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Anybody with even a slight interest in fashion will understand the power and influence Italy has had on the fashion landscape. While Italian high fashion possesses many household names alongside a well-documented culture, the streetwear sector has arguably faced more traction in its attempt to grow and develop into its own respected facet of fashion. However there still remains a contingency of interested individuals looking to leave their mark on the country and region, such as SUEDE founder Fabrizio De Lucia who recently sat down with us to discuss some of the local intricacies of the Italian streetwear and sneaker market as well as the difficulties he faces. See a refreshing take on Italian street culture below while more information can be seen over at SUEDE.
Can you introduce yourself and what you do?
My name is Fabrizio De Lucia and I am the owner of SUEDE. I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life nurturing sneaker culture in Italy through different projects, and in the last few years through my store.
What was the idea behind starting SUEDE?
SUEDE opened in October of 2012 from the ashes of “Beaverton” my first sneaker store. It was also one of the first sneaker stores in Rome that opened in 2009. Prior to this date, Rome didn’t have any other real sneaker stores. So with my ex co-owner we opened the first meeting point for Rome’s sneakerheads. Many people thought that it was not possible, others believed that we would close immediately… it’s been over four years and I am still here!
When we moved in October of the last year to this new, larger space I decided to change the name and tried to create a concept store where all my passions (sneakers, art, music, photography) could be part of my daily job. The main business remains the limited edition sneakers, my first love, but every month we organize exhibitions, book signings, showcases and launches of new products. The core of the idea is to create a lifestyle and mood around SUEDE where customers can find inspiration and not only a store to buy shoes.
How did you want it to differ from other stores of its kind both in Italy and globally?
Trying not to waste time and being as accurate as possible are two important rules for me. I am trying to give to my customers a reason to get involved in SUEDE’s lifestyle. The events that we organized are very important for me to achieve this goal. Take a look of our event category on our blog to understand what I am talking about.
I also like to give customers an exclusive selection of products to educate them on the real meaning of limited edition. Other than our sneakers selection, you can find magazines, T-shirts and accessories often exclusive to SUEDE. Also after years working in the field I think you need some personal skills that set you apart from others. It can be your musical or artistic background or your travel experiences.
“When we moved in October of the last year to this new, larger space I decided to change the name and tried to create a concept store where all my passions (sneakers, art, music, photography) could be part of my daily job.”
Fabrizio De Lucia speaks about the concept behind SUEDE
How would you describe the current scene for both streetwear and sneakers in Italy?
I’m confident there will be a new life for street and sneaker culture in Italy, thanks to Facebook, the online magazines and the social networks that are visited regularly by the next generation of street culture enthusiasts. We follow the same hype as the rest of the world, but also there is a new kind of customers — the resellers — all thanks to the social media.
Before social medias it was very difficult to find information here. You could only become a key customer of your favorite store and believe in their offer of products. Now it’s not like that anymore, people comes to the store with photos of shoes and have a clearer idea to what they want. Unfortunately, we don’t have lines out of the stores for new releases. We are 5 years behind the rest of the world sneakers wise, but according to my forecast the culture will grow big in the next year.
What are your approaches to buying?
I spend a lot of time analyzing the market in order to understand trends and offer them to customers one or two seasons in advance, taking risks at times considering the difference between the Italian and foreign market. My idea is to buy from an outsiders perspective, from a foreign perspective. So I try to grab things that I’m sure will/have sold well in other countries or something that fellow retailers won’t stock here. For example If I find brands that I like it online, I contact them and I try to stock them as quick as possible.
This kind of mentality together with my personal style drives me in the selection of the products and roster of brands. This has been the direction for the past four years and I am sure that now my clients appreciate the way I work, because they can be sure to buy something very hard or impossible to find in other Rome retailers.
Are the same globally embraced styles also popular in Italy?
Thanks to the new social media interest in Italy, the trends are now the same as other countries. There is a huge amount of people that fell in love again with Jordan Brand, a lot of young guys and girls that never wore Jordans before are rocking them. At the same time there is a fresh lifestyle running crowd that prefers Roshe Runs and Flyknits. Also brands like New Balance are enjoying a renaissance here in Rome and adidas with their OG models that are receiving lots of attention.
“My idea is to buy from an outsiders perspective, from a foreign perspective. So I try to grab things that I’m sure will/have sold well in other countries or something that fellow retailers won’t stock here.”
Fabrizio De Lucia speaks about his approach to buying
In such a fashion-rich country, how does streetwear stack up against contemporary and high fashion?
The High Fashion aspect plays a very important role. The streetwear segment is just a way smaller part of the fashion system, or better the streetwear the way me and you might define the word. The sad thing is that we are not able to make the streetwear culture become part of our fashion culture. Most of the trends have been used and abused for a short time at least until now. My hope for the future is that the way foreign trends live and operate will change allowing the streetwear and sneaker culture to become a staple of the younger generations in our country.
How has streetwear progressed in Italy in the last few years?
Actually there has not been any progression at all in Italy. Some stores have closed their doors, others switched to a trendier “Northern European” style leaving behind the the brands and style they used to promote around 2007/2008 when brands like Carhartt, Stussy etc. were the core of their business. The lack of product created a decline in interest for street culture and streetwear, but this is related to the customs here in Italy. Here you can be interested in a certain foreign trend for a few seasons and then forget about it afterwards. My vision is that streetwear will reach all new heights here in Italy in 2014 and maybe this will lay the first basis for a real strong culture, thanks to the social networks that are having a big role in informing everybody.
How does social media factor into popular culture in Italy? Which platforms are big?
Facebook is huge. The bigger part of SUEDE’s day-by-day work is done through Facebook. We can reach more people via Facebook although I prefer Instragram as it’s more conducive for visuals including contests.
How do you feel the “Made in Italy” association has held up? Does it mean less than what it did a few years ago?
I think the “Made in Italy” can be a good marketing point to be used more in foreign markets than so than in Italy. Recession has hit all aspects of the fashion world in Italy. The “made in Italy” will remain one of our strongest resources, I also think that the notion of “real” made in Italy is close to non-existent right now. Many companies have closed or have been forced to sell to partners that are located abroad and that is sad considering that the “made in Italy” should be an important income driver for our country but the marketing value is diminishing.
What are the buying habits of Italians and their disposition towards online shopping?
The shopping behaviors of customers have changed since the crisis hit. We suffered with a lack of sales. Online shopping is not too strong yet, the average Italian is lazy and he prefers to see the actual shoe in the flesh, try it and bring it home. They don’t like to pay online and wait, and this is a good thing for us because it keeps competitive against foreign competitors that somehow manage to have more competitive prices. Also the youngest generation is a little late on this whole online shopping thing, thank God!
“The High Fashion aspect plays a very important role. The streetwear segment is just a way smaller part of the fashion system, or better the streetwear the way me and you might define the word. The sad thing is that we are not able to make the streetwear culture become part of our fashion culture.”
Fabrizio De Lucia speaks about streetwear vs. contemporary and high fashion