February 11, 2024 09:55 PM NPT
By: Sara Pahari
Cristina Vittoria Egger Bertotti, an Italy-based fashion stylist and advisor, known fondly as the ‘Grand Dame of the Royal House of Savoy,’ was recently in Kathmandu. ¹With a career journey spanning decades Bertotti’s journey in the fashion industry began alongside esteemed companies like Versace, Gucci and Etro. Now, she's in Nepal to conduct fashion workshops in collaboration with Kasa, aiming to develop a Capsule of Sustainable Fashion. With her vast experience and global perspective, Bertotti is eager to impart her knowledge to local designers and entrepreneurs, fostering sustainability and creativity in Nepal's burgeoning fashion scene. Republica's Sara Pahari sat down for an interview with her to know more about the fashion landscape, opportunities and challenges and the way Nepal can benefit from this sector. Excerpts:
How do you feel about being here in Nepal? What brought you to this beautiful country?
I am delighted to be here in Nepal, where I'll be conducting fashion workshops and lectures, sharing my extensive knowledge gained over years in the fashion industry in Italy. My career journey has taken me worldwide, starting at the age of 24 with esteemed companies like Gianni Versace, followed by roles at Gucci, Etro, and many others. Here, I'll be collaborating with students, imparting my expertise over the course of a few days. Kasa is powering this workshop, and together with them, we aim to develop a Capsule of Sustainable Fashion. Thus, fashion has brought me to Nepal.
What inspires your personal style?
As I age, I find that my style evolves, becoming wiser with time. Some may perceive aging as losing style or relevance, but I believe it's quite the opposite, especially for those over 50. With age comes a refined understanding of what works and what doesn't in fashion. I prioritize fashion ethics and sustainability when selecting my pieces, opting for classic colors and timeless items that can endure, even becoming vintage treasures. I cherish the garments passed down from my grandmother and mother, recognizing that investing in quality pieces allows for a lifetime of wear.
You have experienced the fashion industry during its golden era. How do you reflect on that period? Do you think Nepal's fashion scene is currently in its own golden era?
When I began my journey in fashion, the 90s offered a fertile ground with fewer competitors, allowing for more freedom and creativity. Nowadays, entering the fashion industry is markedly challenging. Many aspiring designers underestimate the budget required to launch a successful business, thinking that a small collection equates to instant success. However, contemporary fashion demands substantial investment in marketing and branding. Contrastingly, decades ago, success relied more on talent and innovation. Icons like Gianni Versace, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Yves Saint Laurent thrived due to their distinctive styles and pioneering approaches. Nepali fashion captivates me with its emphasis on quality, evident in exquisite Pashminas, Kashmir clothing, and intricate prints. I encourage local designers to embrace their cultural heritage, infusing ethnic elements into their creations while maintaining a contemporary flair.
What are your top five favorite fashion brands?
In terms of influential designers, Armani stands out for his timeless simplicity, while Yves Saint Laurent's iconic jackets endure through time. Dolce & Gabbana impresses not only with their fashion but also with their adept marketing of Italian heritage and craftsmanship. French brands like Dior and Givenchy also hold a special place in my admiration.
How did your experiences working with luxury fashion brands such as Gucci and Versace influence your approach to fashion styling and advising?
Versace was my school that I started at the age of 24. And of course, during the schooling time you learn a lot. And I had a possibility to work with a master, it was Gianni Versace, his brother and his sister. From them, I learned about the importance of maintaining positive energy, even during grueling workdays that stretched to 14, 15, or even 18 hours, especially during the intense fashion show collections. They taught me how much of myself I needed to invest and the necessity of strength and perseverance to achieve my goals. This lesson wasn't confined to the fashion industry alone; it applied to every aspect of my life. My mentors, who were individuals with strong characters, emphasized the significance of reaching targets regardless of the hours worked or the size of the team. Many times, we had to burn the midnight oil to prepare for fashion shows or manage guest lists. This physical demand made a profound impact on me, teaching me the value of relentless effort. Moreover, working alongside them taught me not only how to style myself but also how to choose color schemes and design my home and family life. However, behind all this lies hard work—it's not about counting the hours but about pouring your passion into everything you do.
How do you think fashion is changing and will change in the future?
Well, fashion is changing too fast in my opinion because when I started fashion we had only two seasons like winter and summer, and collections basically were done twice a year. So we were working for two big fashion shows for ladies and two big fashion shows for men. Today I can say that we have a prêt-à-porter, couture, a cruise collection, a mountain collection, so the collections keep going on. Each designer has about five, six different collections in six months. And I think this is really too fast and is teasing the clients to go and buy and to be on the wave of buying and looking good and having the must-have of the moment. For instance, Moncler just did a big fashion show in St Moritz to show his latest collection for snow. Sometimes I wonder why, since he is going to give a very big fashion show in two weeks in Milan again. So I think some designers have to start being more cautious because we are talking about sustainability and not about increasing production. So I hope fashion will change for the good of the planet.
How do you see the role of sustainability in fashion evolving globally, how do you advocate for conscious consumerism?
The fashion industry is the second-largest contributor to pollution worldwide. The excessive production of fast fashion has become a significant problem, leading to the wastage of millions of items each year. These discarded items often end up being shipped to places like India for disposal, contributing to environmental damage on a global scale, affecting not only the planet but also our oceans. I strongly disagree with this unsustainable practice. To address this issue, I believe we should adopt a mindset of buying less. Embracing vintage and second-hand goods is crucial as fashion trends tend to cycle back. Quality items from past decades can still be utilized, allowing us to repurpose items from our mothers or grandmothers. It is essential for us to be more mindful of our consumption habits. In the modern era, the ease of clicking to purchase from popular brands like Zara or Amazon has led to a cycle of quick buying and discarding. I invite everyone to be more cautious before impulsively clicking the buy button. Sustainability is paramount, and it aligns with the evolving values of the new world. We are teaching our children to be more conscious of their choices in clothing, food, and lifestyle. Past generations may not have prioritized these values, resulting in the current environmental challenges. However, I observe a positive shift in the mindset, with the younger generation showing greater awareness and concern for a sustainable world. In the future, I anticipate the increased use of renewable energy sources such as solar panels and natural electricity to power our vehicles. This shift towards sustainability is already evident in Europe, and I hope it becomes a global trend.
What role can Nepal play in promoting sustainable fashion practices?
Nepal is a beautiful country renowned worldwide for the Himalayas, mountains, lakes, and wildlife. I believe all these natural assets are inherently sustainable. Therefore, I would like to promote national fashion brands that are closely connected to these natural wonders.
My approach would involve promoting fashion in the rural villages of Nepal. If I were there, I would organize fashion shows in historical villages, incorporating traditional fabrics and ethnic pieces into modern designs. I would collaborate with local artisans, utilizing locally sourced materials such as leather, and engaging with the local community to create handmade products.
Additionally, I would create informative videos showcasing the craftsmanship behind each item, from clothing to yarn to bags. By emphasizing the traditional methods and historical significance of these products, I aim to tap into the growing appreciation for artisanal work among today's consumers rather than relying on high technology.
Given your experience with high-end fashion brands, what advice would you give to Nepali designers or fashion entrepreneurs aiming to break into the global market?
It's very important to have a solid business plan, so without a solid business plan, you cannot reach important markets like Europe and Japan. Before entering these markets, you need to create a business model and develop products to sell in shops, not just your own. You need to work a lot on market research. It's crucial if you want to sell your products in Europe to visit places like Paris and London to understand what is being sold and what trends are popular. It's also essential to study the body shapes of your potential customers and gather information on their purchasing habits, such as preferred colors and fabric choices. Conducting thorough market research is the first step. Once you return, you need to have a well-curated collection that makes sense for the market. Determine whether you'll focus on a collection of clothing, shoes, bags, or accessories. Sometimes, focusing on a niche like accessories can be a winning strategy. Utilize your strengths, such as your expertise in certain regions like Kashmir, to find your niche in the European market. Starting with competitive pricing and high-quality products is crucial. After establishing this, you'll need to approach agents, distributors, and participate in trade fairs in Europe to identify potential buyers. It's essential to have a well-developed business model, but market research is the first priority. You must avoid duplicating what's already available in the market and understand your target audience before proceeding. Work with reputable agents and distribution networks to ensure success in the background.