We are often faced with the problem of how to give an accurate, concrete definition of the word fashion. But true fashion is the expression of the person who creates it. Fashion is often created by visionaries, the daring, the dreamers. And at any latitude, “Creativity is the common language. And every difference is an exchange, a reciprocal wealth.” Those are the words of Simonetta Gianfelici – fashion scout and consultant, a model for the most prestigious fashion labels who has been immortalized by the best-known international photographers and has starred in numerous advertising campaigns – and who, over the last few years, has been overseeing several projects aimed at young talent: projects such as Who is On Next, in collaboration with Altaroma, Pitti Immagine and L’Uomo Vogue, or the Ethical Fashion Initiative, a leading programme of the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization that links up the biggest talents from international fashion with small artisans – especially women – from East and West Africa and the West Bank.
She talked to us about her work.
Since 2013, you've been collaborating with the Ethical Fashion Initiative, focusing on scouting designers and photographers from Africa. What led to this collaboration? And what does your work with the EFI consist of?
I've been involved in this project since it started at the end of 2007. I went on a trip to Nairobi with Simone Cipriani, founder of the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative programme and that gave me my first revelation of a country with enormous artisan and creative potential: beads, crochet, inlaid wood and soapstone, weaving, recycling of the most varied materials, sculpture, block printing on fabrics, and much else besides. It's a cultural heritage with a wealth of history and resources. It's also a young country that's full of life and proud of its origins, where respect for the environment and a community spirit still have great significance, and where women don't just represent the real work force but are the ones who have the most impact on the growth, health and education of the new generations. Creating opportunities for work was, and still is, the key challenge: “Not Charity, Just Work”. After gaining a diploma in photography, experience as a fashion editor and 10 years of scouting for Who is on next, my direct collaboration with EFI from 2013 to today has mainly focused on the search for African fashion designers. African fashion no longer limits itself to drawing on its traditional heritage but has developed a creative capacity for reshaping African culture from a contemporary angle.
My passion for photography and the visual languages in general, such as art, cinema and fashion, has also influenced me in the search for contemporary African photographers. Looking at the Continent of Africa from the inside means escaping from the dominant way of thinking that still influences our perceptions, and this has helped me to look to the novelties on the horizon and to the cultural and social changes that are taking place.
What does ethical and sustainable fashion mean to you, and how do you think the work of the Ethical Fashion Initiative can make a genuine and effective contribution towards a more equitable fashion industry?
Responsibility. Production, creativity and consumers are the three areas involved: all of them must play an equal part in questioning the quality of the products, their real value and the often hidden “cost” in terms of exploitation of people and the environment. Responsibility is the last true frontier of elegance. The Ethical Fashion Initiative provides concrete and tangible support for all creatives and business pioneers of this new vision, ensuring quality and excellence.
Can you tell us about your work, your travels and the people you meet…Based on your own experience, what are the most interesting aspects of your work, including from the human point of view?
Irrespective of where you come from, your language, or the religion or culture you belong to, creativity is the common language. And every difference is an exchange, a reciprocal wealth. Their freshness, their appearance on the world fashion stage today makes this experience a stimulus and an opportunity to challenge the existing conventions, that are often obsolete.
And what are the elements and characteristics that a designer, photographer or stylist must have in order to strike you?
The expression of their own identity and a vision that is out of the ordinary. Authentic and original designs. I love the visionaries and the dreamers, those who are daring and committed enough to transform the intangible into something real.
What should we expect from this latest edition of Generation Africa? Can you give us a preview of the designers who will be taking part in the project in Florence?
There are four precise and distinct identities, with different human and cultural career paths. Their work has all the indigenous and multicultural influences necessary to make each project unique and personal at the same time. Keith Henning and Jody Paulsen: the South African creative duo who interweave art and fashion in no-gender collections rich in graphic elements and contours that draw on the world of sportswear. The Ikirè Jones label: tailored collections with a strong identity, with prints that reinterpret classical art from an African slant, giving the brand's clothing and accessories a strong visual impact.
Lukhanyo Mdingi and Nicholas Coutts: the South African duo who combine Mdingi's minimal lines with the elegant textures resulting from Coutts' experiments, creating a collection that is both essential and sophisticated at the same time. U.MI-1: the meeting of African, British and Japanese culture. The brand stands out for the almost architectural construction of their clothing and their devotion to detail.
I'm sure that Generation Africa will once more offer an opportunity to open a window onto one of the broadest and most interesting landscapes of contemporary fashion.