February 25, 2024

It’s hard to miss the presence of Italian brands at the Chicago Collective. More than 62 brands will be making the trip to the Midwest in a quest to increase their presence in American stores and they’re clustered in a section next to a popular lounge.

But while the Italian flags adorning the booths, the complimentary espresso in the morning and Italian cocktails and munchies in the afternoon may look familiar, there will be one significant change this year. Alessio Nanni will be front and center at the show as the new head of fashion and beauty for the Italian Trade Agency, the governmental agency that supports the business development of Italian companies abroad. He succeeded Paola Guida, whose term had expired.

The Italian section at the Chicago Collective.

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While his face may be new to attendees, Nanni, a native of Rome, has amassed a wealth of experience in the American fashion and beauty market over the course of his career.

“I arrived in September in New York,” he said. “Before coming there, I dealt with the beauty industry and had a background in international relations. I was intrigued and excited to take up this position because it combines all my interests for creative things. It’s a position I had dreamed of.”

Although moving to New York City, where the ITA is based, presents some challenges, Nanni has already settled in and is ready to make his mark. “When you visit as a tourist, New York is a dream,” he said. “But living here, getting acquainted to the city can be quite tough and intimidating at first. But now it’s getting better. I love my colleagues, I love my team. I love the work and I’m ready to kick off the new season of fashion events.”

He said his goal is to continue to support existing events such as the Chicago Collective, Cabana or Coterie trade shows where he will continue to promote the inherent expertise of Italian brands. But beyond that, he will also seek to “highlight the new voices of Italy” to the American market. “We have tradition, we have history — that’s true. But I want to introduce some other ideas and designers that have something to say.”

At the Chicago show, 10 new brands will be offered this season. “There are the brands that exhibit every year but then there are new additions so there is something to discover every season,” he said.

And being part of the group has proven successful to the Italian participants over the years, Nanni said. “They know when they go to Chicago, they’re participating in a curated, intimate event that can guarantee them the presence of a wide range of buyers.”

The way the process works, he explains, is that brands need to apply to participate in each event. When the link goes live on the ITA website, company executives will be perched at the computer in the middle of the night for a chance to register, since acceptance is first-come, first-served. And in a show like Chicago, where there is only space for 62 brands, the competition is fierce.

That being said, the ITA attempts to bring a cross section of categories to the show, ranging from footwear and leather goods to knitwear and tailored clothing. Among the most requested categories, he said, are shirts and tailoring, and interest in loungewear and knitwear is also increasing. “Consumer habits are changing so we want to make retailers aware of what we have to offer,” he said. “Fast fashion is decreasing so we want to educate companies about the new consumer vision that is in lockstep with Italy.

“Italian brands take great honor in their craft,” he continued. “While other consumer brands around the world perpetually focus on making goods faster and cheaper, Italian brands respect their heritage and artisans and devote their entire focus to quality, design and innovation. It’s a different type of company culture that we are proud to celebrate.”

Italian brands at Chicago Collective.

Some 62 brands will show their collections at the trade show.

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He added that the brands that have historically been the most successful are those with a story to tell, whether it’s heritage or the quality and materials used in production. The ITA is working with the brands to educate them on how to best promote themselves in this new market. “We want to try and showcase them in the U.S. and find the right way to give them a voice,” he said.

It makes sense that the Italian brands would want to gain a foothold in the U.S. market. Italy is the fourth largest importer in the fashion sector and although the overall softening of the U.S. economy saw a slight contraction in the first nine months, with Italian imports dipping 2.4 percent, the country nevertheless remained the top U.S. supplier of leather and furs, it ranked second in eyewear and leather goods, and third in footwear.

To further expand its reach in the U.S., the organization is also introducing a new section on its website called ExtraITAStyle, a digital platform with tools designed to help American retailers discover more than 70 other Italian brands online.

While Nanni is spearheading the fashion and beauty section of the ITA, his is not the only new face that will be in Chicago. The show will also mark the introduction of Erica Di Giovancarlo as the country’s new trade commissioner. She succeeds Antonino Laspina and marks the first woman to hold that position.

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