What happens to fashion when it’s sprinkled with a puff of pixie dust? The house of Etro, synonymous with finely tailored caftans, layers of paisley chiffon, and billowing beach ensembles, was long the wardrobe for high-toned hippies traveling the world. But with Marco De Vincenzo, the brand’s first creative director from outside the Etro family, the Italian fashion house is going on a very different journey—a trip to a dream world of the designer’s own imagination.
“My vision has always been about fairy-tale fashion,” says De Vincenzo, surrounded by racks of his hallucinogenic-print creations at the brand’s Milan headquarters. His method? Start with the familiar and warp it into something more chimerical, and more startling. Case in point: a clog transformed from humble to fantastical with a towering platform and heel accented by a curlicue toe. In his debut show for spring 2023, models carried chain mesh mini-bags containing an odd piece of cargo: an apple, conjuring for De Vincenzo the magical world of Disney’s Snow White, his desert-island movie pick.
“When I was young, children in southern Italy didn’t have that much to play with,” says the 44-year-old Sicilian designer, twisting his tousled hair. “So I grew up just having my imagination.” He wears a vintage sweater emblazoned with a schmaltzy puppy face across the chest and cartoon dog bones up the sleeves. “Fashion should never lose touch with playfulness,” he says, smiling. There are other designers creating fashion that’s “deeply rooted in reality, and it’s beautiful, but that’s not me,” he notes with clear eyes. “The dimension of dreams is my foundation for Etro.”
Though the creative director position marks his first such role at a major fashion house, De Vincenzo is a vaunted figure in the industry, having served for two decades at Fendi, where he remains the head designer of leather goods. (Prominently seated in the front row at his Etro runway premiere was the Fendi team, including Silvia Venturini Fendi and Chairman and CEO Serge Brunschwig.) And with his namesake brand, founded in 2009, he’s built a reputation for off-kilter clothes with never-before-seen surfaces—layering prints, prism effects, and sequins of every kind.
Etro, founded in 1968 by Gerolamo “Gimmo” Etro, originated as a textile manufacturer. The enterprise later introduced ready-to-wear inspired by the Etro clan’s globe-trotting lifestyle, and it remained a boho, family-designed affair in recent decades, with its fashion arm helmed by Gimmo’s son Kean and daughter Veronica. De Vincenzo, conscious of the intense scrutiny around his inaugural collection, didn’t shy away from shocking the crowd. The first look on the runway elicited a small gasp from the audience: Against the backdrop of a psychedelic catwalk, a model paced by in an itty-bitty jacquard denim bra top and matching jeans, whose extra-large legs obscured skyscraper platform shoes. It was a getup more suited to a trippy teen rave than the Bali bungalows of old Etro. There followed Wicked Witch-worthy capes in tapestry and macramé lace, and striped shirts sticking out below the hem of miniskirts. There were patterns of birds, cherries, and gardens—not a paisley swirl in sight—that De Vincenzo found in the house’s extensive archive of antique fabrics dating back to the 1700s, which he shrank to miniature size or blew up to uncanny proportions, à la Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It was all enough to make the eyes twirl in their sockets, casting exactly the spell of unreality that De Vincenzo desired.
Perhaps just as head-spinning was the time frame De Vincenzo was tasked with: three weeks to completely design his debut collection and present the first glimpse of the new Etro to the world. “I married without really knowing my spouse—it was like one of those antiquated Sicilian stories of arranged weddings,” he says of the rushed courtship, from the announcement of his appointment last June to finalizing his designs for production by July, before Italy closed down for its annual summer holidays. Yet he had time to consider Etro beyond its past of flou and paisley, unearthing English-style stripes (“the preppy part” of Etro, he calls them) and rich jacquards that would inspire his ode to the brand’s textile foundations. The paisleys, he would like to reassure the world, are returning in upcoming collections. “The next step,” the designer says, picking up a newly finished leather basket bag with the brand’s Pegasus logo, “will be to unite my universe with Etro’s.”
He shows off another purse: the Love Trotter, a style produced in collaboration with Mytheresa, with recycled-plastic handles and surplus Etro fabrics. Its initial run of 200 bags represents De Vincenzo’s first nod to upcycling and sustainability at Etro, to be expanded in future seasons with more bags and limited-edition garments from salvaged stock materials. For his own brand last year, De Vincenzo introduced Supérno, a collection of vintage clothing made new with extreme embellishments of crystals and rivets. The reuse of existing materials “is the way forward,” insists De Vincenzo—a down-to-earth observation from the designer set on taking Etro to fairyland.
This article appears in the March 2023 issue of ELLE.
Based in Italy, Laura Rysman is a correspondent for Monocle, a contributing editor at Konfekt, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times, writing about fashion, art, design, travel, and all things beautiful in the Bel Paese.