While this year has forced many of us to slow down, Rocco Manco has been moving full speed ahead on launching his new project, 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 endeavour that combines sustainability with his vision of classic and pure design.

11 Jul 2019

Camilla Krogh

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 studying 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 sportswear 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 Napapijri 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 technical products for hiking, citywear, urbanwear and this iconic brand grew exponentially and became internationally recognized."

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 specifically in the approach of the market and approach of the brands. Italians are really conservative in terms of developing products and in their approach to the market. They prefer to go deep and be product specialists in the market segment where they stand. That's why you have specific, high quality products, high quality manufacturing, and often traditional design. Turkey was a massive market because they were producers. So, they were focusing on quantities with good quality but always based on time and price delivery. In Holland, they are “visionary”. Dutch people know the market really well and they know what the market wants, they’re really driven by that. But on top of this, if they own a strong identity in their brand, they are great to stick and dive into it really intensively, and I see a kind of passion in that, I like that.”

Is that why 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 walk downstairs in my pyjamas, go to the supermarket and nobody cares. I feel this helps also to create less barriers between the people. There is a kind of freedom of expression in everyday life. I need to mention as well that I love the fact that I can easily move and do everything by bike in an international city, that’s also unique."


Fashion designer and design director renowned for captivating and trend-setting products that blend vibrant sportswear, modern tailoring and street culture. Meticulous attention to detail in concept development, technical design, fabrics, planning and merchandising. Strong storyteller, igniting consumer experience. Commercially astute, driving revenue growth through effective project management and interdepartmental communication. Archivist, collector, and teacher in fashion design and brand building. Innovator and advocate for sustainability and conscious production.

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

“When I was working with Napapijri 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 something every day.

Another moment was when I started a brand called ‘CDSB Jailwear’. It was a project where I created work inside a prison. It was me and an associate team of people: psychologists, 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. Until the 70’s, in Italy, but mostly all around Europe, in prison you need to have a uniform. Basically every country had its own mandatory uniform. In each uniform there was rich detailing that I used to create this brand. For example, striped fabrics because in prison they create visibility or show which area of the prison you belong, buttons to adjust the uniform on your body because they were produced in only 2 sizes, no invisible pockets were allowed, 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 state of souls, people who will probably spend their lives there. We gave them, just for a few hours, a kind of contact with the world outside the walls. With work, in a way, we made them feel useful and part of a society again. 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. I was lucky enough to work with a lot of inspiring people but Fiorucci was definitely a person difficult to forget. He has been one of the denim fathers in Italy. The one who invented lycra in denim and created the first skinny jeans for women. In the early 80s, Fiorucci was often a guest at Andy Warhol’s factory; there are pictures of him at Studio 54. He was a classic Italian guy from a good family that went to New York and was struck and fascinated by the American culture of those years. In Milano, he has become a pop icon. He used to have a store in the 80s, in the center, 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 was in the 80s and in Italy, not London, where he was bringing in 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. I got to work with this guy for a denim school project and then I spent a few meetings with him. Beside being a big source of inspiration, he was a gentleman and really sweet person, deep reader and connoisseur of contemporary culture. Also, we talked a lot about pop which was in a way the first marketing culture that we know in fashion and that still influences us today.”

Cool. You were a lecturer too?

“Yeah. That was also another amazing experience. I proposed my workshop in army wear. I have a consistent archive. I always collect pieces and it's mostly workwear and army. I went deep into discovering things like why pockets, reinforcements, or regulations are specifically designed and how to design uniforms and technical gear, 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 taught 2-year courses there and it was a massive experience. First of all, for the first time I understood I had something to share and the importance of “sharing”. 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 are hungry to learn and to create. I started with the story of the uniforms and continued with the explanation of the most iconic garments and their technical design solutions. I let them select different countries and they started to design their own collection based on what we studied together with their style and vision of fashion. Some of these students I’m still in contact with and even some I have worked with.”

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?

“Always be curious. Don’t be afraid to do something different than what you think you can do. I’ll explain. Sometimes a young designer fresh out of school thinks he knows what he wants to do, for example, shoes for women. So, often they will start jobs and they end up designing basketball shoes. Even though it’s not what you want to do, you should still put passion into it. Be flexible with what is happening in your life, be hungry and learn from everyone, everything will make you a better designer tomorrow.”

Speaking of passion, you describe yourself as a ‘fashion collector and icon addicted’, what do you collect?

“Basically, menswear. So I can wear what I collect. Army, workwear, sometimes sportswear items like gore-tex jackets, old hiking or outwear pieces. Back in the day, a lot of experimentation was really in sportswear. Sailing and hiking were 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 products today which at that time were considered at the top of technical execution. I collect those kinds of pioneer pieces together with the most iconic menswear pieces selected by their design, possible in the most simple and authentic tailoring execution.”

I hear you’re starting a new brand?

“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 these state of the art, unique pieces. I also wanted to be sustainable. Sustainable and collectable. A person who inspired me a lot is a person who I’ve collaborated with in the past: 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 discovering warehouses with dead stock products. Products that have been produced but never sold and are now just trash. I select and I buy dead stock related to my vision of menswear – pleated trousers, army shirts, trenches, and those kinds of things. I inspect each piece, I eventually repair and restore it and add my brand and my story on it. The name is Primary Archive because it’s an archive of primary selected pieces.”

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 the rise of new local brands. I see a lot of young kids, younger designers with really incredible talent, potential, and energy and I see that there’s not so much space in the big industry. The industry of massive fashion 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 and unique in their product. Nowadays, we all can sell a product or a service globally. So, I wish to see that and I think the future of fashion will be interesting if every city, community, or culture has their own characteristic brands. So, kind of local products and different shades and selections of products. Less big brands and more differentiation. That would be cool.”

And finally, has anything inspired you during the pandemic?

“During the special lockdown time, because of this situation of being at home and working from home, I had to finish work and take care of my 5-year-old kid at the same time. Therefore, I tried to involve him in an activity related to what I was doing. What I found fascinating and what I just discovered was his vision: the white blank sheet that only kids have when they see something new, their simple questions that inspire you and let you see things differently.

Apart from this, it was very interesting to see how clothing has evolved. From an element of image or expression and communication, to a primary functional accessory where comfort and almost the intimacy of it hasn’t downgraded them, but made clothing even more a part of us. I've seen people dust off their wardrobes, rediscover and put on what they really feel like the most. Experimenting with layering, composing unthinkable looks, being even more themselves and giving back value to what they have. Could this have been a conscious fashion lesson for all of us?”

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