Marco De Vincenzo’s HQ occupies the penthouse of one of Milan’s most striking postwar buildings, the Vela building, built in the mid 1950’s. It’s a huge, unadorned, eerily empty glass-walled white space: the high-fashion take on a start-up. Text by Jesse Brouns.
We meet the designer one day after Fendi’s men’s show, which coincided with the passing away of Carla Fendi, one of the legendary five sisters behind the Roman brand. Marco De Vincenzo has worked with Fendi for 17 years, designing accessories with Sylvia Fendi for the women’s line. “Carla was incredible. She was a communicator, and in love with the brand. Fendi was always on her mind, until the very end. She was a really nice person.”
Marco De Vincenzo grew up in Sicily and moved to Rome when he was 18. Three years later he graduated, and immediately got a job at Fendi. He worked with Frida Giannini and Alessandro Michele, at the time both were assisting Sylvia. De Vincenzo started working on leather goods, though he dreamt of designing ready to wear. “I accepted leather, because Fendi was a great brand and I loved what they were doing.” The Baguette bag - one of the first it-bags, designed in 1995 five years before De Vincenzo joined Fendi - was booming.
When Frida Giannini and Alessandro Michele moved to Gucci in 2015, Sylvia Fendi decided to invest in Marco De Vincenzo. “She thought, okay, I don’t need a senior designer, but I think we can do a beautiful job together. She was the first to believe in me.”
After almost ten years designing Fendi bags, De Vincenzo, then thirty, realized he wanted to fulfill his dream and design ready-to-wear fashion. He invited Sylvia Fendi for lunch. ‘I said that I want to change something in my life and start my own brand.’ Sylvia immediately understood that my creativity was compromised by my frustration. She said that she hoped that I would stay with Fendi and that I could combine both jobs.”
So eight years ago De Vincenzo started making some dresses with a dressmaker, a French girl. “I’m a disaster when I try to cut something (laughing). And the girl said, sure, let’s try this. After making ten pieces I understood that I had a great passion for designing clothes, but I also realized I was missing something: a way to say: ‘Hello… I’m here.’ I met a French PR guy, Angelo Sensini, who was working with jewelry designer Delfina Delettrez, Sylvia’s daughter. He suggested I show a few pieces during the Parisian haute couture week. I left Rome with two suitcases filled with dresses. It’s the typical fashion story: traveling with designs to Paris and hoping that everything will happen (more laughs). In five days we found a venue and printed invitations.
I remember the venue was quite empty. It was difficult to convince people to go see a show by an unknown Italian. But that day was the most important day of my life. There may have been a few people, but they were the right people: The Herald Tribune, Women’s Wear Daily, Vogue.
“The reviews were excellent and I understood that my name was no longer under the radar. I also realized that I stood nowhere when it came to production and delivery. It was still only myself and my dressmaker in Rome. The first three years I suffered a lot. Some stores wanted to order, but I couldn’t deliver. After those initial years it seemed as I had destroyed everything. People were waiting for a big step, but I couldn’t deliver. It was a disaster. It felt as if I was losing my baby.
“Luckily at LVMH they knew my name because I had been working with them so long as part of the Fendi team. I had a meeting with (LVMH CEO) Bernard Arnault, who told me I couldn’t stop now, that my project was great and people really love my work. Finally adding that maybe LVMH could help (smiles). And it was true, they could help. Even if their investment was not that big (the luxury group behind Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and other brands, owns 45 percent of his company’s capital, JB), it meant everything to me. They gave me credibility with buyers.”
“In a sense I still run a young company. People tend to think that under the wings of LVMH everything is possible. It might be true for their big brands, but not for an emerging one like mine. But at least I’m able to express my vision every season.
“At times it seems that fashion is only about the big brands, but right now, people are interested in smaller designers again, waiting for new things. People everywhere are focused on things that are not coming from Gucci or Prada, and that is very nice.
“Something has changed especially in Italy. Our country is never the first. It is always the last. But I feel that Italy is finally understanding that it’s important to recharge its fashion industry with new brands. The opportunities for young designers now are much better compared to when I started. When I started it was impossible. You had to fight for everything. No one was interested in working with young designers. They wanted to make money. A few years ago I was considering showing my collections in Paris however now Milan is a good city for a designer to work and show. The press is excited again which may or may not have something to do with the success of Gucci. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that if you present a collection and people are coming.
“Today I’m trying to consolidate everything I’ve started. I still enjoy my work at Fendi. It has been a great school, but even now it’s nice to move between a place that has no limits and a place that has limits everywhere, all the time. Working on something small is nice because you are free to think differently. Of course, you don’t have the visibility, the power of a Gucci so you have to find other ways. The pricing is a major challenge. Stores don’t always understand that as a designer you want your clothes to be high quality. Young brands are often a way for stores to make easy money because they pay a lot to have Gucci, Prada and Céline.
“I believe a lot in product. I’m not a PR specialist or a stylist. I’m a designer: I like to design a collection. I like to design things that are beautiful and that increase in value over time. Fashion is very seasonal, but what is interesting to me is to collect things, built your wardrobe and see that things can become interesting again then years later. It’s like seeing the wardrobe of an old lady and you take a piece of Courrèges or Balenciaga. Today these ‘old clothes’ may not be modern, but they’re still beautiful, and they are a sign of the moment when they were made.”