Rarely has a collection been so sceptically anticipated as Alessandra Facchinetti’s womenswear debut for Tod’s, yet rarely has a collection been met with such instantaneous approval. By the time opening model Magdalena Frackowiak had finished her turn on the catwalk, the job was done and a rare surge of feeling generated by a common consensus spread across the room. This was a fashion moment, the birth of something.
The omens hadn’t been good, though. Previous forays into womenswear had been met with lukewarm reactions. Tod’s volcanic proprietor, Diego Della Valle, is known to be a challenging boss and a micro-manager. A titan of Italian public life, Della Valle is the sort of billionaire who owns private jets and a football club and is better known to the paparazzi than most fashion models. (In a fit of benevolence, he recently gave €25m to help restore Rome’s Colosseum.) Della Valle has built a brand that perfectly accessorises a luxury lifestyle that is seen from the French Riviera to the Hamptons. The Gommini, his world-famous driving loafers, are as indispensable to the international jet set as suntans and white teeth. Yet while Tod’s produces some beautiful women’s accessories, its profile is decidedly masculine. Della Valle’s stated aim of making Tod’s the Italian Hermès was seen as ambitious, mostly because despite the brand’s exquisite quality and craftsmanship, it has always been more an accessory to a lifestyle, rather than a lifestyle brand.
Facchinetti had changed all that by the time her models took their final bows; Della Valle’s Herculean task finally seemed achievable. The setting Facchinetti conceived for the first show had no small part in its success. By her second show for Tod’s, the rules had been established: instead of catwalks or podium, a series of rooms inspired by Luchino Visconti’s 1974 film Conversation Piece were built, hung with artworks by Lucio Fontana and Giovanni Boldini, and furnished with classic pieces of early 20th-century Italian design, selected by legendary Milanese interior designer Nina Yashar. Along with specially commissioned light fittings and carpets, the mood was precisely and effectively orchestrated even before the collection was revealed. It evoked a baroque version of modernism that is peculiarly Italian – brave and pioneering, rich but not safe, sophisticated but with an edge. This the Italy of another age, before Silvio Berlusconi and bunga bunga, when the creatively pioneering country became synonymous with great film, literature, art and design. Modernism was part-invented here; this was Bauhaus with sunshine. For years Tod’s has presented its collections at Villa Necchi Campiglio, a modernist masterpiece of 1930s Milan, evoking a similar ambience, from the same period, but static and silent, frozen in history. Facchinetti turned mime into opera.
Her show created a complete vision of Tod’s as a lifestyle brand with a woman at the centre of it. More than giving Tod’s a female version, she gave it a soul. Here was a grand and gracious hostess with impossibly impeccable Italian taste and old-money sophistication, off-duty in a light and informal domestic setting. The press went wild. Apart from a few exceptions, the Milan collections have the gentle tedium of visiting an elderly aunt: very nice and pleasant but hardly ever cool. In the words of Suzy Menkes, the venerable American journalist, this was “Milan’s Céline moment”. Facchinetti’s show generated a perfect storm of commercial and critical success, customers bought all the clothes as soon as they hit the racks (on admittedly limited distribution). But the success should come as no surprise. As Style.com commented, Facchinetti “is the woman Tod’s wants to dress”.
What that initial collection and subsequent season have shown is the designer’s ability to bring lightness and ease to the heaviest materials, in particular leathers and skins. Facchinetti achieved this with new working methods and partners. For example, she gave lightweight leathers in the softest, most feminine colours – pink was ever present – to factories that normally work with silks. The results were draped, knotted dresses and shirts so light they seemed to take flight from the body. She works luxury materials with an easy nonchalance.
Tall, slim and beautiful, with wolfish blue eyes that sparkle like marbles and cheekbones that betray her genes (her mother and aunt were both models), Alessandra Facchinetti grew up with fame. Her father Roby Facchinetti was songwriter and lead singer in one of Italy’s most successful bands, Pooh (after Winnie) and the original owner of those signature blue eyes. (His song, “Alessandra”, written on the occasion of her birth in 1972, was a big hit.) She recalls her childhood as strangely normal from the inside, travelling around the country as part of the band’s entourage and thinking that all fathers went on stage after they put their children to bed. She grew up in Bergamo and attended Istituto Marangoni, Milan’s celebrated fashion and design school. She chose fashion over sculpture almost casually, on the spur of the moment. Rather than a fastidious sketcher or a dresser-up of dolls, the young Facchinetti was inspired by the cool and beautiful women of her childhood. Fashion was an enabler, a part of the feminine arsenal and integral to her life. But Facchinetti isn’t all image.
When she started there, in 1992, Miu Miu was only a couple of years old, and Facchinetti was soon joined there by Stefano Pilati, who did menswear. She spent seven and a half years working for Miuccia Prada; it’s hard to imagine a more intense apprenticeship. She is full of admiration for Prada, whom she still regards as the biggest influence on her work, even though their methods couldn’t be more different. “Miuccia has a singular vision and doesn’t mind what other people think about it,” Facchinetti says. “The collections may be different, but even now, as you see in Harrods [the Pradasphere exhibition this May brought together pieces from the Prada archives] pieces from different decades are so recognisable. It’s a single vision.” So why did she leave Prada? “I felt like it was now or never – I needed a change and to test myself to see if I could manage on my own in a totally different setting.” Was it hard? “Horrible and messy, really ugly like a bad divorce, with tears and everything.”
From Prada she moved to Gucci. From chalk to cheese. Facchinetti was there for five years during which Tom Ford turned the ailing brand into a mega-success story with what he called “sexy, sensual, fuck-me clothes”. After Ford’s departure in 2004 she chose, “against Tom’s advice”, to stay and take the reins. For Facchinetti, as Ford’s most senior assistant, this was her first position in total control. The press’s disappointment with her first collection wasn’t so much with the clothes, but with a perceived lack of showmanship and questions about whether she had what it took to deliver the high-octane cocktail of sex, power and glamour the Gucci machine demanded. A Byzantine power struggle saw her leave after just three seasons, and she moved on to work for Moncler, helping the outerwear brand reinvent their legendary puffer jackets for a global market at a couture level.
In 2007, she was appointed creative director at Valentino after its founder’s retirement. Valentino Garavani, who holds an incomparable status in Italian fashion, was gone but not forgotten and continued to exert his opinions and influence. The situation rapidly became untenable for Facchinetti, whose attempts to invent a new Valentino, in her own image and for her own age, were repulsed. Yet the irrepressible Facchinetti took these setbacks in her stride and returned to work in a collaboration with Italian brand Pinko called Uniqueness. It pioneered an accessible approach to fashion sales: the clothes were immediately available online after the show finished. The partnership’s commercial success did not go unnoticed and two years later she received a call from Della Valle. The rest is – and will be – history.
Or rather it could be. Facchinetti is an accomplished storyteller with a depth of cultural sophistication and a feeling for, and experience of, fashion’s raw materials. Italian fashion desperately needs new blood to keep up with its neighbours over the Alps – its greatest talents are in their 60s and 70s. Tod’s is uniquely placed to give Facchinetti’s talent the resources, scope and platform it deserves. Lifestyle brands can’t live by accessories alone; to retain their brand’s promise of a complete lifestyle they must deliver a whole and distinct vision. With Facchinetti, Della Valle has finally found a designer who can accomplish his vision and embody his dreams.
AnnaLuisa Capasa first appeared in Paulo Sorrentino’s Academy Award-winning La Grande Bellezza, as Elisa, a woozy apparition of lead character Jep Gambardella’s first love. She stands beneath the moonlight, set against the dark waters of the Mediterranean remembered by the now 65-year-old Gambardella as he considers his decadent life in Berlusconi’s Rome. The riotous, Felliniesque 142 minutes were the 18-year-old actress’s first taste of celluloid success. “I have grown a lot professionally,” she says. “I am more motivated to pursue a career in acting.” A part in a cinematic masterpiece will do that. This autumn she is planning to leave her hometown of Milan and move to Los Angeles to try her luck in Hollywood, but acting is not Capasa’s only passion; there’s also fashion. Her father is creative director at Costume National and her mother a former model, so it’s perhaps no surprise that this young actress has a natural sense of style. “Growing up with such parents, fashion has always been part of my experience,” she says. “They have taught me to love this world.” Capasa’s dreams are grand – she hopes to work for “big names in the cinema industry” without losing ties to the fashion world. “Will I manage to do both?” she asks. Something says she just might. –Giorgia Orlandi §
All clothes, bags and shoes by TOD’S
Jeans throughout by MiH JeansNails: Kim Treacy at LMC Worldwide
Styling assistant: Bobby Hook
Videography: Kimberley Rabbit, Martin Senyszak
Production: Mitzi Golsorkhi-Ainslie