THE RENAISSANCE OF RESPONSIBLE ITALIAN CRAFTSMANSHIP
The images conjured when thinking about Italian elegance are of beautifully constructed garments, luxurious fabrics, and attention to details that contribute to a style that has been universally admired and the subject of much inspiration and aspiration by up-and-coming fashion designers.
Eleventy is no different, and then again, it is much different from its vaunted competitors. The idea of providing a luxury label, to a public clamoring for it, at reasonable pricing is indeed rare. But rarer still is the idea of introducing sustainability and ethics to its practices.
Eleventy was founded in Milan, Italy, in 2007 by Marco Baldassari (Men’s Creative Director) and Paolo Zuntini (Women’s Creative Director); they were joined in 2009 by Andrea Scuderi as partner and Operations Executive. Their goal?—creating an exclusive and responsible made-in-Italy label with a focus on exhaustive research to source the very best fabrics and a quest for style that would meet contemporary demands. While the company is staunchly Italian, with the majority of its outlets in Europe, it is just starting to explore the American market and, in 2016,created its first US headquarters in New York City.
Eleventy wants to make its products available to a larger number of people who, while choosing quality and style, are still are conscious of their budget.Eleventy is at the forefront of sustainable practices, with an unrelenting commitment to do what it can to conserve resources, reduce overall consumption, and optimize its production processes to ensure that generations of customers can enjoy its products—but not at the expense of the environment.
While visiting Eleventy’s wonderful showroom in New York City, NOBLEMAN had an opportunity to speak with creative director, Marco Baldassari, and president of US operations, Geoff Schneiderman. Our wide-ranging conversation covered a variety of subjects from authenticity and passion to what “Made in Italy” truly means.
Marco, you’ve had a very interesting career. You mentioned studying accounting as a young man. How did your fashion journey start?
I went to work at a young age (16 years old) while going to school to study accounting. I think it’s fair to say that my passion for fashion won that particular battle! A lot of my friends ended up working in finance; I just couldn’t do it. I had to follow my heart.
While Eleventy was founded in 2007, you started to work in fashion in the mid to late 1980s, correct?
Yes, I started to work for Mila Schoen, a prêt-à-porter collection in 1985-1987, which started my love affair with fashion. I’ve never looked back. I spent the better part of 10 years being a fabric sourcing agent for a variety of Italian luxury labels, which truly prepared me for what was to come at Eleventy.
In our conversation, you’ve mentioned several times that Eleventy was a dream. How difficult was bringing that dream to reality?
It was very difficult. The luxury market is fairly crowded with a variety of brands all wanting a share of the marketplace. We wanted Eleventy to stand apart from the competition in a way that would make a difference. I believe that we have succeeded, but this is an ongoing process—the work is never done.
You’ve mentioned the idea of authenticity. How important is this?
It is vital! People can see through fakeness quickly [laughing]. We can proudly call our garments “Made in Italy” by Italian tailors—because they are! The love and the passion we have for our craft are behind every single piece of clothing that comes out of our showrooms and stores.
How can we best translate “sprezzatura?”
Ha… I would say that it applies to the way our garments have a certain style, yet an easiness about them. There is a lot of work that goes into making our products, but yet, it seems effortless to those who wear it.
Talk to us about sustainability and responsible growth.
Eleventy has been very fortunate to experience the kind of success we’ve had. We also want to give back, especially to those who support us in Italy. We want to produce the very best garments in the world and do the kind of work we love, while respecting the environment. We believe that the very near future is one where only ethical fashion will be acceptable. We know that the world is changing rapidly and that every industry requires global solutions; fashion is certainly not immune to that. We have an obligation to contribute to better business practices, even in a small way.
The growth of Eleventy has been measured and deliberate. Where do you see the label evolving?
We are growing at a cautious rate. Once again, I want to be able to touch everything we do, and there are only so many hours during the day! Since my base of operations is in Italy, we’ve expanded our footprint there. But we realize the importance of the American market, hence our presence in New York and other locations.
It seems a good moment to ask you, Geoff, about the North American operations. What do you envision for the growth of the company?
[Geoff Schneiderman] I want to echo Marco’s statement. We are very deliberate about growing the company. It is about doing it the right way, the “Marco” way, as opposed to just expanding to a bunch of locations and ultimately diluting our offering.
One of the first things we’ve noticed is that Eleventy’s pricing strategy is noticeably below all its major competitors (Cucinelli comes to mind). How are you able to accomplish this without sacrificing quality?
We are in a unique position in that we are working with a network of almost 100 factories in Italy that provide us products from just about every sector of the industry, whether it is fabrics, buttons, accessories, etc. This greatly helps in controlling costs, which is also what drives the pricing for our competitors. I would venture to say that you will not find the combination of the kind of quality we have with the prices we offer anywhere else. This is a true commitment at Eleventy, one that we will continue to make for years to come.
What is next for Eleventy?
Continuing the course. Eleventy is offered in high-end retailers in New York, as well as in selected locations in California. Stay tuned for our flagship store to open later this year.