The Business of Italian Design and Culture
The business of Italian design and culture was the theme of a recent global study
trip where 18 undergraduates from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School
of Business accompanied marketing lecturer Mary Harms through Rome, Florence and
Milan. The May 2011 program's activities were a blend of presentations by Italian
businesses, guided historical site and museum visits and class discussions, in addition
to first-hand observations of Italian design and culture. Students studied periods
in history when Italy excelled at design: Ancient Rome, Christianity in Rome, the
Renaissance, the Grand Tour and Italy after 1945.
Students explored fashion design at Museo de Ferragamo along with presentations
at Brioni and Giorgio Armani's corporate headquarters, museum design at MAXXI, service
design at the boutique J.K. Place Firenze Hotel, product and furniture design at
the Kartell Museum and the Triennale Design Museum, and office design at Disney's
new Italian headquarters. In addition, students visited with the owners of several
family-run businesses including an olive farm/bed & breakfast, a silversmith, a
custom silk weaving operation and a leather school.
Students visited the Milan-based headquarters of Giorgio Armani SPA and heard
from the company’s strategic marketing manager, Stefano Secchi in the auditorium
where runway shows are held. Secchi spoke to students about Armani’s use of umbrella
branding, market segmentation and the company’s recent venture into hotel design.
In Rome, the group visited menswear maker Brioni where students heard from Francesco
Pesci, CEO, and Antonella Dea Simone, the company's marketing director and the granddaughter
of the founder. Brioni was recently named the number one top-rated luxury men's
fashion brand in the U.S. by the 2011 Luxury Brand Status Index Survey.
In addition to exploring the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, the crown jewels
of ancient Roman culture, the students also toured the Zaha Hadid-designed MAXXI
museum named the “World building of the year 2010” at Barcelona’s World Architecture
Festival in September 2010.
The theme of passion for your product and craftsmanship was reinforced in visits
to a variety of companies in Florence. Students spent a day exploring agritourism
at Fattoria di Maiano where the founder's grandson guided them through the company's
process of producing extra-virgin olive oil from their 20,000 olive trees. Students
learned how custom silk fabrics are woven on 17th- and 18th- century looms for high-end
clients from Douha Ahdab, manager of Antico Setificio Fiorentino, on a guided tour
through the company's factory and showroom. They also visited with Stefania Pagliai
of Argentiere Pagliai, a silversmith in the Oltrarno area of the city, whose company
currently focuses on restoration and in the past produced custom silver pieces for
Tiffany. The head concierge of J.K. Place Firenze Hotel, Angela Berti, spoke with
the students about how customer service is defined for the high-end boutique hotel
Students learned about the leather industry in private tours of the Museo de
Ferragamo and the Scuola del Cuoio where they received an informational overview
of various leathers and the value of the “Made in Italy” label, learned how the
company is dealing with increased competition by China, and observed leather crafters
at work while touring the leather school launched to train artisans for the company.
In Milan, the program focused on Italian design since 1945. In addition to the
visit to Armani, students saw firsthand Italy's strength in contemporary product
and furniture design when they visited the Kartell Museum and the Triennale Design
Museum. The group explored office design with a meeting with RBS architect, Nora
Trentini, responsible for designing the new Italian headquarters for Disney in Milan.
The program ended with a day-long visit to Lake Como.
Mary Harms, Marketing Lecturer