Italian Cultural Partnerships Bear Watching
Oct 18, 2012
As oil is the Middle East’s natural resource, culture is Italy’s. The country is home to more UNESCO World Heritage sites, museums and archeological sites than any other in the world.
Yet with the Italian economy in the tank, and former prime minister Berlusconi’s disdain for the country’s cultural heritage, less than 0.2 percent of the national budget is spent on preserving its world treasures.
Italian brands have taken notice and an increasing number are trying to invest in cultural heritage as a means of expanding their cultural presence. Tod’s, Prada, Zegna, Diesel and Benetton have all announced projects over the last 18 months.
- Diego Della Valle, owner of the Tod’s and Hogan brands, is underwriting the Italian Ministry of Culture’s restoration of Rome’s historic Coliseum at a cost of €25 million. The ministry sent out a public works RFP to invite private sector sponsorship. Della Valle also sponsors events at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, the world renowned opera house.
- Diesel is paying for restoration of Venice’s Rialto Bridge.
- Prada restored an 18th-century Venetian palazzo on the Grand Canal—Ca' Corner della Regina—and is housing its impressive art collection there.
- Benetton is hoping to transform the Fondaco dei Tedesci—the former Venetian trade mission for German merchants—into a shopping center designed by starchitect Rem Koolhaas.
However, all these good works may be derailed by outspoken unions and citizens groups. The union representing cultural workers sued Benetton saying the process for acquiring the site was illegal, and citizens' groups are criticizing the commercialization of cultural heritage and want to prevent Venice, which is hundreds of millions of Euros in debt, from being turned into a “commercialized version of its old self.”
Meanwhile Della Valle’s Coliseum restoration support, which includes exclusive rights for the visual use of the iconic, 2,000-year-old Roman structure, faces continued protests and delays.
For these fashion-forward brands to be willing to invest in Italy’s past is a big deal. All of them also sponsor art of today. With apparel brand extensions into housewares, hotels and entire lifestyles, fashion, art, culture and marketing will only become more intertwined. Hopefully, the brands will be allowed to fill in the gaps that the Italian government can’t.
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