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How Italy’s fashion houses are rescuing its cultural gems

Famed for fashion, food – and of course, history – Italy has the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of any country in the world.

However, other social needs have taken priority in economically turbulent times. Italy’s stifling public debt means that the country’s budget for maintaining and restoring some of its greatest tourist attractions has been drastically reduced.

It is estimated that as much as a third of culture budgets (€1.42 billion) have been cut over the past three years, leaving restoration of historic monuments to the generosity of private donors.

Results of neglect

The bigger problem is that basic maintenance on many of the country’s cultural gems has been neglected for years.

The result is that chunks of marble have been plummeting from the Colosseum, ancient walls have been reduced to rubble and even bits of the baroque Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps have crumbled; changing forever the face of that illustrious monument. And that’s just in Rome!

By Livioandronico2013 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
By Livioandronico2013Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The Italian fashion industry steps forward

  • In 2011, luxury leather goods company Tod’s, pledged €25 million ($32 million) toward the restoration of the Colosseum.
  • In May 2013, Diesel agreed to restore the Rialto Bridge in Venice to the tune of €5 million ($6.4 million).
  • In January 2013 Fendi, the maker of high-end leather handbags has pledged €2.5 million ($3.2 million) for the restoration of Trevi Fountain, as well as Le Quattro Fontane; both in Rome.
  • Yuzo Yagi, an international businessman at the helm of Yagi Tsusho Limited –  a global marketing and merchandising company – has pledged his support to the restoration of another Roman monument, the 2000-year-old Pyramid of Cestius. His generosity is an expression of gratitude to a country with which he has decades-old business ties.
  • The latest to pledge funds is the revered luxury jeweller Bulgari. Rome’s Scalinata Della Trinità dei Monti – better known as the Spanish Steps – is set to undergo a €1.5-million restoration financed by Bulgari. The last major renovation of the popular tourist site took place in 1995. Bulgari says the refurbishment is a “special gift from Bulgari to its city” to mark its 130th anniversary.

What brands get back:

As well as the PR value of maintaining a heritage site, some brands also gain substantial marketing advantages, for instance:

During the restoration of Trevi fountain, Fendi will be allowed to display its logo at the site. A plaque dedicated to the brand will be displayed at the site for four years after completion of the restoration.

Diesel is reportedly allowed to place advertising billboards over a part of the Rialto Bridge during that restoration. (Advertisements on some of their most cherished monuments don’t seem to bother locals).

In addition, many designers acknowledge a need to give back to their beloved country!