Highsnobiety / Yves Borgwardt

Italy’s importance in the history of fashion truly cannot be understated. You would have to have lived under a rock your entire life not to be even vaguely familiar with the broad lineage of Italian brands, designers, fashion houses and high-end labels that have each contributed to the shape of style today.

What’s more, the story goes beyond the Italian fashion brands themselves. Even in the 21st century, Italian manufacturing continues to be revered as some of the highest quality in the world, with countless family-owned businesses producing garments for high-end clothing brands including Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Paul Smith, and a long list of others. Put simply, fashion runs in Italian blood.

That said, the sheer scope of Italian fashion, combined with the mythology surrounding many of its most famous players, has created a world that often feels impossible to grasp from the outside. Perhaps you know the names, but not their stories. Or maybe you’re familiar with iconic designs but don’t know where they fit in the bigger picture.

Whatever your level of knowledge, there are probably dozens of elements to your style of dress that lead, one way or another, back to the Italian fashion houses. With that in mind, here’s a comprehensive guide to the essential Italian designer brands and how each of them made their name.

Bottega Veneta

Translating roughly to “Venetian Workshop” or “Venetian Atelier,” Bottega Veneta is a luxury Italian brand founded in 1966 by Michele Taddei and Renzo Zengiaro, specializing in premium leather goods and accessories.

Although the label now produces entire clothing collections for both men and women, it is undoubtedly best known for its “intrecciato” leather, an intricate, hand-woven technique that cross-hatches leather or suede to create a textured checkerboard pattern.

Faced with falling sales toward the end of the 20th century, the brand actually experimented with different forms of branding, including a large “BV” insignia, but its distinctive intrecciato has proven to be its greatest trademark and is now the sole external indicator of the Bottega Veneta brand.

This subtle approach to luxury branding is something that Vogue highlights as an example of “stealth wealth”: covert consumption of luxury without necessarily being showy about it. Regardless, Bottega Veneta is a perfect case study in a practice that has defined many of the world’s most successful high-end clothing brands: finding a unique aesthetic and taking total ownership of it.

Valentino

What to say about Valentino Garavani? A one-man fashion powerhouse, the designer studied fashion from an early age, eventually pursuing a formal education in Paris. In 1960, he returned to Rome to open his own fashion house and channeled the grandiose, opulent nature of the Parisian fashion houses into his own distinctly Italian brand.

Valentino made his name with the distinct shade of red he used for most of his dresses, to the point it became known as “Valentino Red.” In the 50 years that followed, Valentino built an empire, establishing the Valentino brand as a red carpet staple with countless celebrity fans.

If Italian designer brands have a reputation for being ostentatious, it’s thanks to Valentino Garavani.

 Versace

If Valentino is ostentatious and Dolce & Gabbana is glamorous, then the house of Versace can only be described — in the best way possible — as brash and audacious.

Founded in 1978 by Gianni Versace, the Italian brand encapsulates everything we have come to imagine about luxury. This is a brand that looks expensive, feels expensive, and is — you guessed it! — expensive. Versace is known for its bright colors, bold patterns, and vibrant graphics. Even the use of Medusa in the brand’s logo draws on the Greek mythological character and her ability to completely consume whoever looked at her.

After Gianni Versace’s murder in 1997, Donatella Versace took over as the label’s creative director and has come to embody everything about the brand with her own larger-than-life style. The brand has continued to thrive in recent years, and, thanks to its ethos of wealth and hedonism, has become one of the most mentioned luxury clothing brands in rap lyrics, Migos or otherwise.

It’s also worth noting that Versace is one of very few high-end brands that remains majority-owned by its founding family. Fashion has always been full of drama, but the House of Versace truly is a dynasty.

Moschino

Before we go any further, let’s get one thing straight: it’s pronounced “mos-KEY-no.” Founded in 1983 by Franco Moschino, the Italian brand has been one of the biggest influences on contemporary fashion as we know it.

Deviating from the typically insular and hierarchical notion of high fashion that so many of us have in our heads, Moschino embraced popular culture and everyday iconography in a way that nobody had thought to do before. Pop art, cultural ephemera, corporate branding, comic books, and cuddly toys were all rich sources of inspiration for the Moschino brand.

The label was notably shouted out alongside a number of other brands by Notorious B.I.G. in “Hypnotize,” and in the late ’90s, its all-over print jeans, flashy graphics, and big logos became mainstays of the UK club scene (alongside the equally glamorous Gucci and Versace), cementing a strange connection between high-fashion Italian brands and street-level culture that has granted Moschino an enduring essence of authenticity.

In 2013, the equally quirky designer Jeremy Scott took over as the brand’s creative director, bringing his own next-level take on contemporary culture to a revered Italian fashion house. Love him or hate him, it’s pretty much a match made in heaven.

Gucci

Founded in 1921 by Guccio Gucci, the label is one of the oldest Italian clothing brands going. Gucci founded his luggage label after being inspired by the luxury lifestyles of people he met while working in the Paris and London hotel trade. Combining this aesthetic with the skilled local craftsmanship of Tuscany, the company quickly became popular with the Italian gentry and international shoppers who would visit his bottega.

Gucci also proved popular with the equestrian community, which inspired the label’s distinctive metal “horse bit” logo. In the decades that followed, the brand’s blend of quintessential luxury and Italian flare made it a mainstay of Hollywood fashion. In 1994, Tom Ford took over as creative director, injecting his own fearless approach into the brand.

In recent years, with Alessandro Michele at the brand’s creative helm, Gucci has reinvigorated its identity even further, embracing its popularity among younger consumers and celebrating an eccentricity rarely seen from a high-fashion institution. With its iconic green and red stripes, G monogram and whimsical air, there’s just something about Gucci that gives everything a touch more class.

Fendi

The origin of Fendi can be traced back to 1925. Husband and wife Edoardo and Adele Fendi founded the label as a fur and leather goods shop in Rome. Although you might be most familiar with Fendi’s distinctive double-F monogram, it is revered as one of the global authorities on fur and renowned for its pioneering work in the field.

In the ’40s, the next generation of the Fendi family — five sisters Paola, Anna, Franca, Carla, and Alda — took over and began injecting a new, youthful perspective. In the ’60s, Karl Lagerfeld joined the label and pushed reinvention and experimentation, redefining furs that had fallen out of favor with the brand’s wealthy clientele and bringing a contemporary perspective to the historic brand.

By the ’90s, a growing network of family members began to put strain on the label, and the brand was sold to LVMH. Sadly, Lagerfeld passed away early in 2019, but the brand continues to carry its classic identity of Italian style, empowered by decades of knowledge.

Giorgio Armani

Surely a label that needs no introduction, the Giorgio Armani name is one that immediately conjures images of razor-sharp black suits, slick leather goods, and the tasteful extravagance that only Italian clothing brands can create.

Armani started his fashion empire in 1975, rooting his design vision in everyday people and the style of the streets. Such an approach has proved popular with fashion fans of all demographics, and now the brand has an extensive roster of diffusion labels, including Emporio Armani, Armani Exchange, EA7, and Armani Jeans.

Like Versace, the Armani empire remains privately owned, which is actually quite poetic; if Versace is an exercise in Italian glamor, then Armani is an exercise in Italian class — toned-down, softly spoken, effortlessly cool, but still making all the necessary statements.

 Prada

Prada, like many others, has its roots in luxury leather luggage goods. Founded in 1913 by Mario Prada, the house quickly experienced meteoric success, and in 1919 was confirmed as an official supplier to the Italian royal household. This was signified by the iconic knotted rope that frames the label’s logo.

Prada entered a new phase throughout the ’70s when Mario Prada’s granddaughter Miuccia inherited the label, injecting new energy and a modern perspective into the brand (as is often the case with historic houses). Over the next four decades, Prada cemented its brand as a symbol of timeless, effortless chic, embodied by understated branding and minimalist designs.

One of the label’s signature motifs is its use of Saffiano leather, a textured leather printed with a cross-hatch pattern that is both hard-wearing and visually appealing. As for clothing designs, Prada has shown an eccentric flair in recent years, creating collections that ooze with color, patterns, and flashy designs. However, this eccentricity is always tempered by a certain class that keeps everything in order.

Miu Miu

Founded in 1993 by Miuccia Prada as an offshoot of Prada, Miu Miu (pronounced “mew-mew”) takes its name from Miuccia’s family nickname and is undoubtedly the youthful, exuberant yin to Prada’s timeless, storied yang.

Best known for its ready-to-wear and handbag collections, Miu Miu is never short of color and energy, and has an eccentric disregard for the rules, as is often seen in Japanese fashion. The Italian brand disregards minimal branding and softly spoken lines, embracing chains, sequins, fur, gold, splashes of color, and anything guaranteed to turn heads.

That Miuccia Prada can move effortlessly between two polarized styles is nothing short of incredible, and she is no small part of what makes both of these Italian designer brands so iconic.

 Marni

Marni, founded in 1994 by Consuelo Castiglioni, is a worthy mention despite its relative youth, given its comparatively rapid rise to success.

The brand started out using the family’s fur business as an avenue to experiment with fur and textiles, but now creates full collections, including ready-to-wear, luggage, jewelry, and accessories. Most noteworthy are the brand’s footwear designs, which blend timeless shoe styles with a unique flair.

Few luxury clothing brands have created a sneaker as compelling as the aptly named Marni’s Sneaker (even if it does borrow pretty heavily from a certain adidas EQT silhouette). However, the absolute king has to be the kilted derby shoes, which, depending on how they’re styled, can form part of any look, from classic to cute.

Marcelo Burlon

Marcelo Burlon is unquestionably one of the leading names in the new generation of Italian clothing brands, with bold, geometric graphics and slimline contemporary cuts, as demonstrated in his collaborations with celebrities Pusha-T and LeBron James.

Although the Italian brand only produces T-shirts, sweats, and accessories, Burlon has established a distinctive aesthetic that incorporates animals, camouflage, and Patagonian symbols into striking graphic designs.

It could be argued that Burlon’s success in a country known for its historic factories and age-old production techniques highlights fashion’s evolution over the past two decades. It’s a world no longer controlled by a few dozen families, opening up instead to anyone with a unique perspective and fresh ideas.

Palm Angels

Although the emerging Italian brand is still in its infancy, Palm Angels is quickly turning heads. Originally a photography project for Francesco Ragazzi (better known for his work as the art director of Moncler), the label takes inspiration from the skateboarders of Venice and Manhattan Beaches in LA, after which the project is named.

Earlier collections left a lot to be desired, but the brand has developed quickly and successfully channeled stylistic elements similar to those of its contemporaries, including extended cuts, camouflage patterns, and a fearless blend of streetwear, high fashion, and contemporary style.

Part-grunge, part-catwalk, part-Dogtown — the label has laid itself out as one to watch in the years ahead.

 Sunnei

Launched in 2013 by Loris Messina and Simone Rizzo, Sunnei is a young Italian brand in every sense. The designs are modern, the cuts are contemporary, and you can see the influence of streetwear and street culture throughout the brand’s collections.

Messina and Rizzo have made no secret of their desire to shake up an Italian fashion landscape dominated by historic houses and cultural dogma, and their oversized fits and tracksuits do exactly that in a country dominated by silks, furs, and luxury fabrics.

The aesthetic is not dissimilar to those of Gosha Rubchinskiy or A-COLD-WALL*, but there’s also a mix of art and culture in every piece that would look at home among the collections of Scandinavian brands such as Soulland or Wood Wood. This isn’t Italian opulence or rustic charm, it’s laid-back cool done very well.

 Moncler

I know what you’re thinking: Moncler is French, right? This is true: the brand’s name is an abbreviation of village near Grenoble, Monestier-de-Clermont, and it’s difficult to think of Moncler without imagining well-heeled French families skiing in the Alps.

However, Moncler was bought out in 2003 by Remo Ruffini, and it was Ruffini who really pushed Moncler from high-end outdoor brand to an iconic symbol of the great outdoors.

As such, you can’t really talk about revered French master of the quilted jacket, Moncler, without also talking about the distinctly Italian flare that brought Moncler to collaborations with Thom Browne, OFF-WHITE, Pharrell Williams, and FriendsWithYou.

FILA

The brand was acquired in full by its South Korean subsidiary in 2007, yet FILA is one of the oldest (and largest) Italian sportswear brands, with a rich history to go with it.

For its first few decades, the brand made mountaineering equipment. However, in the ’70s it ventured into the world of tennis and quickly found comfort in what would come to be known as the sportswear industry. Although the brand might have fallen out of favor with the streetwear crowd, FILA’s name in the late ’80s and early ’90s was synonymous with wealth.

Capitalizing on its Italian roots and a then-untapped well of potential in “luxury sportswear,” FILA was arguably one of the first companies to bring high-fashion prices to street-level fashion, and this formula made it a popular choice among rappers, dealers, and all the other usual suspects.

Its subsequent journey from upper echelons to affordable alternative is a fascinating one, and Gary Warnett’s article on the subject is a must-read for streetwear historians.

Sergio Tacchini

Another classic Italian brand that fell by the wayside, Sergio Tacchini has credible, authentic roots. Started in the late ’60s by the professional tennis player of the same name, the label was an endeavor to shake up tennis’ boring dress codes with exciting colors and new materials. As the brand’s distinctively high-fashion logo suggests, the brand brought a touch of class and luxury to sportswear.

During the heyday of European football’s casuals culture in the ’80s, the Italian brand was highly coveted. As the story goes, football fans who traveled to Europe to support their teams were deemed a cut above the home supporters. When they traveled to Italian cities for a match, they’d shoplift their favorite Italian sportswear from shop owners who were completely unprepared for gangs of 30+ football hooligans fired up for a game.

They say any publicity is good publicity, and if people are risking arrest in a foreign country just to possess your clothes, you must be doing something right. In 2007, the brand declared bankruptcy and was sold to a Hong Kong businessman. Perhaps the brand’s more recent collaboration with Gosha Rubchinskiy will open it up to a new generation of consumers, reinvigorating the classic casuals style that made Sergio Tacchini a symbol of Italian sportswear.

Diesel

Founded in 1976 by Renzo Rosso and Adriano Goldschmied, Diesel is a premium Italian brand that specializes in Italian-made denim. Although it’s arguably one of the most familiar names in fashion, the true identity of Diesel is a bit of a mystery, and this is no accident.

Over its history, the brand has built a reputation through its esoteric and absurd advertising campaigns that speak more about philosophy and conceptual thinking than clothing. At its essence, Diesel makes menswear and womenswear with subtle stylistic twists. Classic wardrobe essentials are reinvented with an eccentric perspective and there’s a heavy emphasis on individuality and self-expression.

The result is an Italian brand that channels the famous Groucho Marx quote: “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” Pure anti-everything.

Stone Island / C.P. Company

When many of us think of Italian high-end brands, we imagine luxurious silks, wools, leathers, and furs — quintessential Italian opulence. It’s precisely this association that makes Massimo Osti’s two clothing labels such fascinating anomalies.

Surely one of the most under-celebrated figures in contemporary menswear design, Osti’s creative process is truly unparalleled, and his approach to fabric has been described as less tailoring than “creating a recipe.” Unique textile blends, pioneering experimentations in production, and truly left-field thinking has seen Stone Island and C.P. Company produce some of the most fascinating clothing ever seen, including jackets that change color according to the temperature, “self-healing” fabrics, and cotton fabric bonded to stainless steel.

C.P. Company was launched in 1978 and was followed by Stone Island in 1982. Both pushed the envelope in terms of form, fashion, and functionality. Again, the era’s football casuals were fond of Stone Island’s stunning, immaculately designed, hyper-technical gear, which kept them warm on the terraces and dry on the walk back to the railway station.

Recent years have seen Stone Island expand into the US and claim its hard-earned streetwear kudos through collaborations with Supreme and Nike, and Stone Island and C.P. Company’s significance in terms of groundbreaking fashion design cannot be overstated.

Loro Piana

It’s one thing to master a particular style or aesthetic, it’s another to master a textile itself. Like Scotland’s Harrison tweed, John Smedley’s Sea Island cotton, or Horween’s tanned leathers, Loro Piana is the absolute authority on the very finest wools, most famously merino wool and cashmere.

The brand produces an extensive range of its own designs, and they’re just as you’d expect: classic, unfettered, timeless clothing. However, the Italian textile house also supplies its fabrics to many other brands. In the streetwear world, Supreme has made regular use of Loro Piana wool in its more premium releases, while Noah has used the brand’s luxurious, humanely collected baby camel wool to produce the ultimate baller garment: a $600 Loro Piana hooded sweatshirt.

The Loro Piana logo is a seal of quality in itself — there is simply no such thing as a poor-quality Loro Piana garment.

Vibram

Getty Images / Joe Raedle

Far from a fashion label, Vibram (pronounced “Vee-bram”) is a manufacturer of rubber. More specifically, highly durable rubber for use in high-intensity performance footwear such as mountaineering and work boots.

Vitale Bramani founded his company in 1935 after the deaths of six friends out climbing, and he’s credited as creating the first rubber “lug” sole, and there’s a certain level of gravitas that comes with being the very first. Much like Loro Piana with wool, a Vibram logo on your sole is a mark of quality. The brand is regularly used by a number of high-end brands, most notably, Hiroki Nakamura’s visvim.

For dads buying a new pair of hiking boots, this Italian brand provides reassurance that the shoes will be up to the task ahead. For style aficionados, it’s a reassurance that a hefty price tag is at least partly justified.

Missoni

The master of Italian knitwear, Missoni is a truly iconic Italian brand that possesses a very particular aesthetic. Long story short, Missoni is the proud master of the zigzag and its vibrant, multicolored scarves are a true wardrobe essential for any fan of classic style.

The Italian brand is known for its intricate, beautiful knits that flow across the entire color spectrum and yet somehow still look extremely tasteful. The brand was founded in 1953 as a family business and remains so to this day.

Versace might know how to knock you to the floor with color and glamor, but Missoni uses those same ingredients to make truly visually arresting pieces. If you’re the kind of person to walk through a store rubbing each fabric between your fingers and thumb, examining each weave, avoid wandering into the Missoni section — you might never leave.

RETROSUPERFUTURE

Founded in Milan in 2007 by Daniel Beckerman, RETROSUPERFUTURE’s colorful acetate sunglasses have become increasingly popular over the years. Originally focusing on classic and clean silhouettes, RETROSUPERFUTURE started including more colorful and cutting-edge shapes over time. Silhouettes such as the Flat Top, Ciccio, América, and more feminine models the Lucia and Drew have become staples of each collection.

“All the companies that were in the market were developing boring eyewear,” says Beckerman. “I kept looking at all the experimental independent clothing brands and wondered why no one had yet dared to develop a quirky, bold line of eyewear. I wanted to design sunglasses that all my friends would love to wear: fresh, hip, and stylish, without necessarily compromising the quality.”

Since its inception, RETROSUPERFUTURE’s mission has been to offer high-quality eyewear with recognizable, distinctive designs at an affordable price. And judging by the selection on the brand’s website, RETROSUPERFUTURE has been acing it.

United Standard

United Standard was founded in 2015, producing menswear with strong graphics and highly technical materials. Differing from its competitors, United Standard’s website looks like something straight from the ’90s, with purposely misplaced graphics and images that make the webpage look like a Geocities website. Adding to the lo-fi vibe, despite the brand being available at a few select online retailers, United Standard’s webstore is just an authenticated eBay store.

The Italian brand’s SS18 collection was loaded with technical details and practical sportswear, with some tops sporting QR code prints on the front and motorsport-inspired details on the sleeves. United Standard founder Giorgio Di Salvo is a car lover and has even directed a short movie, The Malware, to represent the brand’s mood and inspirations — cars, mystery, and futurism.

Now that you’re done with Italian fashion brands, be sure to check out Japanese clothing brands and German clothing brands

If you’re looking for a more sporty look, here are some athleisure brands you should know.

  • Main Image:Yves Borgwardt
Words by Gregk Foley
Contributor

Gregk Foley is a writer based in Berlin whose work explores the intersections of style, culture, politics and identity.

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