Art is, of course, so much a part of Italian culture. I remember when I was young I was always being taken to galleries and exhibitions by my parents – places like the Uffizi in Florence. If I’m being honest, I used to find this a bit boring, so it came as quite a revelation when I discovered modern art. To me it seemed easier to relate to, easier to understand. That was when I was around 25 years old, when I was coming to the end of my education and I had started to travel. It was an inspiring time and I fell under the spell of art, design and architecture all at once. It is this combination of art with other art forms, and particularly with design, that has inspired me throughout my working life.
Back then, when I was still studying, I met someone who was a modern art enthusiast and he started to introduce me to some work by contemporary Italian artists. He suggested I considered buying a few pieces, and when I told him I thought he was crazy he explained that while I might well spend money on frivolous things over a period of weeks, by contrast, a piece of art would be with me always. So I took his advice and very slowly I began to create a modest collection of artworks, a sort of personal gallery.
Today I have developed a genuine passion for art, and I see my relationship with it as a sort of journey. I move around the different fairs and exhibitions – like the Venice Biennale, Art Basle in Miami Beach and Frieze in London – and find them exciting and inspiring. For Pal Zileri, this manifests itself in the collections in the use of colours and patterns, but also more generally in an attitude that we call Avant Craft, the combining of traditional techniques with a modern outlook. This resonates with the work of many young contemporary artists and we have decided to start a Pal Zileri art foundation to celebrate those who have an Avant Craft approach. In London during Frieze, for example, we exhibited the work of multimedia artist Amba Sayal-Bennett at our store, the first of many such displays to showcase young talent in our stores around the world.
Art pervades much of what we do at Pal Zileri. In Beirut our store is housed in the largest private modern art gallery in the Middle East. Our fashion shows in Milan are staged using sets that employ art as a starting point. For spring/summer 2016 it was kinetic art. For autumn/winter 2016 it will be digital art, which I will use to complement a collection that is inspired by the work of Joseph Albers and his theories about colour.
However, it is important for me that though there are multiple artists and artworks that I and Pal Zileri are engaging with, as a fashion house we have a consistent direction of travel. That means that the type of art I am drawn to for inspiration will tend to be of the graphic, modern type, as this fits best with our Avant Craft aesthetic. While other fashion houses may cherry-pick inspiration from different areas, and/or different artists – one season it is a floral approach, the next it’s all about monochrome – for Pal Zileri, the look will always be consistent. It will always be Avant Craft.