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A neurotic way of being new – Luisa Via Roma: for every book sold, a tree will be planted

A history of culture through storefront windows and sustainable publishing: «It is an issue that fosters discussion, and that involves a growing global universe», quoting the latest book on Luisa Via Roma 

It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul, and that the soul is what keeps the physical body alive. When the windows of Luisa Via Roma are at the soul of the luxury retailer’s existence, what one sees is a true reflection of wider culture. Aptly titled Windows to a future fashion world, the book documents a history of storytelling, embodied in the medium of storefront displays. Idealized by the Creative Director of LuisaViaRoma, Annagreta Panconesi, and actualized in collaboration with writer Cesare Cunaccia, the book details how the creative-led connection between Florence and the wider world has instigated conversation on contemporary matters, utilizing the power of fashion. At the date of release, US President-elect Joe Biden called climate change the number one issue facing humanity today, so it would seem fitting to delve into Luisa Via Roma (LVR)’s triple-decade-spanning transitional focus upon a conscious future. 

«Everything you do needs to have some element or focus on sustainability. Even with the book, I said there needs to be some form of a sustainable angle; otherwise, there is little point in doing it», says Mrs. Panconesi. Content aside, the tangible book touts notable credentials; it is printed on recycled paper, and through a partnership with Treedom, a tree will be planted in conjunction with every book sold, forming what Panconesi remarks as a ‘Foresta Luisa Via Roma’. Beneath the covers and upon the pages, it tells a progression, prioritizing the balance between nature and the rationality behind progress, evolving LVR windows from boxed display to the store itself. The store now utilizes sustainable or recycled materials throughout its displays, and Mrs. Panconesi points out that they are «trying to work with brands that follow the philosophy of conscious design. There are some brands using recycled bottles, upcycled carpets, and less harmful chemicals. It is a case of thinking why all brands do not use these materials, instead of new». 

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Kenzo Editorial, 1975, photography Hans Feuer

The book opens with the statement by LVR’s CEO, Mr. Andrea Panconesi, «I do not like to breed nostalgia, nor hold on to useless second thoughts and regrets». While this is assertive in principle, it is universally acknowledged that humans use the past narratives to make sense of today’s world. In this light, Annagreta Panconesi admits «My father does not like to look into the past, so I took on that responsibility. I have had to see all the archives of the windows because I had not seen any of this content prior». Content of which details an unintentional string of responsible methods of practice. Focusing on the work of Kyle Bradfield, Cunaccia explains how he «was using recycled things and found objects; it was an avant-garde approach. Fashion was the driver, but the medium did not limit him. Fashion became an excuse to reuse neglected objects». Given that many brands are yet to utilize circular initiatives, this highlights an inherent focus on limiting waste products. 

While the book catalogs a timeline of past dialogue, the current climate topic is focused on real problems. In April, clothing sales fell 79 percent in the United States alone, with The New York Times reporting it as ‘the largest dive on record’. Similarly, in the UK, there is a decline in apparel sales, with YouGov reporting a 42 percent decrease, despite clothing and beauty products remaining the popular online lockdown purchase after groceries. According to the book, the climate crisis «is an issue that fosters discussion, and that involves a growing global universe». Cunaccia states: «It is difficult to imagine the world as it was before. We need to dream; not dreaming as escaping from reality but as a way of thinking positively. I think Luisa Jaquin (LVR Founder) was playing with dreams when conceptualizing these windows. It is cathartic to think of a better future».  

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Store Luisa Via Roma, 1970

When the now is defined as an ‘era of great metamorphosis’, Cunaccia describes «how LVR’s past is speaking well to our future. It is so in their approach and DNA». In force, the company established its e-commerce site in 1999, far ahead of many competitors, with event-led initiatives following collaborations with brands such as Nokia, Missoni, Levi, and Coca-Cola. Empirical marketing techniques are also seen in the first interactive windows in 2002. As expressed in the book, LVR consumers are «seeking experiences, not just product». This may have transpired 20 years ago as experiential marketing; however, in the context of today’s world, it is advanced in principle. The Harvard business review reported in 2019 that consumers are more open to green alternatives through the ‘experience economy,’ in which companies offer experiential options as an alternative to material goods. Many competitors are implementing marketing infrastructure in an age of greenwashing that LVR has had in motion for years.

Mrs. Panconesi says «we used to have a window in Florence, but now through digital means, our window is accessible to the world. So we were trying to be as creative and as new as possible by disseminating interesting content,  by translating a story not only about fashion but  on every person, piece, and brand». This 360 brand approach and past storefront aesthetics have rooted the brand in an ever-competitive market. Each of the printed images depicting the heavyweight brand identifies through visual narrative – a mode of communication, which digitally transpires to the contemporary clientele of the upcoming Gen Z. Modern stores need to adapt to shifting consumer behavior and complement the increasingly digital nature of fashion retail alongside the physical presence. As stated in the  Business of FashionThe State of Fashion 2020 report, «In the fashion category, more than 70 percent of purchases are still made offline, and online channels only account for just 13 percent of luxury brand sales». This proves the need for bricks and mortar, in conjunction with new interfaces of interaction, a balance which LVR has enacted so well for decades. Cunaccia observes how it is «a balance between past and future, not nostalgic, but a neurotic way of being new». 

Following the book, Panconesi plans to release further visual assets coinciding with those published and unearthed. She continues to discuss the future of the physical space with the intention to hold ‘designer takeovers’ with similar creative integrity as the windows of the past. «We have this box, which we change every six months. It is clean, fluid, and contemporary. The idea is to put the creativity of one upcoming figure – be that architect, artist, designer – to transform the space for a period, forming the world of the artist inside the shop itself». Both Panconesi and Cunaccia talk of plans with a similar energy that emanates from the history collated in the Rizzoli publication. In the end, Cunaccia comments: «We were searching for this kind of conversation and feel».

IMAGE GALLERY

Window to a Future Fashion World, edited by Rizzoli New York (2020) and curated by Cesare M. Cunaccia.

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