Business History Review

Articles

Turning Fashion into Business: The Emergence of Milan as an International Fashion Hub

Elisabetta Merloa1 and Francesca Polesea2

a1 ELISABETTA MERLO is associate professor at the Institute of Economic History, Bocconi University, Milan.

a2 Francesca Polese is assistant professor at the Institute of Economic History, Bocconi University, Milan

Abstract

The Italian fashion industry rose to a position of international prominence in the second half of the twentieth century. An important factor in the sector's global success was the opening up of the international, particularly the American, markets. The changes that occurred within the fashion industry after World War II, most critically the end of the Parisian monopoly, offered opportunities that were exploited differently by the various competitors. While cities like London and New York managed to promote themselves as alternatives to Paris, Italy was initially unable to create a single fashion capital. Florence, Rome, and Milan felt themselves equally entitled to become the staging ground for Italian fashion production, but Milan, benefiting from certain features of its productive structure, eventually emerged as the winner. The city's success was based on a long, steady accumulation of resources and the ability to harness its creative and managerial capabilities. The result was Milan's emergence as a fashion “superstar” in the 1970s.

Elisabetta Merlo is associate professor at the Institute of Economic History at Bocconi University in Milan. She is in charge of cataloging the historical archives of the Camera nazionale della moda italiana (Association of Italian Fashion Designers), and she has written extensively about the history of the Italian fashion industry. Among her recent publications are Moda Italiana: Storia di un'industria (2003), and “Le origini del sistema moda,” in La moda, edited by C. M. Belfanti and F. Giusberti (2003).

Francesca Polese is assistant professor at the Institute of Economic History of Bocconi University in Milan, where she conducts research in the fields of Italian business history and the history of the fashion business. Recent publications include “In Search of a New Industry: Giovanni Battista Pirelli and his Educational Journey through Europe, 1870–71,” in Business History (July 2006); “Big Business Performance in the Twentieth Century: Italy,” with C. Brambilla et al., in Essays in European Business Performance in the Twentieth Century, edited by C. Brautaset (2005); and Alla ricerca di un'industria nuova (2004).