MILAN — A secret in plain sight. The Tivioli store in Milan couldn’t be more central, with its premium location in Via Santo Spirito — in the city’s Golden Triangle — and yet it is immune to the tony shopping district’s fanfare and congestion of high spenders and passersby peeking in through the windows.
Only a few people suspect the store has quietly stood there since the ‘90s, it boasts interiors designed by the late archi-star Gae Aulenti or that a Jean-Michel Basquiat artwork sits in the basement floor next to the Italian brand’s fashions.
Those fashions can easily hold their own with the many art and design pieces that punctuate the space itself. The label’s shearling or Mongolian coats, supple leather jackets and soft cashmere sweaters are rooted in quality, the result of craftsmanship and a couture-like approach, with Tivioli’s signature outerwear standing as one-of-a-kind designs.
“Luxury demands products that are not available to anyone. It’s just like acquiring a painting in a gallery: if you do that, you want to be the only owner and know that if you’re spending a lot of money, you’re doing it for something unique that only you can have and that sets you apart,” said Clemente Tivioli, who now helms the historic brand.
Fashion and art intertwine in the life of the Millennial son of late founder Carlo Tivioli, who established the brand in 1970 and saw it rise to fame for his eclectic approach to furs, mixing creativity, craftsmanship and innovation in his sought-after luxe creations.
The founder debuted his namesake brand at Alta Moda couture week in Rome, before garnering attention in the booming fashion scene in Milan, as well as in the cultural and artistic circles of the city. An avid art collector, he injected his passion into his refined and lightweight designs, experimenting with pioneering skills and effects, such as mosaic techniques inspired by the painter Victor Vasarely.
Sharing the same curiosity, Clemente Tivioli joined the company in 2014, ever since embarking on research trips across the world to bring back rare textiles to use in the collections. When his father passed away in 2020, Tivioli decided to carry on the firm’s rich legacy on his own terms, pivoting the brand toward a more sustainable and modern vision of luxury.
This is rooted in a quality-over-quantity approach, customization and durability of the product. Clemente Tivioli’s vision included diversifying the assortment — leaving the fur days behind in favor of shearling sourced from the food industry, traced leather and cashmere pieces — reintegrating the brand’s own deadstock in new creations and incorporating upcycled fabrics and vintage materials he cherry picks during his trips, meanwhile fostering worldwide relationships with local producers.
“I love traveling and finding special elements. Again, it’s like collecting art: I purchase a lot of things I like, regardless if and when I’m going to use them,” Tivioli said about his sourcing activity carried out in locales ranging from the Rajasthan desert in India to remote villages in South Africa. “I can buy wonderful buttons in Japan, then go to South America and find incredible textiles, which can sit there for two or three years before I use them in a design,” he continued, while showing a ceramic button he found in Kyoto.
For example, the fall 2023 collection includes cocooning kimonos, sherpa jackets and peignoir robes in bold shades of petrol and sage, burnt umber, burgundy, turquoise and powder blue, among others. Coming with intarsias, silk panels, fringed trimmings and embroideries, the designs are imbued with a sense of ease and fluidity, as they are intended to be worn from day to night, “with denim pants or over an evening dress.”
“I have a style and taste that might remind of my father’s but is different from his,” Tivioli said. “It didn’t make sense for me to do the bad carbon copy of what he did. Also because he was a genius in what he did and, at the same time, kind of crazy in continuing to do what he did.
“I don’t want to demonize furs. But I’m a young man, I simply don’t belong to that generation,” he continued. “So this wasn’t about stopping to make furs due to what others said. I already had other ideas, like integrating different materials and textiles….Hence, there are many reasons [behind this shift], it’s not like one day I just said: ‘OK, now enough with furs’. It’s been an evolution. And at the end of the day, one makes what sells, and I sell a lot of shearling coats and very few furs,” Tivioli said.
In general, Tivioli works on focused collections of a dozen designs, available in eight colorways. When the order for a style is placed, it is recreated in the same hue the client picked but with different embellishments and further customized in length, size and details according to the customer’s wishes, so that every final item is unique.
All the pieces are still handmade in the label’s atelier in Turin, which enlists 16 artisans, many of which have been working for the company for more than four decades. Tivioli described them as “my gold, because they are the ones making this product so special.”
In addition to these collections and to repurposing or revamping the brand’s vintage furs that customers often bring to Tivioli, artisans are in charge of crafting the label’s Essentials carryover line. This includes leather or suede staples, such as lightweight blazer jackets and suits in different colors, which make for options easier to replicate.
“Still, these are timeless in their designs,” underscored Tivioli, stressing his focus on offering items that can transcend seasons and fashion trends for both quality and look, with the ultimate goal for the item to be able to be passed down from one generation to another.
Asked to describe the current customer base, Tivioli said that “the brand targets such a niche that the demographic is really wide. It goes from a young woman with spending capacity who wants something funky and beautiful that no one has to the super chic mature woman, who’s been familiar with the brand for years.”
To this end, he noted that the new direction of the brand not only enabled him to free his creativity as he can “risk and play with product more, since the starting point is less precious [compared to furs],” but also allowed him to cut prices, therefore attracting a new generation of consumers.
“The highest price tag now used to make for the entry price of my father,” he said. Tivioli’s prices now start at 1,200 euros for sweaters up to 15,000 euros for the most precious coats. Leather pieces retail around 2,000 euros while the signature shearling coats have an average price of 3,500 euros, but can vary depending on the different handmade techniques and materials involved.
Overall, Italian customers account for 30 percent to 40 percent of the brand’s total sales, which Tivioli is quick to decline to disclose, reiterating that he’s committed to root “my business on scarcity, not on volumes.”
In the same vein, expanding distribution is not on his agenda, as it would imply an acceleration in production that he is not a fan of. In addition to its flagship store, the company occasionally sets up pop-ups and stages trunk shows around the world, which have enabled it to gain brand awareness in Switzerland, France, the U.S. and South Korea, Tivioli said.
For example, earlier this year the label staged the Chalet Tivioli pop-up in Gstaad and further boosted its online sales with a 12-item collaboration with Cabana magazine. Other tie-ups have had a more arty bent rather than commercial, with Tivioli partnering with jewelry designer Elie Top in April, last well as architect Stefano Belingardi and artist Alessandro Casagrande on exhibitions in 2022 and 2021, respectively.
Speaking of art, Tivioli sees the Milan store as the expression not only of the brand but also of his personal passion. The most recent additions in the space were two voluminous ceramic vases by Japanese artist Kazunori Hamana, which he “was looking for desperately, but were always sold out.”
“These are objects that fill my life and bring me joy,” Tivioli said about artworks, mentioning the likes of Arte Povera’s exponent Alighiero Boetti, Scottish painter Peter Doig and Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté among his favorite names.
“It all comes from my father: this was a passion I used to share with him. It was our hobby, what we did every day. He wasn’t a father I could play soccer with, but rather go to exhibitions and auctions with,” Tivioli recalled. “I had to elevate myself to keep up the pace with him while growing up, also because he was a genius and had a very high vision of life. I learned a lot from him, actually everything, and then reinterpreted it all with my filter. But I still copy some of his ideas,” he concluded with a smile.