He could only have used the Company for the Transatlantic Steam Navigation with the Americas had he left at the end of the nineteenth century, but today Tiziano Zorzan prefers the punctuality of Lufthansa to fly between Milan, Monaco and New York. He has a true tangible love for what works, for "what is" rather than "what seems". He often repeats this phrase during the interview, so much so that it sticks to the topic and immediately forces me to think to myself: "Am I myself, something that is?"
The interview; carried out in two episodes between the Savoy in Florence, which cocktails he adores, and his office in Milan, where he loves everything; is a delicious excursus on the Italian entrepreneurship that survives abroad, the repetition of the myth of Columbus going to discover the Americas - only this time it comes with a very stylish hold rather than sacks of spices. One wall of the office in Milan is dedicated to very smiling photographs with Sophia Loren, Jacqueline Bisset, Whoopi Goldberg, Sharon Stone, Elizabeth Taylor, Mariangela Melato and men in suits with important jaws, mostly Americans rather than Europeans, I guess.
Zorzan’s look is magnetic, severe. He looks away every time he asks a question and waits for a response from his employees, as if not wanting to intercept the intentions, determined however not to be taken in by an emotional approach. Around the table is a hive of copyrighters, photographers and programmers: Zorzan is at present the director of a campaign to reposition an important name in fashion. Zorzan is a signature in the field of strategic communication, he has a pretty impressive list of strategies behind events with Panerai, Four Seasons, Rai, Cartier, just to name a few - each time in different roles and points of view. He has always worked in a hidden role behind the scenes, until 2012, when he decided to design a space in which to sell a concept as intangible and as Italian such as style. "An obvious choice, after a lifetime of advising", he specifies "about what to do, how, where, when and for how long. It's amazing how today buying a designer suit is possible to everyone but style is becoming a very rare commodity, virtually unobtainable. The Madonna of Montenero effect is around the corner for women with full wallets, the syndrome of the fluorescent orange moccasin is around the corner for managers who live gray lives from Monday to Saturday morning. Paradoxically, I find a lot of inspiration from those who must still make it, those who have little and the little they have, they have to make look good, classy".
The reason why we are interviewing him today is his plan to export Italian style in New York City, an ambitious plan that wants to reconnect the human being living in the city with true nature, which is closely linked to the Italian brand, to the innate style, so far undefined, called La Bella Figura (good impression). The range of the project is immense, ambitious, and has been in the incubator for about a year. In order to inject lifeblood into the project young designers and artists have been mobilized from across Europe. It is clear in Zorzan’s intent, that this taste crusade will start from the center of New York to touch all the neuralgic spots of Modern Man. "An investment on the future," he says when I ask to specify. "An idea so new that we decided to register the copyright, before any of the atmospheric nullities that cohabit my world tries to mimic this initiative. I must be careful to use generic terminology; the last interview cost me the title of a patent. "The search for the physical location is animating the real estate brokers in Tribeca, Soho and Lower East Side, since we are searching for a physical place that can have three different faces every day, each for an intended use, each for the necessary phases of everyday life of every human being: action, thought, gratification. A metropolitan meeting place, an all-Italian show of which Zorzan will be the creator, consultant and interpreter. For exhibiting, Zorzan has designed a repeatable and infinitely expandable module that can turn a hangar in a small boutique and vice versa.
WSI: Exporting style means to be convinced to own it, or, at least, to be able to spot it. Who are, in the meantime, your style icons, in the year zero?
TZ: The Italians who do not shout. One can recognize them immediately without them even opening their mouths, from a distance, maybe while they are riding their bikes or carrying the shopping bags. We have something that becomes even more evident as soon as one no longer lives in Italy and meets some fellow citizens. But we do not recognize each other just amongst ourselves; it’s a characteristic trait. My mission is to extrapolate that gene and implant it, just as a scientist would do, in certain well-arranged environments. The Italian character, when not boorish, when it is not improvised, is an absolute value.
WSI: A few names?
TZ: Laura Morante. I can never remember what dress she wears and even what it is she says exactly, because I spend all the time looking at her face and the grace with which she moves. Rita Levi Montalcini, composed, intelligent. Marina Cicogna. Massimo Cacciari. Beppe Modenese (Honorary President of the National Chamber of Italian Fashion, editor’s note). Mastroianni, it’s inevitable.
WSI: Is the reference to Cacciari political?
TZ: Absolutely not, and I do not express myself on politics as a principle, although it is hard not to notice a phase of aesthetic coma, which we perceive from the slogans they use, the cars they drive, the life they lead. Well, it gave me a good means of comparison: my project goes in the opposite direction of the Italian government in the past thirty years.
WSI: Forget the politics then. What does your work today consist in?
TZ: Reposition, change, and revise a brand, a label, and consequently the company, the production behind it. It’s a concert executed with difficulty, involving a number of significant risks. It is a process that can be compared to pregnancy, or perhaps even better, an operation for lengthening the limbs: something that is completely artificial, but if it’s not supported by nature itself, turns into a painful rejection. It's like a great show: you rehearse until you reach a level of performance near to perfection: Lights, Camera, Action.
WSI: How do you measure your success or your failure, which I guess are not tangible only according to a positive or negative economic change?
TZ: It's about identifying the best key to make a U-turn and accelerate in the right place at the right time, so not to lose, but rather exploit all the inertia of the previous route. You cannot stop the car, you know, or lift it in the air and turn it one hundred and eighty degrees and then put it back down: we must be influential, a little 'dare devilish, and have a clear vision of the road you have never driven on before, the one that will constitute the new future of that company - or maybe the future it deserved right from the beginning. Success is not initially linked to an increase in profits, but it certainly is in the medium and long term. A company does a strategic change of image, when its creative heart can’t wait to become what it was meant to be. A series of events occur in the life of a company: some of these neither programmed nor planned, but they end up permanently changing the DNA structure of the company. My job is to interpret the Proustian Madeleine and help the company to remember itself. In some cases I had to take a small production to become an industrial production, but other times I had to change a factory into a workshop, if you allow me the comparison. In both cases I could feel evident satisfaction, pure joy, on behalf of those who hired me. Another aspect of my job is to design atmospheres, create events, but I do not see this detached from the rest: it is always the same process of interpretation and change.
WSI: So what is the Madeleine that sparked your project in New York?
TZ: In my case it is a process that began many years ago, and that comes to an apex next year: I have analyzed and changed more than fifty companies, I have created memorable events for them, I have thought for them and with them. Inevitably I took elements, I found inspiration to continue my business, for myself, and at some point they have all connected together. I didn’t put a time or a limit to the completion of this project it simply has built itself. The only real choice was that of the location, which is New York: in no other place in the world have I found an atmosphere like it, an energy that is so strong as to make me wonder what is the secret of this place, of these people, who despite being at the center of the world still manage to keep alive within them their inner child, who wants to be successful, that believes, that does not yield even after an attack. New York is not willing to compromise when it comes to its future: it is a place where I want to measure, find and create myself.
WSI: What is it, exactly, this project?
TZ: It's easy: a place to buy things or style. The style you can convey through things, but it is also a concept in itself: I will be at the forefront, present, as a consultant and guardian. It will be a returning to Green, a place where nature and design will mould in unison to become objects of desire. The modular structure of the environment that we have created also allows changing its appearance during the day, to change its intended use but at the same time preserving its content. We were inspired by the animal world, too, and the perfection of a beehive: a perfect machine.
WSI: What is the difference between a concept store, or a store and your space?
TZ: The difference is substantial and clear: I sell emotions. Concept store is now a term that has completely lost its meaning. If concept store is a place where someone sells jeans or hats, then the concept is clear: it is called a market with dressing rooms. The shop (negozio), is the word I like to use the most, since it derives from Latin and it’s the closest word to the modern term "business", it’s a place where you may or may not want to buy something. In my case we are talking about time, atmosphere and style. This place we are creating does not necessarily have to contain things. The important thing is that it is on a human scale, that it is designed to contain people and to change the perception of everyday reality in a positive way, a place of generous and contemporary exchange.
WSI: Your co-worker continues to bring you samples of leather: are you working with a brand?
TZ: I was given the strategic direction of an Italian company that produces bags and is a leading name in the world in order to broaden its communication and change, expand its object. A task that is for me a leap in the history of Italian luxury craftsmanship, which is stimulating all of my team. We spend hours in the old lab that is beautiful, antique, wise: a unique feeling and mission.
WSI: How do you become a Turn Around Manager?
TZ: This is a really long story, but we can try to summarize it in a few concepts and keywords. The ability to disappear behind a brand at an early stage is crucial for a job like this. One must become the brand for an initial very intense period, which involves listening, integrating oneself and disappearing into its creative intent, perfectly understanding its mechanisms and tics. When you become one with the company, only then, can you begin the process of separation, the analysis from the outside. Only looking at the company under the microscope like an entomologist, until it is broken down into a few, very strong and heavy molecules, can one reach the last process, that of predicting the future, based on the previous two, but taking a visionary shot towards a successful future, in which one has dared to do the right thing. It is clear that the risks, visions and successes, reside in the third part of the project, but that without the first two the project goes nowhere.
WSI: What would you say to young people who want to do a similar job to yours, or at least in its sphere of action?
TZ: The important thing is what they say to me, not what I say to them. You see, the youngsters know everything before actually getting to learn things: they just get on track with their sense of things, their intuition and learn to believe that anything is possible with great determination and honesty. A boy, a girl, aware of their potential with time available to carry out their plans, are a inextinguishable force, a fire that illuminates and inspires. The beginning of a professional career, no matter how difficult and frustrating, is the moment when one decides what kind of professionals they will be when they grow up.
WSI: Do you feel the crisis in your work? Have your customers, even the most important ones, taken defensive countermeasures to counteract this negative cycle of the world’s economy?
TZ: Look, I’ll tell you a secret: this is an extraordinary moment for investments and creativity. Improvisation and the companies that I call "vacuum", those grown on momentary trends are being lost; while the generous, credible, “capable of communicating the dream” and “giving the right price” brands are stronger.
Tiziano Zorzan has been part of the show business since he was sixteen years old and has worked with Sharon Stone, Whoopi Goldberg, Elizabeth Taylor and David Foster, among others. Often described as the guru of communications and marketing for companies, he has been a consultant for clients such as Cartier, Rolex, Tom Ford, Louis Vuitton, Piaget, Panerai and Lindt, covering different roles.
Translation: Chloé V. Ercoli Bannister