From chocolate to couture, Italian fashion mogul recounts the legacy of Luisa Spagnoli

Nicoletta Spagnoli, CEO of Italian fashion label Luisa Spagnoli, recounts the genesis and growth of the company founded by her great-grandmother

By Mariella Radaelli

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Published: Thu 2 Nov 2023, 6:49 PM

Luisa Spagnoli’s eyes have been on the UAE for some time, and once the global health emergency ended, the fashion house that suggests Italy’s answer to Chanel accelerated the process of setting up its mono-brand boutique in Dubai at The Dubai Mall. The new store opened on September 21. The Luisa Spagnoli label expresses timeless elegance through chic women’s clothing, recently adding a younger clientele, including Generation Z.

Nicoletta Spagnoli
Nicoletta Spagnoli

Khaleej Times sat down for a chat with Nicoletta Spagnoli, creative director, president and chief executive officer of the family-owned company from Perugia, a medieval city sitting on top of a craggy hill in central Italy.

Luisa Spagnoli, Nicoletta’s great grandmother, was one of the first female entrepreneurs in Italy and a true innovator. She had grit and grace - a formidable recipe for women leaders. Nicoletta reminisces about her great-grandmother, who had founded her namesake brand in the late 1920s when women were no longer subjected to tight corsets. “She was passionate, courageous, determined and kind. She left a mark through her visionary spirit. I find my great-grandmother’s character traits in me,” she remarks proudly.

Luisa Spagnoli’s life story is being made into a TV movie biopic and the film has started shooting in Budapest.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, your great-grandmother actually created two companies: In 1907, Perugina, a chocolate factory that she made prosperous during World War I by bringing other women into the factory, and in 1928, she founded Luisa Spagnoli, a fashion house that specialised in very soft Angora wool garments produced from the combed fur of her rabbits. Did Luisa have a very strong-willed personality?

Yes, indeed, and all of that happened in times when women were denied everything. She was the first woman to sit on the board of directors. She drove a car and sacrificed much of her personal life to face the challenges of her profession. She was an innovative and enlightened entrepreneur who created a positive working environment for her collaborators that allowed them to better manage their families. And over the years, the company has maintained this spirit of attention and well-being towards its employees.

You never met your great-grandmother. What did your family tell you about her and what struck you the most?

Not having known her personally, I have stories told by my father and my aunt. From many anecdotes, it has always emerged that she succeeded at respecting all her duties as a manager, a mother and a grandmother. She had an enormous sense of humanity and empathy towards her next of kin and all her employees, whom she considered part of her family. What struck me the most about the various tales was her resourcefulness. From her memory, I learned never to accept any discrimination. I am the great-granddaughter of a trailblazer. I lead an almost all-female company and I take great pride in that.

What made you take to your great-grandmother’s profession? Was this your natural path?

When I was young, I never thought I would be in charge of the family business because I was interested in literature, while my father wanted me to study medicine. Yet, this profession has always been part of my DNA. Since childhood, drawing has been my passion. It was something I did remarkably well. After school hours, I would walk around the company with my sister. We enjoyed visiting the female designers who taught us various drawing techniques. Many old friends still have those sketches of silhouettes, which we naively defined as ‘bamboline’ or little dolls. It was somehow my natural path.

Many celebrities over the decades including swimmer and actor Esther Williams in the 1940s, Lana Turner, one of the highest-paid actresses of the time, Italian movie legend Sofia Loren and more recently, Princess Kate Middleton have all chosen your label. The princess is clearly a fan of your two-piece suits. Your aesthetic seems in keeping with her style.

We have had the pleasure and fortune of dressing many important and famous women who have often chosen us for the timeless feminine style of our clothing. Speaking of the recent past, we are very flattered that Kate Middleton has chosen to wear Luisa Spagnoli several times. She is an authentic icon of elegance, capable of dictating fashion trends.

What is your method of working? How do you combine designing and managing the brand?

I design clothes I would wear myself, that I like, and that other women will fancy and make them feel good about. Managing all the creative, strategic, and business aspects means I always have to organise and optimise my days as best as possible. Indeed, at certain times of the year, I am more focused on the collections, from the creative phase of the designs to the choice of fabrics, the preshow fittings and all the processes that lead to the display of the pieces in the shop window. The business part goes hand in hand, and the combination of the two is certainly not easy, but one is functional to the other.

How was the latest collection born?

Spring-Summer 2024, which we showcased during the Milan Fashion Week, was born taking inspiration from the icons of the 1970s such as Jane Birkin, alongside the urban style of contemporary women. It is a collection of contrasts, a combination of women’s multifaceted selves. The outfits have new cuts, always elegant but more daring.

Why have you now decided to open a single-brand boutique in Dubai?

After the complex three years of the pandemic, we have resumed the project of expanding abroad that we left pending during COVID-19. We soon selected Dubai as a significant, vital hub for fashion. The United Arab Emirates market is relevant and strategic for us. Dubai is an international city that retains its position as a top global destination. Having a single-brand boutique inside one of the most prestigious malls in the UAE is an excellent achievement. We are looking at an increasingly international future.

Located on the first floor of The Dubai Mall, your flagship store covers a total surface area of 100 square metres. Two big window displays offer visitors immediate visibility of the interiors. But who are your clients in the UAE?

It is undoubtedly an international clientele with different needs, so it is even more attractive (interesting) to understand and, hopefully, satisfy them. Soon I would like to personally visit the new store, to deal firsthand with the wants and needs of local customers.

Will you have an upcoming fashion show in Dubai?

That would be fantastic. It is so nice to bring something of our ‘Made in Italy’ into foreign countries. The ‘Made in Italy’ fashion label represents a great plus. It speaks for the Italian know-how, our passion for doing, our attention to detail and the art of precision, all features we fully embrace in our creations.

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