Haute couture in Italy faces “strange” and uncertain times


With official events postponed and people working from home across the world, the Italian haute couture industry is changing. The Italian government has added more restrictions on daily life in response to a wave of COVID-19 cases, creating problems for Italian artisans caught in the middle.

Raffaella Grosso runs an embroidery business in Milan, where she and her team 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 that you and I had an interview scheduled for last week. We had 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, is a pretty big change from the last week.

Raphaëlle Grasso: Yes, they are changing very fast now, things are getting a bit worse. And so everything changes from day to day. We are receiving news from the government taking further steps to try to stop this virus.

Ryssdal: It has been, I am sure, difficult for your business for the past seven, eight months now. What do you think it’s going to be by the end of the year, do you think?

Grasso: It’s a good question. It’s very difficult to answer. We are now living through a very strange time. Everyone is still trying to figure out how to do it next month, if it’s a good idea to produce. And this is a problem for us because we are not direct sellers. So we have to follow our customers and see what they are doing.

Ryssdal: How worried are you for the Italian fashion industry with not only this pandemic but also globalization and what it means for what you do?

Grasso: We do hand embroidery, not machine embroidery, for all the big names in Italian fashion and some also from abroad. And this last year, there is a big competition with foreign competitors. Our prices, of course, are higher. In this period, some of our customers have come back because going to our competitors is difficult now because they are abroad. And we were faced with a strange moment where everyone comes back and says to 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. We must therefore lower the prices because we are used to [paying] less. ”And they want to pay less, even though we are Italian.

Ryssdal: A bigger question about Milan and northern Italy: what’s the vibe? I mean, I can’t imagine you could come down now and have a cup of coffee or a pastry or something and talk to people, can you?

Grasso: Well, last week it was possible. You had to stop very early in the afternoon, but it wasn’t that bad. Now we are going back to the worst time we have faced in February, March and April when we were completely closed, and that was the worst time. Now it’s something that is in between. Obviously, it’s not sure, but it’s not that bad. But you feel that everyone, everything around you does not feel safe, is afraid, and therefore you are also afraid. It’s a bad feeling.

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