Lapo Elkann, sometimes known as “Lapo of luxury”, is the 33-year-old creative consultant and fiery entrepreneur behind design classics including the Fiat 500. After his return to industrial design in 2007, after a two-year hiatus, he has been busier than ever, with collaborations across the worlds of fashion, technology, design and automotive. He talks to Pandora Lennard about his Bond tuxedo, his undying love of Ferrari and his unique take on the definition of luxury.
Portrait: Studio 88
Pandora Lennard Do you want to tell me a bit about Italia Independent?
Lapo Elkann People may not know this about me, but I am a creative entrepreneur. I have several companies in which I have a holding stake. Italia Independent is just one of these companies. It is a creative design and style brand: it brings to market products that are a mix of craftsmanship, which is what Italians do best, and technology. We try to bring the two together to talk to one another. My professional upbringing was in the automotive industry and in international relations: I was PA to Henry Kissinger and I worked on Ferrari, Maserati, and then for the Fiat Group. I worked on the launch of the Fiat 500, pushing for its relaunch, and was part of the team that designed it. I have a particular love for materials. I like style, which is extremely different to fashion. I don’t follow fashion, I follow taste.
PL What are you working on at the moment?
LE At the moment, I work as creative consultant with the Ferrari style centre, Smeg, Cipriani and many other companies – I develop creative ideas for products and campaigns. I’m working on a project with Gucci that involves an iconic Fiat, among other things. 2007 was my new beginning. I resigned from my family business and started my own companies, and I began with eyewear. Why eyewear? Because in my head, in my soul, in my heart, eyewear is the symbol of vision. I used carbon fibre because no one had ever brought it to market – we were the first. Thirty-seven layers of carbon applied to glass, seven hours of work. We have our own factory, so it’s not licensed, and I am extremely happy with how eyewear is going – sales are up 170 per cent this year.
We do collaborations as well: we did denim with Diesel, and we also have a sartorial range, which we develop with Santandrea, a tailor who also designs the Purple Label for Ralph Lauren. Ours is the most avant-garde range they produce: we did a corduroy tuxedo jacket with an interior membrane and carbon buttons, which would be perfect for James Bond. We utilise very technological materials to make products and clothes more intelligent – smarter, brighter, lighter. Luxury is not about being heavy or ostentatious. My products don’t have big logos: my logo is very humble, it’s line-dot-line, which in Morse alphabet means OK, and which is also like two “I”s, for “Italia” and “Independent”. I like to remember where I come from.
PL Who do you design for?
LE I design for independent people, for people who don’t need brands to feel good about themselves. I like my customer to wear an H&M T-shirt with an Italia Independent jacket, or a Savile Row suit with my eyewear. If you feel comfortable wearing a double-breasted jacket with a pair of tracksuit trousers and Converse, it’s great – I don’t think it’s inelegant, and I don’t fear competition. When your product is good, it speaks for itself.
PL Do you think you’ll always keep production in Italy, or would you consider outsourcing, as Prada has done?
LE I respect Prada a lot. I would say they are my favourite fashion house, in terms of quality and innovation. My company is different to theirs, though. My way of doing things is different. It doesn’t mean it’s better, but I don’t only cover clothes, I design cars, boats, furniture. I have a complete world. I don’t need to invent a world through fashion or through advertising, because I have it. I’ve had the great luck, privilege and advantage to come from a family that has given me the opportunity to view beautiful things.
But when it comes to production, I think Italy is still the best. For example, when I work with the Ferrari design team, it’s hard for other companies to beat them – the performance, technology, craftsmanship. I’m proud to work with them and proud that Italy has something like that. When it comes to my brand, everything is 100 per cent made in Italy. But in the future, only time will tell. I’m not nationalistic. I’m very open, a democrat. I like progress.
PL When you are working on a project, what inspires you?
LE I am very curious. I’ve been curious in good ways and bad ways, but I’ve always paid for it. I love movies, I love photos, travelling, people, all kinds of people. I’m not a snob – I like the waiters, the bartenders, I like the girl who does the coffee, the guy who washes the windows. I like humanity. People are 90 per cent of whatever you do. If you have the right people you win, and if you have the wrong people you lose. I learned this at a very young age, because I made mistakes with people at a young age. It made me learn very quickly.
PL Is there still a market for luxury brands in the current economic climate?
LE I think people confuse luxury. Luxury is a very complex and cheapened word. There’s luxury, and there is mass luxury. To me, mass luxury is Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Prada. It’s belts you have all over the world with a logo on them. A lot of people buy brands because it allows them to show that they are rich; that they’ve made it. It’s status, not real luxury. Real luxury to me is having a full fridge, but not having a butler. Real luxury is Anderson & Sheppard. Real luxury is being able to customise the interior of your Ferrari with denim or pinstriped cloth. Luxury is never having to hear the word “no”. §