For Spring/Summer 2018, Redemption debuted an oversize, artfully faded tee on its runway. Paired with a pouf miniskirt and leather boots, the shirt featured a riff on the cover of the iconic 1991 Nirvana album, Nevermind, with its naked baby paddling toward a dangling dollar bill. In lieu of the infant’s face, the audience now saw Donald Trump’s—eyes half-squinting, mouth agape—superimposed on the original. “We searched for a picture where he looked like a big baby,” Redemption creative director Gabriele “Bebe” Moratti recalls, chuckling a bit.“There’s plenty of them out there.”
In more than a few fashion corners, the personal has, of course, become political. A slew of designers have created Instagram-ready slogan tees, taken to social media, and preached inclusivity amid a surge of anti-woman, anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States and across Europe and the United Kingdom.
Moratti, the 39-year-old son of a former mayor of Milan and the chairman of one of Italy’s largest oil refineries, claims to have no political credo—inside or outside of fashion. If anything, he explains, the Trump shirt offered a moment of levity during a time of profound disillusionment and pain at the new, vituperative normal. Moratti spent days listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana on loop—a period that ultimately laid the groundwork for the grunge-inspired, deconstructed denim, bias-cut slip dresses, and luxe plaid separates of Spring.
That time in the company of Vedder and Cobain harkened back to Moratti’s teen years, after he’d returned to Milan from San Patrignano, a rehab facility near Rimini, in which his parents were actively involved. He lived on-site, albeit not as a patient, spending his first 12 years in a rural, commune-like environment alongside farm animals and plenty of kids his age. One of them was Daniele Sirtori, who, along with Vanni Laghi, a recovered addict from San Patrignano, founded Redemption—originally known as Redemption Choppers. Laghi built motorcycles, and the trio initially created casual basics. But not for long.
“We found ourselves in this harsh reality,” Moratti explains. “If we kept merchandising the way we did back then, making T-shirts and hoodies, we would have to produce and go source irresponsibly in certain countries.” The men switched course, pivoting to prêt-à-porter and “Made in Italy.” Industry consultants, he recalls, weren’t exactly bullish on the prospect, certain that they wouldn’t be able to sustain their margins by producing everything in their native country.
Moratti saw it differently. He also came to the industry not as a fashion grad, but having spent time in both the family business and at JPMorgan in Milan and London. What he saw, essentially, was the opportunity to make a positive long-term investment, employing the artisans who make “Made in Italy”such a redoubtable force and creating a product of superior quality. Being an independently owned label and not, say, a formerly dusty maison in need of a face lift, he notes, makes their job easier.
Speaking earnestly and passionately about sustainability, Moratti says he envisioned a business model that combined the ethos of both a corporation and an NGO—two worlds seemingly at odds with each other. Redemption, its founders decided, would donate 50 percent of its profits to charity while continuing to invest in the people creating it.
Though the company is not yet profitable, Moratti says that they’re meeting the schedule they set for themselves early on, which is key. Redemption has also given nearly .5 million to charities, including amfAR, through the donation of motorcycles, all painstakingly handcrafted by Laghi.
Minus the charitable component, Moratti sees Hermès as a model for the type of company he hopes to build—one that creates unique, exquisite pieces that initially have a lower profit margin but ultimately have more staying power. “I’m in this to create something that will benefit the generations after me,” Moratti says. “I’m not in this to benefit with the next quarterly numbers.”
In the near term, however, Moratti is looking to expand into new categories. What’s next should come as little surprise to anyone familiar with his countrymen’s love of sharp tailoring and bespoke luxury. “We’re starting to consider men, but it’s going to be in a very limited capacity at the beginning,”he reveals. “We are already working on tailor-made suits and tuxedos. We’re Italian, so we love that.”
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