Roberto Riccio has made his career in shaping generations of fashion designers, from Milan to Mumbai. On his return to India for ELLE Graduates 2018 — our annual showcase to pick the next superstar of Indian fashion — the CEO of Istituto Marangoni talks diversity, staying relevant and the most important ingredient to success.
What was your experience of Elle Graduates 2018?
Roberto: It was very well organized, first of all. The audience was really cool, it was my first time meeting so many people from the fashion industry. It’s the right time to establish a new way of teaching fashion, if that’s what we are going to do.
From your research, what did you feel was lacking in the way fashion was being taught in India?
We have been working with National Institute of Fashion Technology for many years, and we have approximately 150 Indians coming into Milan every year. But it’s a different way to teach. We want people, when they finish, to be immediately ready to enter the industry. We are not teaching students to become tailors, this must be clear. They study pattern cutting, they use sewing machines but this isn’t tailoring. This is designing.
We look into the future to be competitive and thus, these guys know how to sell. There is no fashion product that cannot be sold. We teach this approach to fashion — which is contemporary and creative. Also, our teachers come from the industry. Thank God, we have people who decided to leave Italy for three to six months of their lives for this, because they know how important fashion education is to support developing fashion in the world.
The best thing about being a student of fashion design in India right now?
In the ’80s, becoming Armani or Versace was much easier than it is now. You can be a Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior, you can be an Alessandro Michele of Gucci, but you cannot be Alessandro Michele. That’s difficult in a developed market. In emerging countries, it is much easier. In India, for example, I always encourage my students to launch their own brand. It’s the right moment to do it. You have momentum that’s similar to the 70s and 80s in Europe, and there is a big opportunity if you are creative, talented and, above all know, how to make money.
Some fashion schools in India are accused of teaching the same syllabus that they had a decade ago. Do you think this is a defining factor if you want to stay relevant?
It is fundamental. What I was teaching 10 years ago is completely gone. The last 10 years — with the arrival of the internet, bloggers, influencers — everything is changing. Social media is really bringing changes and a school like ours needs to be up-to-date. Every year we have two meetings — pan-European and global — with all faculties meeting and exchanging ideas. That, in the end, is brought to the classroom when they teach.
On top of that, we have 107 nationalities studying at Istituto Marangoni. In Milan in particular, it’s a bible of languages. I love that it’s so diverse and everyone can be themselves. School, in some cases, has become the safe place for people that cannot express himself or herself in the right way in society or in the family.
That’s what we say about fashion in India, it’s a safe bubble where you don’t have to hide who you are. How does your organisation support diversity?
It is probably the most free and open space for all types of people. The other important thing is that we don’t promise a very good job at the end of three years. We want to change your life on the very first day, which is why you will find an environment that is surrounded by beauty, like this one (in Mumbai). From furniture to interior design, people can be really themselves. Diversity is richness, and I am also happy that my faculty has an ethical approach to life. There is a rising number of women that have become super famous designers.
Now, the majority of people attending are female and some of them have been able to become successful in four years. Paula Cademartori started off with a small office in Milan, she asked Marangoni to help develop her first website, and today, her bags are seen on Fifth Avenue in New York. I’m so proud about that
If you were to sum up what you teach your students on what is absolutely necessary to succeed as a fashion designer, what would you say?
You have skills, but you can easily be replaced by someone who has the same skills. Show you love what you do. So that when you go away from the job, your boss will miss you. You can have the most creative ideas in the world, but if you cannot transform them into something well made — where you can recognize the quality and the ability — you will never succeed. Skills are important but love and passion are far more important.