Genny: a Made in Italy revival

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You know when sometimes you eat something with garlic and you keep the remaining flavour for the next 24 hours?
Ok, maybe this is quite a hardcore metaphore but something like this happened to me when I saw the name Genny written on Milano Fashion Week board in September 2011. It was like I wanted to be happy about it and feel nostalgic and all but I couldn’t. It just felt wrong and weird, and kept repeating in my mind: Genny, GeNNy, GENNY? Now? Why? And most importantly, who was designing?

Genny labelSo I followed the fashion show to find some answers (obviously through youtube videos, pictures, comments and testimonials, not that I am YET invited to fashion shows…) and I must admit I was SUPER HOOPER IMPRESSED. Truth is Genny’s SS12 collection was superb and absolutely stunning: full of contemporary feminine lines representing a strong independent and dynamic woman, a lot of fresh-flesh-showing-sensuality (if you know what I mean), office-to-be outfits and pretty cool accessories which transform the perception of what materials are. Just like the Golden years.

Genny is one of the not-so-forgotten big names of the Made in Italy, representing its key concepts: great quality + great design + high functionality. After its great success from the 80’s and 90’s, it was sold in 2000 to Prada Group and then the brand disappeared from the market. VANISHED. It got sold, re-sold; then buried and digged up. But what we see now is the resurrection of a unique Italian maison which has been the cradle of some of the most outstanding stylists ever (Versace, Christian Lacroix, Dolce & Gabanna, just to name a few). It is the revival of a fashion brand which brings nostalgic feelings to several generations of women mainly –but not only– in Italy.

Introducing a label insider

Garlic flavour remains stood until Genny presented their Pre-Fall collection and the FW 2012/13 one. Then garlic really became heavy on my stomach and decided to investigate a little bit about the beginning of Genny with a label insider: our stelar guest on tonight’s show DANIELA RICCIOTTI.

Daniela & Davide (Ramón Reguero)Daniela Ricciotti -who happens to be my mother-in-law but let’s pretend she’s not-, used to work for Genny some years ago. I must admit I initially thought she had worked for Prada for her whole life but it wasn’t like this –this issue was actually one of my husband’s tactics to hang out with me when we first met–. Nevertheless, and though she DID work for Prada for some time, she worked for Genny for almost 32 years.

Genny JacketDaniela was born in Filottrano, an isolated little town located in Le Marche. She moved to Ancona when she was a teenager and started working in Genny Moda with her twin sister Gabriella at the age of 16. While Gabriella was in charge of sewing, Daniela used to initially label all the different pieces and fabrics, and then started cutting patterns and got specialized in that activity. However in rough times she also used to assist in the logistics warehouse and sew.
But let’s jump in history a little bit to where it all began for Genny.

The beginning of Genny Moda

Arnaldo Girombelli opened a small clothing boutique with only two sewing machines in central Ancona in the beginning of the 60’s, dedicating his activity to the sartorialist work of skirts, shirts and blouses. It was called Genny, like Arnaldo’s beloved daughter. People say that since the shop was so new back then and they didn’t have that many clothes, they had to decorate the place using empty boxes in order to give it an “important flair”.
The fame and success of this little boutique were big enough before the decade ended and so Girombelli opened a factory in 1968. Daniela told me that the ladies who used to work in the boutique leaded the different departments in the Factory when it was opened.
In the meantime, another name had arrived to the company: a 18-year old Donatella Ronchi. It was 1966 when she started working for Genny, both designing and assisting Arnaldo Girombelli, who she would marry soon. “We all fancied Arnaldo, he was super handsome and young… but he was all into la signora Donatella”, confesses Daniela. Donatella would start coordinating the company in 1976. The same year, the label held its first Fashion Show in the legendary Sala Bianca of Palazzo Pitti in Firenze.

Donatella GirombelliDonatella Girombelli. Source: Vogue Italia

I asked Daniela if she ever got to work in a fashion show. She explained that Arnaldo Girombelli used to take some of the workers of the factory to the shows, and Daniela had the chance to do it in 1978. She went to Firenze and assist the models to get dressed for the runway. She was so excited. “They paid for everything!”, she proudly remembers.
I was writing in my notebook when Daniela said, among other things and without any particular interest, that a young and already-super-talented Gianni Versace had begun to work as a stylist in Genny in 1973 and had left the company in the 90’s. I was like: “what did you just say? Why wouldn’t you mention that before?”. And so our conversation took the gossip direction while she was showing me a foulard signed as G.V. for Genny. This foulard is currently being used by my husband’s grandma –who can’t really walk properly- and she actually loves it. She says it’s “better than a regular sheet, perfect to cover your legs in the summertime”. I just couldn’t agree more.

G.V. per Genny foulardGrandma’s Gianni Versace foulard

Daniela also told me that, even if Gianni Versace was based in Milan, he used to pay visits to the Factory on a regular basis. He used to take her fashion-wannabe sister Donatella to the factory too. Apparently she was starting her career in the business and Gianni was her mentor, even though “she didn’t do much”. Not so surprisingly, and according to Daniela’s words, “she was not known for being super pretty” –even in her younger years-.
In these regular visits, they used to eat together with the rest of the staff in the factory canteen, “like us, normal people”. Cool thing is that Daniela remembers him being a very very nice and kind person. “Nothing to worry about or being scared of, he was just Gianni, none of us could have imagined the success of his surname in the following years”, says Daniela.

G.V. for Genny NY advGianni Versace for Genny. Adv Campaign. Source: Irenebrination

Gianni Versace was also in charge of designing the collections of the new-born Byblos, a fashion brand dedicated to the young generations and inspired on spontaneous and funny girls, while Genny kept being a line for a dynamic and modern woman. Byblos became an independent brand in 1983 under the managing direction of Sergio Girombelli, Arnaldo’s brother.

G.V. for Genny NY advGianni Versace for Genny. Adv Campaign. Source: Irenebrination

Unfortunately a tragedy occured in Genny’s world. Arnaldo Girombelli had been sick for some time and died in 1980, leaving the management of the company to her wife Donatella, who from then on would be known in the fashion industry as Donatella Girombelli.

The international rise of Genny

Following Arnaldo Girombelli’s will of hiring outstanding talents in Fashion Design, Donatella Girombelli continued to work with big names. In fact, Versace will only be the first of a long line of stylists: French Claude Montana, British Keith Varty & Alan Cleaver who designed for Byblos (and btw had a house in Monte Conero and used to invite people on holiday like, let’s say, Tom Ford), Stefano Dolce and Domenico Gabbana (YES), Christian Lacroix (I know!), Americans Rebbeca Moses and John Bartlett, Australian Richard Tyler or Belgian Josephus Thimister (who created House of Thimister and worked for Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Patou and Balenciaga).

Genny coatWhen they hired the French designer Claude Montana, it looked like he would have made a revolution in the label. “After all he was French”, says Daniela, “and France was by then a synonym of pure Fashion and Style…”. But the upper levels of the organization kindly ask him to stop working with Genny in the short term when they realized that he was not worthy. “He was far too expensive for the revenues”, continues, “they didn’t sell much and so they fired him after he completed a couple of collections”. Some of the proposals that he introduced were quite twisting for the label previous style: layered flared skirts with different fabrics and colours and gilets were the most controversial. However they were quite popular among youngsters. A nice reference to take into consideration is that he also worked for House of Lanvin and founded his own company House of Montana.
Regarding Stefano Dolce and Domenico Gabbana, they worked for the label from 1990 til 1994. Daniela remembers this period as “bello e strano” for Genny, Complice and Byblos, which means “beautiful and weird”. Who knows why…

Genny way leather coatThanks to Donatella’s relations with the princesses of Monaco, she got invited by President Reagan and the Princess Grace Foundation to present her collection in the White House (Washington) in 1984 where she really succeeded. It was the first time in history that an Italian fashion brand had such a honour. Daniela says she was lucky that she was not working by that time since she just have had a little baby –my husband– and was on a maternity leave. She remembers her colleagues telling her how much they worked to get that collection ready for “the trip”.
From then on, Genny becomes a highly popular fashion brand in America, Europe, Japan and whole Asia, starting to produce fragrances, accessories, bridalwear, eyewear, belts, leather handbags and shoes. It gets distributed wordlwide and sold in the US, Middle East, Europe and Japan. Donatella Girombelli wanted Genny style to be a hybrid between straightforward American sportswear and Italian flair.

Genny 1985Genny style in 1985. Source: Inspirational Imagery

Around 1995 Genny produced over 2 million items under its different labels (Genny, Genny Due, Byblos, Genny Ono, Complice, among others).
It is in this period that Daniela remembers watching TV and recognizing clothes that she had personally made. She says she was told by a Spanish woman in Sevilla that Genny was her favorite brand. I think Daniela and her colleagues never really understood the importance of their work and how they were affecting an open competition between the French prêt-à-porter and Italian ready-to-wear.

Prada Group and the fall of Genny

In 2000, Prada sponsored the Luna Rossa sailboat in the America’s cup getting a promotional boom for the label and possibly the input they needed to get into the stocks market. It was for this reason that Prada Group bought Genny, Fendi (which they re-sold in the short term) and other brands in 2001.

Luna Rossa ChallengeLuna Rossa Challenge. Source: Lettera 43

Daniela said the transition from Genny to Prada Group was quite a thing, even though they were not expecting any dramatic changes in the short term. Genny obliged Prada Group to make a compromise on several issues that affected the company: it was not allowed to fire any single person working for Genny and they couldn’t re-sell the company for a certain period of time.
Even if Genny continued to produce some collections, the brand seemed to fall in a freezing capsule when it was bought by Prada Group. Daniela told me that they had less work to do and that they stopped using technical equipments -bought by Genny in the 90’s to produce their clothing in a faster way- to start doing everything by hand. Therefore, every single piece was handcrafted and even though she admits the work was harder and the productivity was lower the results were so much better.

Genny Cream coatAfter reading some interviews to Donatella Girombelli I have come to the conclusion that they sold the company to have a more relaxed lifestyle. She nowadays confirms that she doesn’t miss the fashion business but the fashion creation.
From this period Daniela remembers sewing MiuMiu and Prada clothes, Fendi jeans and even the Luna Rossa Challenge team uniforms for next American’s Cups.
However it clearly signed the beginning of an end. When Prada Group bought Genny, they hired the brazilian stylist Francisco Rosas who designed for the company until 2004. That year Prada Group stated that they were no longer continuing with Genny‘s collections.

Gabriele Colangelo, Genny’s new face

Genny was bought by Swinger International Group in 2011, and counts with the creative direction of 37-year old milanese Gabriele Colangelo. According to their Press area, Gabriele Colangelo has been doing research in Genny’s old catalogues with special attention to the production of Gianni Versace and Rebecca Moses. His focus is to maintain Genny’s traditional standards “with meticulous attention to shapes, fabrics and colors“.

Gabriele Colangelo for GennyGabriele Colangelo in his FW 2012/13 Fashion Show. Source: Genny Press

After presenting, as I said before, Genny’s SS12, Pre-Fall and FW 2012/13 collections the future of the brand is uncertain.
Nevertheless we can confirm thanks to the Milan Fashion Week Schedule published by Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana that Genny will have its fashion show in September the 22nd at 4pm in Via Santo Spirito 10 (Milan). I so hope I could go in and watch it live! Daniela would be so super proud :)!

Photography by Yazmina Cabrera unless otherwise stated