Branding the subconscious

A chat with Danilo Venturi

Interviews

Read more

On a late April evening at a classical Tuscan restaurant in a quiet corner of Florence, it was already warm enough to dine alfresco. We ordered a Florentine steak and two glasses of red wine, and my conversation began with Danilo Venturi.

Few people know that Danilo arrived at Polimoda initially as a student, then came back several years later as a teacher. His intuition to launch the master’s course in Fashion Brand Management paid off, and since that moment Danilo worked closely with Linda Loppa, the then Director of Polimoda, to develop more business courses. Eventually he became Head of Department and in 2016, Polimoda’s Director.

Danilo Venturi - Branding the Subconscious, Flowers and passport

I know that you come to this restaurant often. Why this place?

It has become a kind of second office for me, actually. I come often with colleagues for dinner and we always brainstorm and invent new courses and projects here. Honestly, this is the moment when real work happens. Our days are often full of executive tasks that leave no time for the most important part – envisioning the future of the school. I think more than half of the courses at Polimoda were drafted here, exactly at this table, on these paper napkins.

Also the master’s course in Fashion Brand Management was born in this way?

No, this was created while I was still working in the industry and teaching only a few hours a week at Polimoda on Friday, which as a day is the worst moment to teach because students are often all ready for the weekend. Nevertheless, the work I received from students was of a very high level, and so Linda wanted to meet me in person. This was a was great moment because we found immediate synchronicity. Soon after I presented to Linda my idea of the new master’s course, which back then seemed like complete nonsense but she loved it, and so it was launched.

What was nonsensical about it?

Well, the course was built around subjects like sociology and anthropology instead of the traditional approach including business and statistics, and graphic design was weighted equally to accounting. Today this sounds like the norm but back then it created a bit of tension in the business department where creativity was seen as something only for designers.

What made you think anthropology to be more important for managers than statistics?

Brand managers today have to shape the identity of a brand according to a main vision; to preserve its key values and to evolve its mission when necessary.

Great brand managers are visionaries, not accountants.

Danilo Venturi - Branding the Subconscious, Book

So what background does someone need to have to be accepted into the master’s course in Fashion Brand Management today?

Background doesn’t matter if you have the key. Every brand has at the very least a business model and an archetype. But you can approach them starting from chemistry, then for you it’s about gimmick. From psychology, then it’s about attitude and behaviour. From economics, then it’s all a way to make sense of numbers. From design, then it’s about distinguishing yourself in a more effective way. From sociology, then you look for a way to create an impact. And so on. Doors are all there, in the books. What we teach is to find your key. This is the Polimoda method.

Can you elaborate on this ‘Polimoda method’?

Identity must always be the starting point in everything; for either brand management or simply personal growth.

You must understand who you are, go straight to the point and eliminate everything else. You can also see this in Polimoda’s visual identity: black and white.

Is this also the reason you’re always dressed in black?

Yes and also because colours distract me. I like to be concentrated on what I am instead of playing with what I am not. Black keeps me focused.

Could you name an iconic piece from your wardrobe that characterises you most of all?

My wardrobe is composed of basic black t-shirts, white shirts, several pairs of jeans and string shoes, so it is iconic in itself as it has been my uniform since many years and reflects my philosophy: cut away the decoration and keep only the essence.

What’s your favourite fashion brand?

Alexander McQueen before the death of the founder and Maison Martin Margiela before the exit of the founder. I don’t have a current favourite.

How is this possible? Do you no longer enjoy fashion?

The collections being produced today are ridiculous. But fashion is not only clothing; there’s much more involved behind clothing that triggers my curiosity, like peoples’ minds, the roles people play, and everything else that goes into making fashion the most powerful reflector of society. This is then expressed through a collection of course, but also a shop, a brand, a picture, an outfit, an accessory…

So is fashion a form of art?

No, art is a form of fashion.
Danilo Venturi - Branding the Subconscious

I mean, is fashion more art or more business?

It’s both. Isn’t art also a business? It has always been this way, or at least since the Renaissance. I don’t distinguish between design and business because it’s all about the idea of creation, which makes sense only if there is something to express in the first place. Then art, exactly like fashion, is also a matter of power.

And who do you consider to be the most powerful artist today?

Many artists are interesting but none powerful. To be powerful you must make history, and I think we live in an era in which history, intended as a progressive movement of events, is over. It’s a mess. Everything is contradictory and temporary. You can enjoy an artist’s exhibition or performance and then dislike the same artist’s next work. So it’s also difficult to consider an artist as a star and to be a ‘fan’. Anyway, I guess to answer our question I would say Damien Hirst, David Lynch and Thom Yorke, in the different fields they occupy.

You are in your forties now. What’s the most significant decade during which you’ve lived?

Personally, I love and hate the 1990’s; the decade of great transition when I lived my youth. It was a very decadent period. The influence of Punk culture was fading and Grunge passed by very quickly. I lived the end of ideologies and the arrival of globalization. These phenomena, like the internet, changed the world completely. Fashion is all about change and witnessing change was the true destiny of Generation X, which is my generation.

When you were a lecturer, you would arrive wearing white converse and Ray Ban aviators, with a coffee, a cigarette and an expression of distain for everything and everyone… Was that a reflection of your punk state of mind?

Yes but not only this. I don’t sleep very well during the night, as it’s the moment I can come up with my ideas and write, so I’m better to stay in bed in the morning, if I am honest.

If you can’t sleep at night, when do you rest?

I hardly rest because I am a workaholic, there is always a rabbit in my head, I am restless.

As I said earlier, I brainstorm courses over dinner. Relaxation is a different thing, and I do relax when I spend time with people who I really like, though I also enjoy travelling alone, watching movies, listening to music and reading books. I like printed books very much because I underline things, take notes, and write down my thoughts in the margins; I have a real physical interaction with books and once I’m done, I destroy them.

Is there a book that’s especially important to you?

It’s difficult to name only one but if I really have to choose then I’d say the Holy Bible. This is not necessarily for religious reasons, but simply because it contains everything needed to understand humans, their stories and their relations. Then I also like Nietzsche or Freud who antithetical to the first, but let’s say that if the world ends tomorrow and I have to escape to another planet with only one book, I would chose the Holy Bible.
Danilo Venturi - Branding the Subconscious, Books

And what was the last film you found impressive?

It was actually a TV series: The Young Pope by Paolo Sorrentino with Jude Law.

Because of the connection with the Bible?

Not at all. The first reason is that the protagonist, the Young Pope, was revolutionary by being conservative and somehow it’s also the way I tend to work. For me, a contemporary school should be old-school, teachers must look into the eyes of students, and students must work hard in a hands-on way. The second reason is that this series gives a great lesson in brand management.

You have an unconventional vision for reinventing and managing brands. Would you ever consider returning to the fashion industry?

Yes and no because in some way it’s also what I am doing for Polimoda, but I understand what you mean. I will go back to the industry only when my mission at school will be accomplished, so one day. Not now.

What’s your mission?

Education. I want to see people grow.

Being an educator goes beyond giving skills to work; it has more to do with creation, maturation and proliferation.

It’s a way to multiply yourself or your ideas while empowering others.

Your mission is education though you stopped teaching one year ago…

A Director is the teacher of the teachers. I represent a philosophy of teaching inside and outside the school, I didn’t give up; I have to continually raise the bar.

Tell us more about Danilo Venturi outside Polimoda. What do you do on weekends?

I always spend time with the joy of my life, my daughter Sofia.

Would you like her to work in fashion?

No, but she wants to. I just want her to be happy in whatever she will do, but it’s clear that she’s is a natural born designer, as she is freehand drawing silhouettes and garments at the age of 10. This really scares me sometimes.

Why?

It concerns me because you know, fashion is the most difficult and unjust environment I’ve experienced in my life. This fear is just an instinct of protection, but then, yeah, let’s go.

What city do you identify most with?

New York or London depending on the day, but in the end Florence is the greatest place in the world to live.

Describe a perfect house where you would be totally comfortable to live in.

The perfect situation for me would be to find an old industrial building and make a house out of it with minimum adjustments, not altering the original structure. I would like it to be rough and isolated; with no dividing walls inside, keeping it a completely open space, so the entire apartment could be observed from any angle. And there must be a garden outside… even if I never went into it, I would like to know that it is there.

What is your archetype?

The Greek God of the underworld, Hades… google it!
Danilo Venturi - Branding the Subconscious, Skull headphones

My last question: what’s on your current playlist?

This is difficult. I listen to tons of different songs and genres everyday but let’s do this; I’ll tell you the soundtrack of this interview, to be listened exactly in this sequence:

  • The Irreprensibles – In This Shirt
  • Blonde Redhead – Misery Is A Butterfly
  • Soap & Skin – Me And The Devil
  • Franz Schubert – Trio Op. 100
  • Pavel Dovgal – Faust
  • The XX – Reunion (Ame Remix)
  • Jesse Rose – Day Is Done (Hot Chip Remix)
  • Euanwhosarmy Feat. Lyndsey Lupe – For Nothing
  • Radiohead – Talk Show Host
  • Einstürzende Neubaten – The Garden

This article is an excerpt from Polimoda’s long-form publication Almanac, an expanded catalogue where courses and content collide to offer a comprehensive compendium of all things Polimoda. From interviews with cutting edge designers to essays on the future of fashion, we will be featuring a selection of the Almanac’s most interesting visual and reading material on our journal.

YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN