KEAN ETRO: A MODERN STORYTELLER. An Italian man with a nomadic spirit, Etro’s creative director Kean Etro draws inspiration from a myriad of sources, from food to nature
Looking at Etro’s collections as they burst into a myriad of colors and prints on the runway, one would likely ask, “Who is the creative-slash-mad genius who comes up with these whimsical twists season after season?” A mastermind behind the countless bold designs, Kean Etro usually saunters for the finale walk, smiling from ear to ear. For more than a decade he has brought that happy and bright note to the house, designing menswear collections that relentlessly usher in a one-of-a-kind creativity to the menswear scene.
A white suit made of organic material
Despite his title, Etro refuses to be pigeonholed as a designer. As is evident in his ventures, the 1964-born artist is more of a storyteller, dreamer, culture expert, historian and environmentalist. Culture and art are the central themes of most of his collections, reworked and interpreted in endless inventive ways—which is precisely what separates him from most of today’s designers. He orchestrates every collection with its own narrative; much like a true storyteller, Etro then offers the viewers a background story that opens up to a wider view of the world. This is the kind of vision he shares with Gerolamo “Gimmo” Etro, his father and the founder of the brand, who had a similar penchant for stories and culture. The creative director also channels his father’s nomadic spirit by drawing inspiration from various parts of the world: from the Himalayas to northern Europe to India to Mexico.
Checkered motif taken from traditional tablecloths
For his spring/summer ’15 collection, Etro returns to Italian culture. Celebrating Italian food culture to coincide with Milan’s food-themed world expo, Etro sends out his favorite dishes to the runway. Spaghetti, risotto, shellfish and fruit are some of the feasts seen emblazoned on loose trousers, workout jackets and even slouchy coats. Beyond the clothes and accessories, Etro sounds his concern for the environment by endorsing the slow food movement in collaboration with Terra Madre project.
DA MAN: Hi Kean, there are both literal and figurative depictions of food on Etro’s spring/summer ’15 collection. Why did you decide that food is going to be the central theme this season?
Kean Etro: It’s simple: We are what we eat! Food is not only a source of nourishment but also of culture and tradition. Looking back, food culture has permeated through the history of humankind from the very beginning. It identifies our roots, sense of belonging and traditions. It speaks of our connection with nature. In this collection I specifically want to present an homage to Italy’s excellent culinary tradition. With a nod to Arcimboldo’s luscious 16th century vegetable portraits and classic Italian tavola imbandita (a sumptuously decked table that is filled with abundant and delicious food), this collection is fueled by food and cooking … pasta, plates, clams. Even the check and stripes are taken from the pattern of traditional tablecloths.
Whimsical prints featuring a feast
DA: Food and fashion are rarely explored together. What makes this Italian food theme so special for you, particularly this year?
KE: I am much inspired by this year’s food expo which will gather people from all over the globe to create an international connection and share moments in the name of food and tradition. All of these elements have been a great source of inspiration for the collection.
DA: How do you translate this idea of culinary celebration into a collection filled with festivity?
KE: The collection opens with five white jackets, crafted from unusual organic material: bamboo, hemp, nettle and milk. Those woven natural fibers represent a biodiversity of textile and fresh texture. I arrange the first part of the show to focus on the organic materials, while the second part showcases an artful composition of patterns. To achieve the composition, digital photographs of meals are fractured into kaleidoscopes of food, alternating macro and micro formats through a sunny palette of bright colors.
DA: Another notable part of your collection is the athletic wear. What drives you to design it now, and how does this athletic wear collection fit into Etro’s dressing concept?
KE: Nowadays, wearability is one of the main focuses in the market, which creates the necessity to combine comfort and style. It is actually in accordance with our motto: “Dress comfortably—enjoy your body with freedom, motion and emotion!” Combining the two ideas, I designed Etro’s jersey jacket that becomes an emblem of this concept. It is essentially a timeless item since the multipurpose jacket can be worn anywhere, anytime. It is also an icon of our menswear collection because it helps men to be readily stylish and well-dressed all day long.
Fresh colors on the runway
DA: It is interesting that you mentioned “enjoy the body with freedom” and connected that idea with being in style.
KE: In Etro, our idea of style is based on the concept of creating something wearable and making people feel happy with what they wear. I envision our customer as a man who visibly expresses his emotions and state of being. A man who is not afraid of living!
DA: And a man who is not afraid of colors.
KE: I think that wearing colors or prints is a sign of courage—an expression of liberty and absence of fear. Color is a vibration of light; it has an emotion, an intensity. The vibration releases chromatic energy across the whole planet, nurturing both matter and spirit. To me, everything has a color, and it is not only for those with eyes to see.
DA: But incorporating colors into a man’s wardrobe is a tricky thing, isn’t it?
KE: Well, I would like to say to men that they could enhance their lives by adopting color in a therapeutic way. It is easy, really. You can do it step by step, starting from a light-colored shirt worn with a traditional suit. Gradually, you can try new combinations of colors with ties, handkerchiefs or shirts until you feel ready to wear brighter pieces, like a striking jacket!
Embroidery detail on a jacket
DA: Aside from the vibrant use of colors, what other aspects do you consider essential for Etro?
KE: I’ve always considered myself as a supporter of made-in-Italy products, particularly of all creations that are made with love, wisdom and craftsmanship. In terms of aesthetics, my team and I always try to keep a balance between what feels new and fashionable, with what remains traditionally relevant. I am personally always looking for ways to blend artisanal know-how with creative experimentation—it’s like being experimental but grounded.
DA: What about casting older models to walk on your runway and star in your campaign? What message do you want to convey with that?
KE: It’s like a conversation between father and son about the way to dress. I view it as a moment of sharing and connecting different generations.
DA: Speaking of generations, the family business and fashion are a huge part of your upbringing. Have you always wanted to be a designer?
KE: I joined the company at a very young age, and it was very experimental right from the start. Nevertheless, I always looked out to do something more theatrical and poetical. It was, and still is, never just about the clothing. I’d love to be a storyteller; for me the greatest success is to share the sense of harmony, irony, colors and joy with people. For example, in 2003 we did “mobile fashion.” We utilized a 1937 steam train that departed from Milan’s Stazione Porta Genova with the press and buyers on board, showcasing our 1920s- and 1930s-inspired collection. It united people, fashion and the city, a unique experience and a real moment of sharing.
Spaghetti alle vongele, Etro’s favorite food, is printed on sporty separates
DA: What roles does the family play in your life?
KE: Family means relationship, where different points of views of a certain issue can yield different interpretations. And it’s okay to be different because it enriches us. Although it is surprising to discover that sometimes we do have the same intuitions!
DA: How is the dynamics of working with your family members?
KE: I have to admit that we confront each other daily! [Laughs] We share a great passion for art, history, culture and, above all, innate curiosity. It is relieving to see that each of us has been able to carve their own niche and individual identity within the firm while remaining true to our natural characters.
“It was, and still is, never just about the clothing. The greatest success is to share the sense of harmony, irony, colors and joy with people”
DA: Lastly, what influences you the most in life?
KE: Love of nature. It is a pure love, the kind of love that’s deeply rooted inside each one of us. It is something primitive and ancestral, close to our origins. My influences come from nature that is constantly moving as an organic element. It then influences our ability to produce ideas, goods and architecture. For me, nothing is richer in imagination than the universe surrounding us—an unlimited source of inspiration for the creation of images, rationales and alchemies.