New York -based Italophiles have a new resource in town when it comes to high-end holiday shopping. The city that never sleeps welcomed the OFFICIAL Made in Italy popup store on October 19, 2016. The store brings 60+ Italian brands under its lofted roof — and 80% of those have never before been sold on U.S. soil.
The project was conceived by brothers Francesco and Alessandro Violi in 2010 as a means to celebrate the cultural patrimony of Italy’s grand artisanal traditions, and to rescue the “Made in Italy” concept from dilution. Over the past decades, the term has lost some of its cache. Legally, products may be labeled “Made in Italy” even if only two-thirds of the manufacturing processes occurs in Italy. For example, if a garment is designed and sewn in Italy, and its fabric produced in China, the garment can still be called Made in Italy. As a result, the level of quality that consumers came to associate with Italian products has diminished somewhat.
Of course, consumers who want to purchase products that are 100% Made in Italy have to be willing to pay a premium, Francesco Violi explained to me when we met in the SoHo OFFICIAL Made in Italy store on a recent Friday afternoon. The store’s open floorplan and high, vaulted ceilings are a perfect stage for the varied products on display. It’s impossible for a visitor to resist examining the jewelry, sunglasses, and clothing spread out across the store.
While it is much less cost-effective to design, manufacture, and produce each product in Italy, for these brands, it’s a matter of pride. For example, Francesco told me, one food craftsman locks himself alone in a room to make sure no one can copy his secret recipe. A shoemaker has divided manufacturing between the sexes for hundreds of years: the men create the soles and the women sew the delicate uppers. “They have an understanding of when things are done well,” Francesco said. “There’s a sense of ‘this is how we do things when it has our name on it.’” Producing a lower-quality product would bring shame upon the family name.
But the store doesn’t only sell traditional, long-established brands. It also has introduced young designers and innovative new companies. One of them, for example, creates bags entirely out of pineapple leaves.
“We live in an age of fast fashion,” Francesco said. OFFICIAL Made in Italy’s brands provide a slow alternative. Like the Slow Food movement, which originated in Rome in 1989 and is now well-known worldwide, these brands focus on quality over speed. Their products are hand-produced, and many are one of a kind. They may be five or ten times as expensive as the mass-produced goods on the racks of Zara and H&M, but they last 100 times as long. Educated consumers understand the value of the items and are willing to pay for that.
OFFICIAL Made in Italy is headquartered in Milan. Over the past five years, the start-up has grown to more than a dozen employees. It started selling products through a catalog, and opened its first ever pop-up shop in London in April 2015. In addition to displaying the company’s brands, the shop hosted a number of events and even displayed contemporary Italian artists, truly making a name for itself as a significant addition to London’s vibrant cultural scene. Future pop-up shops are planned for Tokyo, Dubai, and Monaco in upcoming years.
The store is a feast for the senses, a riot of colors and textures, with displays of dresses, sunglasses, jewelry, shoes, food products, and more. As I surveyed its offerings, I found myself deeply regretting the fact that I had already completed most of my holiday shopping. Nevertheless, I asked Alessandro to help me put together a gift guide of sorts. He recommended something for every budget. Take a look:
10 BUONI PROPOSITI:
This is the perfect gift for friends and even colleagues. Each bracelet, made of stainless steel beads, features a charm medallion with a “buono proposito,” or New Year’s resolution, written in English with the Italian translation on the back of the charm. The resolutions are fresh and sassy, and sure to make the recipient smile – like “Starting today, I’m taking off,” and “Starting today, please leave a message.” $40 each.
It’s the Blue Apron of Italian food. Each box includes seven Italian food specialties, typically from small, family-owned, artisanal producers. A box might include pasta, cookies or crackers, tomato sauce, jam, and a panettone. At the moment Eattiamo is running a holiday special: Buy a three-month gift subscription for $177 and you’ll received one box for free.
This young fashion brand pairs innovative, contemporary designs with traditional hand-sewn craftsmanship. Designer Raffaella Tarantola (Francesco Violi’s fiancé) founded the brand in collaboration with Francesco and other partners in 2015. Its shirts are simple, but with unique approaches to fit and flair. The name Bisso was chosen to draw a reference to the precious organic golden, silken thread traditionally harvested from the Pinna nobilis mollusks that live in the Mediterranean Sea. The shirts range in price from $150 to $300.
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