What brought the prestige of “Made In Italy”? Not their attention to detail, not their rich and flavourful culture, not the high quality of products. Instead, it is simply in its humble history.

The following note is what I learned from a lecture at school. The professor was Anthony Marasco, a UC Berkely PhD graduate in History.

He begun the course by asking the students to look critically into the concept of “Made in Italy” and attempt to figure out any potential problem in it. Next, he wanted us to find out how this prestigious label has achieved its current status.

The students’ responded with a similar presentation regarding apparent issues, such as how easy it is to exploit the label. Legal loopholes allow unethical companies to take advantage of the Made In Italy labelling, ex. shifting the final stage of production to Italy to get the “Made In Italy” certification.

However, it was not what the professor was expecting, instead, he wanted us to look deeper into history from a more neutral perspective. We have approached the task with quite an extreme and aggressive stance. We automatically assumed that anything Made In Italy should carry high quality, prestige and creativity. We failed to even truly consider what has occurred previously, bringing the country its glory in their creations. Oddly, we were immediately lead to focusing on the decaying status of its branding in modern days. Possibly due to the rising negative sentiment over branding and labelling exploitation that is going on in the design industries.

The professor followed by presenting a theory of his own, proposing several major turning points which catapulted the branding of “Made In Italy” into its modern-day glory. He attributed the success factor to the “Grand Tour” in the 17th/18th century and also the era after the Second World War.

He begun by explaining the decline, stagnation, and instability which face the Italian’s social, economic and political area after the spectacular renaissance period in the 16th century, which many Italians are very proud of today. Consequently, the decline made Italy a relatively cheap country to travel to. As a result, the highest cultural yet affordable country started attracting Europe’s young aristocrats to visit, and the “Grand Tour” custom was invented as if a must-do activity for those coming of age.

The “Grand Tour” refers to the 17th- and 18th-century custom of a traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper-class young European men of sufficient means and rank (typically accompanied by a chaperon, such as a family member) when they had come of age (around 21 years old).

The custom served as an educational rite of passage. In modern days, it would be similar to what foreign recent high school graduates taking a trip to Thailand, a country rich in culture yet highly affordable for a student’s budget.

During the Grand Tour, with the influx of this group of new tourists, the Italians learned to accommodate the tourists with a high level of hospitality. The locals provided paintings for the tourists to be taken back home. Carriages and transportation were designed and built to carry the tourists around. Thus, the Italians were able to do accommodate the tourists to for their every need. In short, the Italians were eager to achieve excellence in whichever way that would satisfy the visiting foreigners.

A theory of how the “Grand Tour “catalysed Italians’ ability in replicating and bettering foreign work and design can be seen in the Italians’ current expertise in Fashion craftsmanship in today’s world. The proposed theory is that these visiting aristocrats would demand whatever they expected, taking advantages of the low labour cost back then. For example, English aristocrats tourists would inquire for a suit similar to the Saville Row’s style as those in London has perfected the style for the English men. The Italians would accommodate the tourists’ requests and provide similar quality at a lower cost. In other words, the Italians were copying foreign styles and replicate them at a lower price which greatly satisfied the tourists.

A modern-day example would be China, which began its rapid ascent to a powerful factory of the world by first replicating what others have produced. They eventually gathered enough knowledge and resources to develop things of their own. Similarly, the Italians learned to adapt the replicas to suit their local markets, which they begun creating products of their own. An interesting example is the adaptation of Italian suits from the well-tailored English suit. The Italians adopted suits into their own culture by customising the shoulders of the suits, which are designed slightly angled upwards compared to a typical English suit, to accommodate a wide range of motions. As we all know, active motions and gesture are deeply enrooted in the Italian form of communication.

Another good example is their significant breakthrough in modern fashion. Europe after World War II was in ruins. United States was relatively wealthy compared to the rest of the world. The Americans had money to spend and embarked on Europe trips as again being attracted by their cultures. Despite the economic slump, the French, well known for their fashion, were not willing to lower the prices of their luxury goods. Therefore, this provided an opportunity for the Italians to offer products of similar products quality at a lower price, which attracted large groups of fashion seekers. As time progressed, they eventually adjusted the replicated fashion to suit their local uses, such as clothing suitable for their Mediterranean climate, more flexible formal attire suitable for daily services, etc.

In conclusion, the professor believes the success of “Made In Italy” can be traced to the Italians’ ability to satisfy others. They carry the skill of convincing others that their goods can be as good as others. More importantly, they are willing to put in extra efforts to better what’s already available. Indeed, they were support from their historic cultural attractions, which were able to attract foreigners to their country in the first place, bringing wealthy customers seeking to be well cultured. However, they were able to further capitalise on what the visitors have brought in, tweaked and repackaged, and resold them at a higher price.

“Made in Italy “is no longer about being produced wholly in Italy. Instead it is about the goods carrying the thoughts and details which the Italians were able to provide through their experience in hospitality and ability to present a transformative experience and sell a convincing lifestyle.

My takeaway from this is learning from it and attempting the same process in Southeast Asia. Culturally, we are as rich as others. We are great craftsmanships and hard-working working culture. The day we start to value our creation highly ourselves will be the day we will truly appreciate the labelling of “Made in Southeast Asia”.