Kean Etro On His “Agora” And 50 Years of Fashion

Built on a lifetime of memories, exotic travels, and strong relationships, the Etro family has evolved and survived half a century of history and change. On Saturday, the family, known the world over for their whimsical paisley and their worldly designs, kicked off its 50th anniversary with an installation filled with carpets, antique furniture, Persian rugs, and trinkets from the past – to create what Kean Etro calls an “agora” or a collective marketplace of life and memories. 

ETRO FW18 presentation in Milan. Picture by Regis Colin Berthelier.

Strewn about Milan's massive Palazzo del Ghiaccio (Ice Palace) were odds and ends like a memoir of Antoine de Saint Exupéry's “Little Prince” by Jean-Pierre Guéno, an antique chess game, a Ratan peacock chair from the 70s, and a 60s-era pinball machine. Just a few accents that rendered the space as more of a glimpse into the Etro family home when Kean, Jacopo, Ippolito, and Veronica were kids. 

Dubbed “Dandy Detour,” the showcase featured models who milled and lazed about, dressed in lavish ensembles of brocade and embroidered tribal prints, resting on velvety armchairs and fluffy pillows as if they, too, were members of the family. 

Kean Etro, the son of the founder Gerolamo “Gimmo” Etro, sat down with NOWFASHION to discuss what this milestone means to him, what it was like to grow up in a fashion house based on hard work and family values, and what the future holds for the next generation. 

ETRO FW18 presentation in Milan. Picture by Regis Colin Berthelier.

Sofia Celeste: You’ve worked side-by-side with your dad, doing odd jobs and even packing boxes and stuffing them with hand-written notes since you were a kid. And now, with your sister Veronica, you are leading this family-run company into the future. What does 50 years mean to you? 

Kean Etro: It has been a great opportunity to have the possibility to do what I love, what I really enjoy. I humbly express my gratitude for this way of going about, looking for beauty outside and inside. Here we have interior Etro – the interioritas of what are good and beautiful thoughts of the heart. This all also represents thirty years of shows of any kind and various themes – from the train, from the supermarket, from the time we hauled oxen and horses on to Via Montenapoleone… 

Wow, oxen and horses and trains…  What was the inspiration for this men’s collection? 

It’s a time to remember that we are working with beautiful people. I dressed all my company staff, from the IT people to those who work in retail – because everyone is a DANDY to me, in as much as he is able to express the joy he has inside, his creativity. I also feel that all the guys are my children; I care for them in the same way. Every time the models come in, I check that everything is fine with them. I remember that two of them were very skinny, so I phoned their parents. I got the agency to phone them and say, “you have to look after them because something is wrong.” I have children and, as a parent, that’s what one should do. 

On a personal level, how is this anniversary a landmark celebration?

I am taking the opportunity to express that creativity and to grow in a way, to overcome my fears. We do have quite a bit of fear, not like when we’re kids, but it starts coming in later. So, this was about doing some cleaning up and doing some cleaning inside [hence the furniture auction]. 

What does the world “dandy” mean to you? 

To be a dandy, in my opinion, means there’s no such thing as an elite. Anyone can be a dandy because it’s something that comes from the inside. It’s not a question of being a peacock. That’s really superficial. Being a dandy means expressing one’s beauty, because everybody has it – you just have to bring it out. 

ETRO FW18 presentation in Milan. Picture by Regis Colin Berthelier.

What was your favorite memory as a kid and working for your dad? 

I was very young when I used to join him on Saturdays, so I used to play with fabric, or in the garden, run up and down. I remember all the big floral designs and I didn't know what to do with them... When I was six or seven, I used to cut them out and that was what playing was. Then, when I joined the company, I was still studying history. I was studying and working and basically… we’re a family where we all grew up on certain principles, so we had to work. I had to work to make my money. I had no pocket money… I had to learn, because I had no knowledge of fashion and so on. 

What were you like as a kid?

I remember that when I was fifteen or sixteen I would go to the flea market and I would collect uniforms. I would dress like a policeman and that sort of thing. I used to have long hair that I tied in a ponytail, and I played the saxophone. I used to entertain customers outside Via Montenapoleone with my sax. And I remember it started snowing one day, it was like 20 degrees outside, and I put on these blankets and continued to play. 

This was the norm for you? 

I think this is us, or even my father. He’s very natural. He’s a genius, and at the same time, very down to earth. He enters a bar and we make friends. 

ETRO FW18 presentation in Milan. Picture by Regis Colin Berthelier.

The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the presentation was that it looked like an estate sale. It almost made me sad seeing all of these precious things laid out like a family is moving and they’re selling their things and all their stuff is on the lawn… It also seems like we’re going back in time and looking at your world and old stuff from when you were a kid. 

Yes, this is a Saturday market. The thing is, you have all the pieces from the auction house, which are on sale. But you know... I think Pitti Uomo, for example, and all the other fairs, were once a marketplace. It’s not that anymore. Maybe tomorrow even shops will not have that function anymore, and they will be just showrooms. So, I am very respectful of that ancient idea of the "agora," the big [ancient Greek] place where people would exchange goods.  

What is the real significance of these furniture pieces? There are so many of them as far as the eye can see. 

I realized that all these pieces are sustainable. It’s not fast fast-fashion. These are pieces that keep on living and are great masterpieces of art… the motorbike, the chair, it’s all sustainable. I think that you could see it as being romantic, but at the same time, it’s really ecological. My job is to make quality all the time, and things that last for my grandchildren. 

And you’re going that way with the label? More sustainable? 

Speaking for myself… It’s an inner belief… the respect for Mother Nature. It’s something that comes from the heart, so even the relationship just between all of us here – it’s better that we all share.  

Do you think your children will carry on Etro, and your sister’s children? 

I don’t know, right now they’re doing it because they are actually here being a part of this. I want them to be happy. I try to teach them to follow their life choices with happiness. If you can be happy doing humble things, you can be happy any way. So, whatever they want. That’s a very non-Italian family attitude. Just be happy.


See the full FW18 ETRO menswear collection here