karl Lagerfeld as Consultant Director in 1965 to modernise the company’s fur lines, and it was during this time that the signature double “F” motif was created – a motif that in fact stands for Fun Furs (according to LVMH’s brand book). Karl Lagerfeld continued working with Fendi for the rest of his career.
Fendi has established itself as one of the most experienced and sought-after fur ateliers, and whilst they sadly have no plans to make the move to faux furs in the near future, there are plenty of other beautiful Fendi creations that have become true Fendi investment pieces, such as the Fendi Baguette and the famous Fendi Peekaboo.
The house of Versace (pronounced Versach-EH and not Versach-EE!) certainly needs no introduction. The Versace head of Medusa is instantly recognisable, and is a symbol that has become one of the most well-known brand logos, not just in Italian fashion, but the world over. Versace was founded in 1978 by the late Gianni Versace, and since then, has produced upmarket Italian-made ready-to-wear garments and accessories, along with exquisite haute couture pieces under the name Atelier Versace.
The story behind the head of Medusa is quite an endearing one. Taken from the ancient Greek ruins in his home town of Reggio di Calabria in Southern Italy, Gianni Versace selected the Medusa of head as his logo because she made people fall in love with her – with no turning back. His vision was that his garments and accessories would have the same effect on those who wore them and it’s hard to argue otherwise. Overall, Versace’s designs were strongly influenced by ancient Greek history, an important part of the history of the Italian region he was born in.
Following his tragic murder in 1997, Gianni’s sister Donatella Versace took over as creative director and his older brother Santo Versace became CEO. In January 2019, the company joined Capri Holdings Limited, and formed a new global fashion luxury group together with Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo – but no matter who has owned the brand, it’s reputation as the “Rock n’ Roll designer” to the stars has remained. Versace remains known for it’s innovative designs, with bright colours, bold patterns and Greek mythology-inspired graphics.
Dolce & Gabbana
Another of Italy’s most well-known fashion houses is Dolce & Gabbana, a name that has been creating fashion works of art since 1985. Over the years, the brand has gradually increased its offerings, releasing additional knitwear, beachwear and lingerie lines, followed by a men’s collection in 1990, several fragrances and even D&G Junior in 1999.
Founded by Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana from Sicily and Milan respectively, a southern Italian influence can be felt throughout each of their collections. One only has to think back to the ornate and intricate ceramic designs from the Caltagirone region that were used on tailored separates and cocktail dresses in the Spring 2013 collection, the baroque religious heritage influences in the Autumn/Fall 2013 collection, the Summer Lemons collection of summer 2016 that just screamed Italy, or the Maiolica print used on everything from shoes to summer dresses in 2018, to appreciate how important a role Sicily and Italian culture is to the brand.
Dolce & Gabbana have had their fare share of controversy over the years, yet the Dolce & Gabbana woman is no stranger to controversy – she is unbiased and brazen, bold and unashamed, all whilst somehow appearing demure and devout simultaneously. Look closely, and these many facets of a woman can be seen though out their collections – the revealing and concealing of corsets and lingerie, the use of lace, tulle and silk alongside leather, two-piece suits and structured blazers.
If there’s one thing that Loro Piana is renowned for, it’s their absolute mastery with some of the finest wools in the world. They have built a reputation for being a luxury, high-end garment producer of exquisite cashmere and vicuna pieces that are coveted for their timeless designs and indulgent fabrics. Loro Piano was founded in 1924 in Italy’s Piedmont region, and whilst it is now majority-owned by powerhouse LVMH, the current heads remain members of the Loro Piana family, and are the sixth generation to work in fine textiles.
What also remains throughout is that the brand is quintessentially Italian – all Loro Piana factories are located in Italy, with each stage of the production process being carefully controlled; from the sourcing of materials to the delivery at the luxury boutiques, ensuring the highest quality at all times.
Whilst any cashmere piece purchased from Loro Piana is an investment that will last for years to come, there are certain things that the brand is especially proud to produce, particularly when they are the result of research and development, experimentation and innovation – all of which are passions of Loro Piana. Take for example the development of “baby cashmere”, a fabric that is made by Loro Piana exclusively, or the Argentine vicuna, a species that Loro Piana saved from extinction by working with the natives, and one that produces material that is known as “the fibre of the gods”.
Long-term lovers of Roberto Cavalli will be the first to tell you that Cavalli is the king of glamourous animal patterns. Crowned at the “King of Fashion Animalier” by the New York Times in 2001, Cavalli uses his innovative printing techniques to create beautiful animal print fabrics, and expertly transform them in to beautiful garments including red carpet dresses, knit dresses, jeans, jackets and accessories.
Founded in 1970, luxurious animal prints are not all this eponymous Italian luxury brand is know for. In 1993, Cavalli transformed the world of denim by mastering the look of ‘lived-in’ jeans for that sand-blasted aesthetic. Aside from the look of the denim itself, he also made the jeans his own by incorporating patchwork and gold stitching into the designs, to upgrade them to luxury status.
Fast forward a couple of decades and the brand now offers its clientele a vast range of accessories, fragrances, watches, as well as luxury home décor pieces under the name RC Home, all from the various high-end boutiques around the world.
The story of Missoni began in 1953, when Ottavio and Rosita founded a humble knitwear business – a business that has now become a global brand renowned for its colourful, innovative and instantly recognisable knitwear designs. Whilst building their empire, the Missonis also started a family, and their children, Vittorio, Luca and Angela, have all been engaged in the family business over the years. In 1996, Ottavio and Rosita transferred control of the business to their three children, with Angela taking over women’s wear (and eventually menswear).
Whilst Missoni may not be as well-known as some of the trending names on this list, Missoni could possibly have been one of the first designers to create garments to suit the now popular athleisure or athflow trend, with founder Ottavio Missoni creating knit tracksuits and coordinating knit jackets and track pants as far back as the 40s. In 1967, they also garnered attention for making their models remove their bras to model their sheer tops and dresses – something which, at the time, caused quite an outrage!
What is undeniably though is that the business has evolved into much more than a humble knitwear business, launching M Missoni and Missoni Home, alongside their core collections.
If there’s one image that comes to mind at the sound of the name ‘Pucci‘, it’s a kaleidoscope of bright and colourful geometric prints on the most sublime materials – but there is so much more to the name than exquisite garments. Founder Emilio Pucci had quite an illustrious history before starting his eponymous Italian luxury brand and this likely had a huge influence on his worldly creations.
Emilio Pucci was born in Naples to one of Florence’s oldest noble families, studied in Italy and a number of locations in the US, and eventually earnt an MA in social science and a doctorate in political science. He went on to join the Italian Air Force and rose to the rank of captain, struck up a friendship with Mussolini’s eldest daughter, was tortured by the gestapo before eventually fleeing to Switzerland and was the person to design a one-piece ski suit!
After leaving the Air Force, he went on to set up his own fashion house on the Isle of Capri, focusing on stretch fabrics. He used this knowledge to create a swimwear line, shortly followed distinctively patterned silk scarves, using the pattern Pucci has since become renowned for. His boutique in Capri became much-loved by the international jet set, and this helped to expand his business further afield. The fact that Marilyn Monroe was also photographed in Pucci in her final photographs only served to further fuel the Pucci flame.
There is plenty more to say about the fascinating life of Pucci and the inspirations behind his designs, and it is this rich and colourful history that makes his work so unlike any others and the reason it deserves a place in every high fashion wardrobe.
Armani, now part of the Net-A-Porter group, is a ‘typical’ rags-to-riches story in Italian fashion, to the extent that a fashion house with such an illustrious history can be ‘typical’. Giorgio Armani, the enigmatic namesake of the brand, was born in Piacenza, northern Italy, in 1934, and started out his glorious fashion career as a window dresser after stints studying medicine and serving in the army. He cut his teeth working for menswear designer Nino Cerrutti, whilst freelancing for various other designers.
In 1975, he and his friend Sergio Galeotti launched their line with a singular obsession – attention to detail – and things quickly took off from there. Armani’s designs rose to prominence through appearances in pop culture – power suits in 1980s Miami Vice, appearances in the cult classic Godfather movies, as well as other claims to fame, like designing the Italian Carabinieri uniforms. After all, if there is one thing that Armani is renowned for, it’s crisp, clean tailoring.
By the mid-1980s, Armani was a household name and sought to bolster its empire through expansion through various sub-brands – Emporio Armani, Armani Jeans, EA7 and Armani Exchange to name a few. Armani Beauty was also launched in 2000, with the now famous Armani Luminous Silk foundation becoming something of a cult classic. In addition, the Armani name now includes interests outside of fashion and beauty in real estate, hospitality and leisure. After almost 50 years in operation, few brands have stood the test of time quite as well as Armani.
The times and fortunes of the house of Prada are very much intertwined with that of its founding family. Established in 1913 by Mario Prada, what was initially founded as ‘Fratelli Prada‘ first sold imported leather products from a shop located at Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II. In the years that followed, Prada gained notoriety with the royal patronage of the house of Savoy – the legacy of which is still seen today in Prada’s logo, which pays homage to its aristocratic heritage.
Luisa Prada succeeded her father as the leader of the house, curating and improving Prada’s reputation, but it was not until the 1970s when Luisa’s daughter, Miuccia, together with her confidant Patrizio Bertelli, joined the family business and ushered in a new era for the house. Prada began producing luxury handbags, launched a luxury footwear line, a women’s collection, and in 1985 released the “classic Prada handbag” – the rest is history.
Known for their modern designs – bold, minimalist and clean – and the use of high quality materials, Prada went on to become a giant in the fashion space with its own sub-brand, Miu Miu, as well as having held stakes in various other luxury manufacturers such as Church’s and Fendi. Prada is forever immortalised in the cultural zeitgeist, not only through its iconic designs and brand image, but also through pop culture references (The Devil Wears Prada – is an in-house favourite here at Dukes Avenue!).
Miu Miu is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Prada and is headed by and named after Miuccia Prada, the latest of the Prada family progeny to lead the Prada fashion empire.
In 1992, fresh off the success of her reinvigoration of the fabled Prada family business in the 1980s, Miu Miu went on to launch a less expensive self-titled line of womenswear inspired by her own personal wardrobe. Shoes, accessories, clothing – Miu Miu is characterised by an avant-garde take on the provocative feminine spirit, pushing the boundaries of traditional design to reflect the modern woman. The success of the line eventually took on its own identity, opening its own boutiques around the world from 2009 onwards.
Bottega Veneta has truly been having it’s moment over the last few years. Since Daniel Lee joined the brand as creative director in 2018, Bottega Veneta suddenly exploded onto the scene, with some of their creations becoming cult items in every fashionista’s wardrobe – items like the iconic pouch bag or the square-toe mules that are suddenly everywhere. And whilst the brand truly deserves all of it’s recent success, the truth is that Bottega Veneta has been around since 1966, founded in Vicenza, Italy.
The story of Bottega Veneta was begun by Michele Taddei and Renzo Zengiaro and its primary product was unbranded leather goods. This is important to their design philosophy, not just because their motto is “when your own initials are enough”, but also because it’s a rare path to follow in the land of Italian fashion. Bottega Veneta always aimed to be that understated treasure that didn’t require the use of opulent logos and prints, and instead focused on producing high quality, minimalistic pieces with an edge.
The popularity of Bottega Veneta has definitely seen an increase in recent years, but the brand have always been known for it’s handbags and accessories that featured the instantly recognisable intrecciato weaving technique. Anyone wanting to add a classic Bottega Veneta piece to their wardrobe should consider the Cabat Bags, the Veneta Tote Bags or the iconic Knot bags – timeless pieces that will easily stand the test of time!
With a style that has been described as ‘jet set chic’, the house of Valentino is one of the staples in the history of Italian fashion and a name that few of us are unfamiliar with. Founded by Valentino Garavani and his former lover and business partner Giancarlo Giammetti in 1960, Valentino has evolved over the years to become a leading international luxury brand – a brand that combines both tradition and innovation. This cannot be more evident than when admiring his haute couture creations, prêt-à-porter lines lines for both men and women, Valentino Garavani accessories and as of 2021, Valentino Beauty.
Having held various apprenticeships at prominent fashion houses in Paris such as Balenciaga and Guy Laroche, Garavani learnt early on what it truly meant to run a ‘maison de haute couture‘. He opened his fashion house in 1960 in Rome and met Giancarlo Giametti, but it wasn’t until a few years had passed that the Valentino brand gained international recognition, when Jacqueline Kennedy ordered six of his haute couture dresses – all in black and white. Yet it was not black and white that the Valentino name is known for, but rather his red dresses – a bright shade that has since been coined as ‘Valentino red‘.
Valentino himself has since retired from the world of fashion, and in 2007, appointed Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri to lead as Creative Directors. Whilst Maria Grazia has since moved on to the house of Dior, Pierpaolo continues the evolution of the Valentino brand, with a focus on human connection, and that perfect blend of innovation, a “profound knowledge of tradition” and the elegance of old.
As a student at Milan’s Accademia delle Belle Arti in the late 1960s, Franco Moschino, the late creator of the Moschino brand, fell in love with fashion whilst moonlighting as a fashion illustrator to finance his studies. After ditching his original dream of becoming a painter, Moschino worked as an illustrator for none other than Gianni Versace and went on to become a designer for Italian fashion brand, Cadette.
Franco Moschino established the Moonshadow label in 1983 and later in the same year, Moschino Couture, which quickly became known for their edgy, unusual and innovative designs, often incorporating bold colours, eccentric designs and satirical verbal motifs. Whilst initially starting out in casualwear, the brand eventually increased its offering across most ranges, including shoes and menswear. Moschino continued to enjoy critical success until his untimely death in 1994. His former assistant and protégé, Rossella Jiardini carried on the legacy of the designer into the 2000s, winning celebrity clients from the likes of Kylie Minogue, Madonna and even Lady Gaga.
Brunello Cucinelli hails from the Umbria region of Italy, a regional manufacturing centre for knitwear, which first inspired him to open a women’s knitwear boutique in 1979. His high quality colourful designs and penchant for cashmere won the minds of his customers, but what undoubtedly stole their hearts is the brand’s romantic story and values.
Headquartered in a fourteenth-century castle in the village of Solomeo, from which his wife’s family hails, Cucinelli produces high-quality, sustainable garments that stand the test of time. It is described as a “human” endeavour, paying its employees well, and 20% of the profits of the company are donated to its charitable foundation which supports initiatives to “enhancing knowledge, protecting the land and its monuments, highlighting the value of tradition, promoting spiritual and daily values of mankind.” Indeed, Brunello now spends most of his time, and a good deal of the family wealth accumulated by the business, in philanthropic endeavours.
A little different to the rest of the Italian luxury brands on this list is Bvlgari, not because it is in anyway inferior or less luxurious, but rather because Bvlgari has yet to dip its toes into the realm of haute couture or prêt-à-porter collections, and instead focuses solely on the finest of high-end jewellery, luxury timepieces and exquisite accessories such as bags, sunglasses, scarves and fragrances.
To understand Bvlgari, one must travel back to 1884 – Greek silversmith Sotirio Bulgari founded the brand which quickly became popular amongst the ranks of tourists for its excellent craftsmanship and Roman motifs. When Sotirio’s two sons, Giorgio and Costantino joined the family business, they decided to focus on high end pieces incorporating colourful precious stones and other metals, geometric and art deco designs, and eventually morphing into the serpentine creations that Bvlgari is known for today.
As Bvlgari moved into its next design epoch after gaining international recognition through the patronage of movie stars in the 1970s, the brand started drawing inspiration from beyond Rome, playing with different materials, colours and stones to create wonderfully distinctive, tactile and sensual pieces. That is what the Bvlgari is at its core – a brand that makes an unashamed statement of its history, reinterpreted for a modern take in its own unique way.
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