Inside the Youth Culture Renaissance of Traditional Italian Tailoring

·4 min read

It was forecasted that “hot vax summer” in New York — when newly vaccinated young people emerged from more than a year of isolation — would herald a moment of aesthetic excess and opulence in fashion.

And while some shoppers — particularly those college-aged and younger — did spring for that kind of frosted-pink-and-sequined Y2K revival, there was another, more minimal current of style that began circulating. Welcome to the unexpected renaissance of Italian tailoring.

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Old formfitting suits, wafer-thin trenchcoats, logoed T-shirts, loafers, unique knitwear and hip-slung pleated trousers by labels like Giorgio Armani, Jill Sander, Gianfranco Ferré, Missoni and Moschino are finding a new generation of fans on the secondhand market and are flying out of the hands of some of vintage’s most trend-setting dealers. Polished, unrestrictive and versatile, these clothes — particularly designs produced in the 1990s and early 2000s — are becoming something of an antidote to the brazen social media-made fashions of the last 10 years.

“This thing of Instagrammable clothes and shoes that are so photogenic but you cannot walk an inch in them, I just think that’s such an unsustainable place for fashion to be. I think people are living this kind of real-life experience now and that fantasy doesn’t hold up. People are looking for real-world clothes,” said Zoë Zissovici, whose deals mostly Italian vintage from the cult Instagram account Maj Kiosk.

Zissovici, originally from Ithaca, N.Y., is based in Rome and part of a new generation of American vintage dealers who relocated to Italy to source and sell online to U.S. audiences. She, as well as other similar dealers, release vintage in themed “drops” and ship clothing in bulk to a U.S.-based intermediate employee, who then sends individual orders to shoppers on the ground here. In the Italian tailoring tradition, much of the clothing she sells in summer is made of lightweight cotton, linen and silk, while colder months see heavier wool and satin pieces.

A vintage Gianfranco Ferre look sold by The Zoo.
A vintage Gianfranco Ferre look sold by The Zoo.

“Most of my clients are in the U.S. and mostly in N.Y. I think in Italy there is not as much a culture of buying vintage. I’ve done pop-ups here and there is a hesitation. It doesn’t have the same hold as in America,” she said.

Another similar Italy-based Instagram dealer, called The Zoo, is led by California native Christine Messersmith and business partner Will Howell-Jackson, originally from England. They, too, are sourcing vintage suits, separates and novelty items from Italy’s vast landscape of open-air secondhand markets — where the supply, at present, feels relatively unlimited.

“What’s happened is that 40- and 50-year-old women are putting all this Y2K stuff up for consignment. I think people think it’s really ugly so there is a lot of stuff available [for us to buy],” said Howell-Jackson.

Their clients, also mostly younger shoppers based in the U.S., “are over the aggressiveness of culture in general and are trying to minimize their lives and make sense of it,” Messersmith said of the shift toward more streamlined styles.

While the duo sells a lot of items from Blumarine, Roberto Cavalli and other small Italian labels, it is Armani that is the consistent top seller among American shoppers. “A tailored piece by Armani is so timeless it’s a uniform. Armani is something that will sell no matter what,” added Howell-Jackson. The Zoo recently took on a roster of U.S.-based vintage shops to whom they ship bulk wholesale orders of Italian-sourced vintage — a new business strategy they created considering the demand here for old-school Italian fits.

For a case-in-point, head to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the boutique Chickee’s Vintage — frequented by Harry Styles and Zoë Kravitz — has a wall of vintage Italian slacks that has become something of a new uniform destination. Shop owner Kathleen Sorbara attributes this to a post-COVID-19 cultural shift toward comfort and simplicity.

“I think now trends are moving so quickly and people are going back to just the basics and minimalism and personal style. Armani specifically is just full of classic silhouettes, anywhere from dresses to pants or a button-down, you just can’t go wrong,” she said.

Last week, her store released a new drop of vintage Armani suits, dresses and T-shirts to its web shop — with much of it selling out the same day.

“It’s Y2K style, but not in a Depop-y kind of way,” Sorbara said, referencing the brazen, Paris Hilton-type early-2000s styles circulating in more mainstream vintage shopping circles. “Because that kind of Y2K is becoming so popular, the counterculture is these luxury brands from that era. It’s the other side of the coin.”

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