Seated on a pristine white sofa opposite the new creative director of Shanghai Tang, I expected a Massimiliano Giornetti bursting with unbridled energy like most creatives. Yet there he was, in his Gucci fur slip-ons and black blazer, speaking to me about his new role with a commanding presence that did not overwhelm.
Moving production to Italy
His most well-documented act as the new leader was to shift all of Shanghai Tang’s production to Italy. Some may balk at the notion of uprooting the production of a deeply rooted Asian brand to a European country. After all, here is someone born and raised in Italy, who had previously been in charge of an Italian brand.
“The importance of moving the collection and production from China to Italy was to create a dialogue between the East and West, and provide the best quality at the best prices,” said the 46-year-old Italian designer. “That is only possible through the lenses of ‘Made in Italy.’”
Giornetti added: “We need to take it from our side and melt Italian and Chinese cultures to create one unique word and one unique language. To me, that’s what needs to be the signature of the new Shanghai Tang.”
The result has been interesting for the man who helmed Ferragamo, to say the least. “Now that we have redesigned the production, it’s interesting that we get to explore new segments of consumers.”
Finding a signature
First founded by Sir David Tang in 1994, the brand has been sold twice: First to Richemont and now to Alessandro Bastagli. Naturally, this new ownership comes with a new vision, and Giornetti stands as the man who has to balance the original concept while managing calls for a revamp – a scene that’s still being played out today.
“To me, it’s much more a step-by-step increase in the brand; from the beginning, it was very clear that quality needs to be first – the first issue,” said Giornetti.
Though Giornetti has spent the better part of two decades with an Italian brand, Asia is not unfamiliar territory for him. As a teenager he travelled with his father, a goldsmith, through Hong Kong, thus igniting his passion for Asian art and design. A collector of Chinese antiques, he says his home reflects his current role perfectly.
“My house is really a melting pot of different influences, and this is also represented in my style and my work,” shared Giornetti. So how will this resonate with a generation that currently has designers clamouring to them? The answer is simple. “When I think about successful brands, it’s not about the demographic target of age, it’s the value the brand is reflecting – it’s the value that the brand is translating,” he explained.
An example he highlighted who has done this successfully is none other than Chanel. Rather than targeting a specific age group, he plans to find a unique identity for the brand. “It’s very important for me as a designer to find elements that are becoming the signature of the brand.”
Shanghai Tang and millennials
However, he admits that the younger crop of consumers do influence the way in which fashion evolves with each passing season. With the rise of social media comes street style – high-fashion is no longer exclusive. “I remember that many years ago, it was much more about the cuts of the designer, where the decision was about which colour.”
He explained, “Now it’s a bit more about mixing and melting different brands, new seasons with the previous seasons, high-street with the mass market.”
This, however, has not fazed Giornetti when designing his collections. With no specific individual in mind, he focuses on the story to be told and the final result that consumers will see in stores. “When I design the collection, I will think about a real man and a real woman,” said Giornetti.
“The final message always needs to go inside the store and always needs to be appealing to every real man and real woman. That’s the reason why functionality to me is so fundamental in my work.”
With all these changes happening with Shanghai Tang, it is surprising to hear that Giornetti can find time to do much else. Yet the man plans on donning one more hat in the near future: Having accepted a position at Raffles International Design School, the younger generation will soon be able to learn from the man himself.
Apart from being schooled on the ins and outs of fashion by a respected designer, students at the school can also look out for a possible Shanghai Tang scholarship in the near future.
It’s a future that certainly sounds bright for these budding future style stars, with a story that may one-day eclipse Giornetti’s. For now, though, we continue to be captivated his – to see how he weaves his way into the name of the greats, and bring Shanghai Tang’s name along with him.
All portraits of Massimilano Giornetti were shot by Winston Chuang.