High fashion in Italy faces “strange,” uncertain times
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With formal events postponed and people working from home across the globe, Italy’s high-fashion industry is in flux. The Italian government has added more restrictions on day-to-day life in response to a surge of COVID-19 cases, all of which spells trouble for the Italian artisans caught in the middle.
Raffaella Grosso runs an embroidery company in Milan, where she and her staff produce designs for fashion houses like Armani, Versace and Prada. Grosso spoke with “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal about how the pandemic has affected her business. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: I should tell people listening to this that you and I had an interview scheduled last week. We had some scheduling issues. It didn’t happen. But in a way, that’s good, because I think the interview we’re doing now, this week, with the new announcements in Italy and the virus situation in Europe, are quite a big change from the way things were last week.
Raffaella Grasso: Yes, they are changing very fast now, things are getting a little bit worse. And so everything is changing day by day. We are getting news from the government, taking new measures to try and stop this virus.
Ryssdal: It has been, I’m sure, difficult for your business the past seven, eight months now. What do you expect it’s going to be like from here to the end of the year, do you think?
Grasso: That’s a good question. That’s very hard to answer. We are facing a very strange moment now. Everybody’s still trying to understand how to proceed in the next month, if it’s a good idea to produce. And that’s a problem for us, because we are not direct sellers. And so we have to follow our clients and see what they do.
Ryssdal: How worried are you for the Italian fashion industry with not just this pandemic, but also globalization and what it’s meaning for what you do?
Grasso: We do hand embroidery, not machines, for all the big names of Italian fashion and some also foreigners’ ones. And this last year, there’s great competition with foreign competitors. Our prices, obviously, are higher. In this period, some of our customers came back because to go to our competitors is difficult now because they’re abroad. And we have faced a strange moment when everybody’s coming back and telling us, “Well, we want to do “made in Italy.” So we want to work with you more than before, but your prices are too high. So you have to reduce prices because we are used to [paying] less.” And they want to pay less even if we are Italian.
Ryssdal: A bigger question about Milan and northern Italy: What’s the mood? I mean, I don’t imagine you can go down now and have a cup of coffee or a pastry or something and talk to people, right?
Grasso: Well, last week, it was possible. You had to stop very early in the afternoon, but it was not so bad. Now it’s getting back to the worst period that we faced in February and March and April when we were completely closed, and that was the worst period. Now, it’s something that is in between. Obviously, it’s not safe, but it’s not so bad. But you feel that everybody, everything around you is feeling unsafe, is feeling scared, and so you are scared, too. That’s a bad sensation.
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