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Tiffany Chung


13 Oct 2020

Text by Tiffany Chung


13 Oct 2020

While this year has forced many of us to slow down, Rocco Manco has been moving full speed ahead on launching his new company, Primary Archive. It’s this creative director’s unyielding passion for everything he does that keeps him going and fueled his 20-year long career. In this episode of Citizens, we talk to Rocco about the places he’s been, the inspiring people he’s met, and his latest endeavor that combines sustainability with his vision of classic and pure design.

Hi Rocco, you’ve had a long and successful career in the fashion industry. How did you get your start?

“I started in 2000, after university, in industrial design. So, something completely different. After industrial design, I was working in an advertising agency. It was there where I started to work with a sport brand and at a certain point they said, ‘why don’t you join our team, we may need a creative guy, or someone with a bit of a different vision of our product’. Yeah, that's how I started. The team was Napa Theory which is a well known sportswear mountain brand. I had the chance to work directly with the founder of this brand, a kind of visionary guy, comparable nowadays with the guy from Patagonia. So, he was really into nature and developing sustainable products for hiking, citywear, urbanwear and this iconic brand became really famous later."


You’ve also worked in a number of different cities and countries. Have the different cultures influenced you as a designer?

“Yeah, Italy, Turkey, France, and now I’m in Holland. Basically, in the companies where I worked it was international people around me. So, there wasn’t a big difference. The big difference was in the approach of the market and approach of the brands. Italians are really conservative in terms of developing products and in terms of trying different ways of approaching the market. Just experimenting. They prefer to go deep into the specialization of something. That's why you have high quality specific products, high quality producers of trousers, specific producers of jackets. Turkey was a massive market because they were producers. So, they were focusing on quantities with quite good qualities but based on time and price. But in Holland they are more visionary. Dutch people know the market really well, and they know what the market wants and they’re really driven by that. But if they have a concept they stick to the concept really strongly and I like that. It's a kind of evolution of their soul. ”

Primary Archive.
Is that what you stayed in The Netherlands the longest? The approach to fashion and design?

“From a culture point of view, I really like the style of life that you have here in Holland. I can go downstairs in my pyjamas go to the supermarket and nobody cares. There is a kind of freedom of expression and people don’t look at you. I like that you can live your life and nobody is talking about you. But also I love to do everything by bike. There is no traffic. It’s an international city. I love the city, plus I have a Dutch girlfriend and two kids, so that also keeps me here."




So, what moments in your career have been the most impactful for you?

“When I was working with Napa Theory and worked with Marco Trapella, he was like a mentor for me. That first experience was the most important, especially with a really interesting person close to me, who easily and naturally teaches you something every day.


Another moment was when I started a brand called ‘Jail Wear’. It was a project where I created work inside a prison. It was me and an associate team of people: a psychologist, technical people, administration people and we brought sewing machines into a prison close to Milano and employed prisoners for the production of clothing. The clothing was really cool, it was a kind of streetwear brand with jail wear influence. In Italy, but mostly all around europe, in prison you need to have a uniform. Basically every country had its own uniform. In each uniform there was rich detailing that I used to create this brand. For example, stripes because in prison they create visibility and show which area of the prison you belong, buttons to adjust the uniform on your body because there were only 2 sizes of uniforms, no invisible pockets because everything should always be visible for the guards, etc. So, we took that detailing and we mixed it with hoodies and sweatpants and we taught the prisoners to sew it. Product-wise, it was a really incredible experience. Human-wise, it was even better because I met people who have incredible stories and people who will probably spend their lives there. It was a way to look at design from an ethical and social point of view.


Another one is when I came in contact with Elio Fiorucci. He was the denim god in Italy. The one who invented lycra in denim and created the first skinny jeans for women. In the early 80s, Fiorucci was always inside the factory of Andy Warhol; there are pictures of him at Studio 54. He's a classic Italian guy from a good family and he went to New York and was fascinated and interested in pop culture. In Milano, he was, for all Italians, a pop icon. He used to have a store in the 80s in the center of Milano called the Fiorucci store. It was famous all around the world for a few things, one was Madonna at the age of 18, before she was ‘Madonna’, performed DJ sets in the store. This guy in the 80s in Italy, not London, was bringing a DJ girl and playing music during the shopping day on weekends. He also invited Keith Haring to create a massive mural on the wall of the store which is now a monument and still there today. So, I got to work with this guy for a school project because I also taught at the Instituto Europeo di Design in Milano. So, I had an idea for a course in denim and then I spent a few hours with him. He was a really sweet person and told me a lot of nice stories. Also, we talked about pop culture which was in a way the first marketing culture that we know in fashion.”


Cool. You were a lecturer too?

“Yeah. That was also another amazing experience. I proposed my workshop in army wear. I have a collection. I always collect pieces and it's mostly workwear and army wear. I went deep into discovering things like why a pocket is good for the army and how to design army wear, not from a fighting point of view, but just for a functional and ergonomic point of view. I really went deep and I always use these references, even in my job today. So, I did 2 year courses there and it was a massive experience. First of all, for the first time I understood I had something to share. Sometimes you get so busy just going from one project to another that you forget that you’re still growing and this is still your passion. It's amazing to work with young kids who are there because they want to learn and they want to show you that they know more than you and it's a challenge. It was humbling. It was super fun. I started with a story of the uniforms and the technical part. I let them select different countries and they started to design their own collection based on what we studied together. Some of these students I’m still in contact with today and some I have worked with.”


Rossignol x Tommy.


So, for a young hopeful designer what skills or characteristics do you think they need to have in order to thrive in the industry today?

“Don’t be afraid to do something different than what you think you want to do. I’ll explain. Sometimes a young designer thinks they know what they want to do, for example, shoes for women. So, they find jobs or learn to do shoes for women, but then they end up on projects for basketball. Even though it’s not what they want to do, they should still put passion into it. Be flexible with what is happening in your life but always do it with a lot of passion.Try to study everything, even if it's something you don’t like. Always be curious.”

FW18 Tommy Hilfiger, mens.
Speaking of passion, you describe yourself as a ‘fashion collector and icon addict’, what do you collect?

“Basically, menswear. So I can wear what I collect. Army, workwear, sometimes sportswear items, gore tex jackets, old hiking or sailor pieces. Back in the day, a lot of experimentation was really in sportswear. Sailing and hiking were the two big schools where waterproof zip was developed for the first time, vulcanized shoes were developed for the first time, a lot of new tricks that you find in normal fashion today which at the time were considered at the top of technical execution. I collect those kinds of pieces. I also like clean design like a raincoat which, in my vision, has the perfect size of pocket and doesn’t have any elements it doesn’t need. I don’t like saying minimalist, it's not minimalist, it’s more like pure design. If I find something new, it needs to be a piece of art. I like to collect more pieces from back in the day because I like artistic tailoring executions. It should be an icon. For example, the Burberry trench is an icon. Nike Jordan 1 is an icon. I like to add those pieces to my collection.”


I hear you’re starting a new company?

“Yeah, this is related to what we were just talking about. An obsession to collect pieces in a certain way. It’s my passion to collect pieces with pure execution and be sustainable. Sustainable and collectable. A person who inspired me a lot and a person who I’ve collaborated with is Maurizio Donadi. A few years ago he started a project, Atelier & Repairs, where basically he’s using old stock and transforming it into a new collection. He’s always saying, “The only sustainable fashion is the fashion that doesn’t produce.” I like that concept and I started a project quite similar where I look locally and around the world for vintage warehouses and buy dead stock products. Products that have been produced but never sold and are now just trash. I buy dead stock related to my classic vision of menswear – classic chambray shirts, classic painter jackets, and those kinds of things. I select pieces and if they’re missing something I repair it and put my brand on it. The name is Primary Archive because it’s an archive of basic primary pieces, classic shirts, classic trousers.”




That’s really exciting.

“Yeah, it's quite interesting. It's always exciting for anyone to start a brand and be facing every part of it – the website, the communication, the look, how you shoot the pictures, where you get the clothing, how you twist the clothing.”


Where do you see the future of fashion going post-Covid? Do you have any predictions?

“I don’t know if this is the future but I’m really fascinated by local brands. I see a lot of young kids, younger designers with really incredible talent and then I see that there’s no space in the big industry and I see that the big industry is struggling. I really wish that, like in Amsterdam, there are more of those local brands. They don’t need to be super big but they need to be persistent in their product. So, I wish to see and I think the future of fashion will be interesting if every city has its own local brands. So, kind of local products and different shades and selections of products. Less big brands. That would be really cool.”




And finally, has anything inspired you during the pandemic?

“Yeah, because of this situation of being at home and working from home, I have a kid that’s 5 years old and I know this is a little bit cheesy, but when I have to finish work and take care of him at the same time, I try to involve him in an activity related to what I'm doing. What I find fascinating and what I’m just discovering now is his vision. The white blank sheet that kids have so when they see something they always have simple questions that inspire you and let you see things differently. So, I’m kind of inspired by working with my son.”