How did you end up working in Italy?
I’d always liked Italy – I’d learned Italian as a second language at school. That’s because I already spoke French and thought I may as well pick up another language. The grammar was similar to that of French. Italian is beautiful and musical language – and it’s also a very good language to get angry in.
In my gap year before university, I went to Florence for a year to work as a nanny. Then, as a student, I worked as a tour guide in Rome, Florence and Venice.
After that, I ended up working in marketing in London for five years. At the time, I had an old CV floating around that said I spoke Italian. A communications agency in Milan said they were looking for a managing director to run their agency. I thought, ‘They’re mad, I’m only 27, I don’t know how to be a managing director!’ But I thought to myself, if it doesn’t work out I can always come back after six months. That was 26 years ago.
More recently, I have worked for JW Thompson (an advertising agency); then last year I was headhunted and offered a job at the National Chamber of Italian Fashion (Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana).
Tell us more about your role at the Camera.
My job is to make sure that Italian brands are the most visible and the most well-known. Not just big ones but also new and emerging ones.
Milan Fashion Week is an important commercial moment that gives an opportunity for all Italian brands to make contact with buyers. So the key targets are the buyers as well as the press, who can promote different collections every season.
Part of my role is making sure that we create a future for the Italian fashion industry and focus on new and emerging talents like Stella Jean, MSGM and Chicca Lualdi.
Currently, around 70 percent of the Italian fashion business is actually abroad, so we know that Italian brands travel very well. The problem is that a lot of middle-sized and smaller brands don’t have the structure for entering new markets. That’s where the Camera can help.
In the end, I think I was chosen because the Camera wanted a global perspective – that, plus the fact that I’d already been working in Italy for a while. And, of course, I understand business, marketing and communications – including the digital side, which is becoming more and more important these days.
What’s your biggest challenge been so far?
Well, I’ve only been in the job since January! But the first challenge was going round all the fashion shows and seeing everything: first, I saw the male fashion in Florence, then I went to London Fashion Week. Now it’s Milan Fashion Week, and next I’m going to look at Paris fashion.
So, for now, the most important thing is to get to the end of the fashion season, which can be quite heavy-going.
Beyond that, my first big priority is going to be to develop our digital platform. Because fashion is a global business, digital communications are an obvious global medium. I want to create a platform that isn’t just a website but can also provide information to people – such as buyers and journalists – who want to know more about the fashion world.
You once said that fashion was fundamental to Italy’s economy. How so?
Yes, it’s an enormous part of Italy’s economy. In fact, we talk about food, fashion and furniture as the three things that characterize Italy. That’s why we have to keep the fashion industry alive, and make sure it evolves into the next stage of its development.
What was the reaction in Italy when you were offered the fashion job?
At the very beginning, my appointment created a bit of curiosity – and, in some areas, a bit of consternation. Like - ‘Can’t we find an Italian person to do the job? Why did they have to give to a foreigner?’
But the fact is that I’ve lived in Italy for 26 years, so I know Italian culture as well if I were an Italian. The fact that I’m English and also know Italian businesses very well is actually a plus. Not being inward-looking is an advantage.