MILAN — When Alice Etro was a little girl, she used to spend after-school hours with her father, Kean Etro, creative director of Etro men’s wear, playing with fabric samples in the design studio of the fashion brand that her grandfather Gimmo started in 1968. She’d create garments from off-cuts for her dolls and play with the tubes from the rolls of cloth.
“I loved it all,” she said. She remembers the thrill of attending a runway show, and the walk-through alone with her parents. “I wanted to be him,” she added, of her designer father. Expectations were she would follow in his footsteps and join the family firm, just as he and his three siblings had followed their parents. As, indeed, has been the norm among many of Italy’s storied fashion dynasties.
There’s an expression in Italian — “capitalismo familiare” or family capitalism — that denotes the passing on of a private company from one generation to the next, said Matteo Persivale, special correspondent for the newspaper Corriere della Sera. For decades it has been the rule in fashion, where the stewardship of brands was passed down like a closely kept saffron risotto recipe or a chalet in Cortina.
Angela, Luca and Vittorio Missoni took over from their parents, Rosita and Ottavio, the founders of Missoni, for example. Silvia Fendi is a third generation Fendi, working in the company that her grandparents Adele and Edoardo founded in 1925, (and her daughter, Delfina Delettrez Fendi, is now artistic director of jewelry). James Ferragamo, a third-generation descendant of Salvatore Ferragamo, the founder of Ferragamo, is a brand, product and communications director at the family company. And one of the fourth generation of Zegnas, Edoardo Zegna, is in the running to take over the brand, created in 1910 by Ermenegildo Zegna.
Going into the family trade was such common practice, said Laudomia Pucci, the daughter of Emilio Pucci, that even when she was working for Hubert de Givenchy in the late 1980s in Paris, he was always telling her: “Soon you’ll return home to take over your father’s business.” She did, in 1989, and described the concept of assuming the mantel of the family firm as “quite normal, and organic.”
But a combination of luxury’s globalization, which has led many family-owned companies to sell ownership stakes to conglomerates or become publicly listed entities to survive, and the blurring of lines among all creative disciplines, has changed the narrative.
Increasingly, the nextgen of luxury’s great families — often referred to as “figli d’arte,” a term referring to a child who inherits a parent’s profession, usually in the arts sector — are looking beyond the ancestral parapet, applying what they learned while growing up in one creative sector to work in another.
Ms. Etro, for example, 34, studied fashion design at Istituto Marangoni, one of the leading fashion schools in Milan, and spent about 10 years at another family-run tailoring and textile company, Larusmiani (where her uncle Guglielmo Miani is chief executive).
But in 2019, rather than joining Etro as she had once imagined, Ms. Etro became the creative director of Westwing Italia, one of the 11 national sites operated by a European interiors e-commerce retailer that specializes in daily newsletters offering a world of shoppable home merchandise from bed linens to crockery.
“I prefer the mass rather than the niche,” Ms. Etro said. “Luxury should be for everyone. It doesn’t have to be expensive and out of reach.” Her family supported her decision to branch out, she continued, noting it was moments like the time she spent as a child in the atmospheric Milanese home of her grandmother Ghighi Miani, with its maximalist interiors, that may ultimately have inspired her most.
Alessandro Marinella, 27, a fourth-generation member of the family that founded E. Marinella, the Neapolitan company known for making printed silk ties beloved of President Barack Obama, is not only helping the brand expand in the digital realm, but focusing on something he regards just as steeped in luxury tradition as neckwear: food.
In 2019 Mr. Marinella co-founded Marchio Verificato, which produces, certifies and supplies specialty Italian foods. The company not only distributes some of Italy’s prime produce to stores and restaurants, but cultivates crops in a traditional manner: For example, its Vesuvio Piennolo tomatoes are grown in volcanic soil and then strung on hemp threads, tied in circles and kept dry for months.
“Eating well is important,” said Mr. Marinella, “but where and how also denotes a kind of social status.”
So does technology, according to Francesca Versace, 39, a daughter of Santo Versace, brother of Donatella and the brand’s founder Gianni. As a result, she has traded in her ready-to-wear birthright for the chance to start an NFT business.
“My love for fashion will never diminish; it’s in my heart,” she said of her family’s achievements. But she believes the zeitgeist has shifted.
“My instinct tells me, it’s time to move to the new space,” she said, referring to the metaverse. “It’s more of a cultural change than a technological one.”
Later this spring she and her partners plan to unveil Public Pressure, an NFT marketplace with an internal NFT creative studio to help musicians, brands and film studios conceptualize NFT campaigns. The business — founded by Ms. Versace; Giulia Maresca, a former designer for Christian Louboutin and Tod’s; Sergio Mottola, a blockchain entrepreneur; and Alfredo Violante, a music industry insider — is intended, Ms. Versace said, to recreate the Versace razzmatazz she remembers from her family’s fashion shows, but in the digital space.
Similarly, Larissa Castellano Pucci, 34, the daughter of Laudomia and granddaughter of Emilio, believes the future is virtual. She studied information science at Cornell University and worked as a 3-D artist for Satore Studio, a creative company in London, rather than enter the family brand (which, in any case, was acquired by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in 2000). And in January, Ms. Pucci released her first collection on DressX, a retail platform for digital-only clothes.
Called Marea, the collection featured garments that shimmer like fish scales, undulating algae-like hemlines and gowns produced from minute digital seashells. Now it is set to be part of Crypto Fashion Week, a weeklong event in March dedicated to blockchain-powered digital fashion.
“It’s rare for someone so junior to have creative carte blanche,” Ms. Pucci said of the appeal of working with DressX, rather than a traditional atelier. In the real world, “it’s almost impossible to create something completely new as a young designer,” as costs and small production runs hinder you.
This spring FouLara, Ms. Pucci’s scarf brand, plans to debut an NFT minting service to enable users to design and mint custom NFT prints.
Laudomia Pucci said she was thrilled that Larissa was trying something that resonated with her and her generation — and that she believes Emilio Pucci would have looked fondly on it, too. “It’s needed in Italy,” she said. “We must look ahead, not only to our great past.”
Her daughter agreed. “If you hail from a background that has so much, you either follow in the footsteps or try to carve out your own identity,” Ms. Pucci said. “Otherwise, it’s overbearing. I can only reimagine my legacy; I can’t escape it.”