AltaRoma: Rome's Haute Couture Aspirations

Will Rome rise from its ashes again and become the new fashion hub for Haute Couture? We met with Barbara Trebitsch, the Academic Program Director of Rome's Accademia Costume & Moda, in order to discuss the unquestionable fashion potential of the Eternal City, its ongoing impact on Italian fashion and future perspectives.

Antonio Barraco for the Accademia Costume & Moda show in Rome during ALTAROMA. Photo by P&P Fotografia.

Could you please tell us more about yourself? About your background and evolution, as well as your current mission at Accademia Costume & Moda in Rome.

Barbara Trebitsch: I was a fashion designer by education and experience before becoming a teacher. Before being appointed as Academic Program Director at Accademia Costume & Moda in Rome, I served as a Senior Head of Academic Projects at the Domus Academy and Chief Academic Officer at Global Art and Design Academy (GADA) at the East China Normal University. I have been the Fashion School Head of Domus Academy for 18 years. I have personally performed research, design projects, and I have been involved in exhibitions and publications; I have also worked as a design consultant for fashion brands and designed my own prêt-à-porter line in the past. As of today, I am the Art Director of Fashion Graduate Italia and I am a member of the ARTS THREAD's Education Board, as well as of the Expert Commission of MAM-Maestro d'Arte e Mestieri (Fondazione Cologni dei mestieri d'Arte). I have been a jury of many fashion shows and international competitions and have taught as a guest lecturer at institutions worldwide. I also have been part of the selection committee for Project Runway-Italy and I am a board member of Fashion Colloquia: an academic-based network which promotes panel talks and conferences about fashion education. We also collaborate with prestigious fashion design schools, such as the London College of Fashion, Parsons School of Design, and IFM Paris. I am honoured to be part of the Accademia Costume & Moda team! Accademia, as we call it, is a universe built upon a strong heritage, based on the vision of the founder Rosana Pistolese, a forward-thinking fashion and costume designer and historian who was the first to establish an Academy of Arts dedicated to Fashion and Costume in Italy. Today, her vision is brought to the next level by her family members – her nephews A. Lupo Lanzara, Deputy Chairman, and Furio Francini, CEO – who have asked me to join the Academia in order to support their vision and creating new perspectives for the future. My mission is to support and integrate their vision on daily basis, together with Adrien Roberts, who is our Director of Education, and to come up with new educational programs and initiatives.

Benedetta Giunti for the Accademia Costume & Moda show in Rome during ALTAROMA. Photo by P&P Fotografia.

How has the perception of "Alta Moda" (ed.: Haute Couture) evolved in Italy over the past years? And how does it affect the Academia?

I strongly believe that Italy owes a lot to Valentino's Pierpaolo Piccioli, whose Couture collections, in my opinion, are the epitome of a forward-thinking Italian Haute Couture brand. Our objective with the unique Master’s program in Alta Moda is to create the right balance between traditional heritage and innovative know-how, helping students to develop a forward-thinking vision of fashion and Haute Couture. Today's Haute Couture has to express a sense of uniqueness, which is especially desirable to a younger generation of potential customers that have a different mindset and different needs than the established Haute Couture clientele. Haute Couture is no longer something that is considered to be old-school – I strongly believe that this the right moment for us to establish new stories and to build new narratives.

Rome was once the epicenter of Haute Couture, with Paris as its counterpart. What has changed today? And what does Rome need to do to get back on the international fashion map?

Even if I am originally from Rome, I moved to Milan at some point back in the day because this city used to offer much more opportunity for people working in the fashion industry. However, today, this dynamic has changed: Rome could easily become a fashion hub again, especially if we consider that brands such as Gucci, Valentino, and Fendi are based here. Three established luxury and heritage brands should be more than enough to draw the attention of the international luxury industry, but Rome is quite different... However, I believe that our city is becoming an important place for fashion education, as many other institutions have decided to open their premises here. After all, Rome is unique: you can find art and beauty at every city corner, which is very important for designers who need a constant stream of inspiration to nourish their creativity and to develop a vision.

Eleonora Falchi for the Accademia Costume & Moda show in Rome during ALTAROMA. Photo by P&P Fotografia.

How do you prepare your students to face the fashion industry's many challenges? 

The educational concept of the Accademia Costume & Moda is based on three main pillars that draw from the Academia's heritage, while looking towards the future. Costume and fashion design are interconnected in our education programs, which helps our students to develop a cultural vision and to identity their potential customer. In addition, our students have the opportunity to participate in a number of industry projects in collaboration with fashion and luxury brands and institutions, including Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Fendi, Woolmark, Brioni, and Woolrich, amongst others, which helps them to experience a real work environment while studying. Finally, the quality of our fabrics and materials are key – in fact, most of the fashion students worldwide do not have the chance to explore the richness of textiles and leathers as our students do. We have ongoing collaboration with industry leaders, such as UNIC and Lineapelle, who have supported our students and help them to develop various projects, including the ones related to sustainability. Last but not least, we do not only consider our students as scholars, but also as human beings. Our teaching methodology is characterized by rigor, empathy, and understanding of each student's strengths and weaknesses in order to support them, both as individuals and professionals.

Francesco Castaldo for the Accademia Costume & Moda show in Rome during ALTAROMA. Photo by P&P Fotografia.

What are the Accademia Costume & Moda's most important success stories?

Many among our students have relevant positions within the fashion industry – Alessandro Michele being the most famous one, but we have an important number of alumni who hold relevant positions in brands of major luxury groups and independent labels such as LVMH, Kering, Dolce & Gabbana, and Ferragamo, amongst others.

What is the most precious recommendation that you give to your students on a regular basis?

I usually tell them to look forward and not backwards, to never be too happy with what they’ve designed – even if is great! – to always challenge themselves and their boundaries, because the real competition is between themselves and their own potential, not with other students. Being an avid learner is also the key to success: I tell them to never think that they already know everything they need to know, and I encourage them to be curious towards other disciplines, as the future of fashion will be more and more interconnected with different cultural sectors and industries.