Slowear doesn’t do fashion. In fact, it does the opposite. While the rest of Milan stumbles from season to season shedding trends like last night’s knickers, Slowear sits quietly on Via Ermenegildo Cantoni pondering bigger things – such as quality. Far from the madding in-crowd of Via della Spiga, Via Cantoni is located in a north-western suburb – the pace is definitely Slowear out there.
“Fashion is like a washing machine; with so many things tumbling around there’s no focus. It is difficult to stay still and do things slowly and properly,” says Massimo Gambaro, the company’s straight-talking marketing and merchandising director. “We stick to our path and follow our own ideas without worrying about the rest of the industry. That’s why we’re here on Cantoni, a hidden place far from the bustle of the centre.”
It is no coincidence that the company shares its moniker with the Italian culinary movement Slow Food (see page 64). “It’s true, there is a correlation. We share common values with Slow Food. It’s about taking the time to make something properly, about using the best-quality ingredients to ensure longevity and preserve history in the process,” says Gambaro.
In 1951 Carlo Compagno founded Carlo Compagno Confezioni (CCC), a one-man studio devoted to manufacturing trousers and uniforms. After two decades of steady growth CCC consolidated operations by concentrating solely on trousers and renaming itself Incotex. At the beginning of the 1980s Roberto and Marzio Compagno inherited Incotex from their father and turned the sewing machines up a notch – they trademarked the brand and began distributing directly to retailers.
Industrie Confezioni Tessili was born, and the brothers set themselves the goal of creating and distributing men’s and women’s trousers of the highest quality. Keen to grow the business further, the Compagnos formulated a plan to build upon their Incotex success and introduce new brands into their stable.
They vowed only to acquire complementary marques – companies with the same values and high-quality product mix. First to join Incotex on the rails in 2001 was Montedoro, a legendary Varesino coat company that was founded in 1958 and specialises in rainwear. Montedoro had previously benefited from design collaborations with Walter Albini and Giorgio Armani in the 1970s.
Soon to follow in 2003 was Maglificio Zanone, another prestigious atelier from Biella that excelled in wool production. Alberto Zanone, one of the founder’s ancestors, still runs the company under the Slowear umbrella. Glanshirt, a 1960s classic renowned for its relaxed shirts and a favourite of Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni, completed the supergroup in 2004. True to their word, each acquisition was made with measured confidence, astute market insight and without much hullabaloo.
They spent subsequent years simply making things work and building a company with a large distribution presence in Italy, Japan and the US and a current turnover of €55m. Having ticked the business boxes, the brothers decided to consolidate once more by creating Slowear, an umbrella brand that united their portfolio in early 2007. Incotex, Montedoro, Zanone and Glanshirt all operate as autonomous entities but with the same values, governed by Slowear.
“Each of our brands still has its own identity – the products have always done the talking. Now we want Slowear to be recognised in its own right,” says Gambaro of the new direction. “We aren’t doing anything new or rash, far from it. To quote our mission statement: ‘Slowear is not a brand name, it is a seal to certify a brand’s value, a seal guaranteeing that the brand belongs to a world of companies that have embraced a greater concept of quality.’”
When asked if that world will grow with more premium companies joining the Slowear “brand of brands”, Gambaro isn’t giving anything away. “At the moment we are concentrating on opening our temporary Milan and Tokyo stores. We’re calling them Officina Slowear (see Tokyo box). We are testing the water with these guerrilla outlets before growing our retail presence globally. After Japan, Europe will be our next retail step.”
Closeted behind the green doors of an old electrical plant, the Via Cantoni showroom is a statement, or rather an understatement, of intent. Part Manhattan loft, part Paris salon and two parts Milanese bottega, Slowear’s HQ stands as an edifice to the brand values of quality, modernity, innovation and restraint.
Visitors and clients are buzzed through the industrial doors and ushered into a long, atrium-like show space. A table that runs the length of the room is used as a brand mood board with visual props denoting the personalities of the ideal womenswear customers.
At one end we are led to believe that the perfect Incotex girl taps away on a scarlet Olivetti typewriter, files her copy to the Tribune and scribbles notes in her Moleskine jotter. Slowear has commissioned the Italian stationer to produce monogrammed notebooks to give to visitors – another canny brand association. At the far end we enter the world of the Zanone maiden, a girl who sports duck-bill yellow Hunter wellies and spends her days dibbing and dead-heading like a modern-day Gertrude Jekyll.
Painted strips lead from each brand character palette across the concrete floor to the relevant clothes mounted on walls throughout the space. This treatment gives the impression of a gallery walkthrough and somehow elevates the merchandise to the status of art, begging closer inspection.
Created in collaboration with young designer Massimo Varetto, the building’s huge interior is strangely homely. Mid-century antiques dot the space and thankfully serve their intended purpose – people lounge and loll around on battered leather sofas, and when Monocle visits an elegant couple is holding an impromptu meeting at the Bechstein baby grand. Much of the furniture is actually sourced by Alberto Zanone, a furniture junkie with a keen eye.
The ground floor houses the official showroom where clients come to inspect the wares, and one space is set aside as the dining hall where employees are served cichetti and mozzarella salad by the in-house chef.
Slowear’s engine room is on the first floor where designers, merchandisers and marketing folk busy themselves behind Apple Macs, but Monocle’s favourite rooms in the building were the two serviced apartments set aside for visiting clients and suppliers. With a private terrace, small library and Wi-Fi, we’d almost rather stay there than at the Principe. We love a Slowear life.
Go Slow in Omo
Slowear’s temporary store in Tokyo – Officina Slowear – is open until 9 December. “It’s somewhere between an exhibition and a shop,” says Massimo Gambaro. “It’s an experiment – we’re not fixing any rules. We already sell our products in Japan but this is the first opportunity for us to show our philosophy and direction.”
Officina – which means workshop – is in Omotesando Hills, the shopping centre designed by Tadao Ando. “We love Ando’s work. We completely destroyed the shop that was here before; we wanted Ando’s design to be visible – the precision, the lines and the proportions.”
Slowear hired young Italian designer, Massimo Varetto, to design the interior, which he did using a mix of rough construction materials and classic pieces of mid-century Italian design such as Gio Ponti’s Superleggera chair.
Gambaro says that there could well be a permanent Slowear store in Tokyo within the next year and he is now looking for a suitable location in Aoyama. “We think the Japanese market is ready for us: they appreciate attention to detail and making things in a proper way.”
Every season the designers at Incotex, Montedoro, Zanone and Glanshirt forego industry trends favouring classic cuts, lean silhouettes and a timeless palette. Only the highest quality fabrics make the grade, including Zanone’s patented ICEcotton that undergoes a high-torsion process guaranteeing breathability and durability. For spring/summer 2008 buyers can expect more of the same with the addition of Incotex beachwear in bright riviera hues, sports blousons from Montedoro and an updated Zanone Cashmere tech range.