Italian super indie 10 Corso Como has built a reputation for spotting up-and-coming design talent, and the former fashion editor behind it says her philosophy is simply to buy what she likes
The global phenomenon that is 10 Corso Como is a series of shops, if the term can be used, where fashion meets culture, meets design, meets cultural event and bookshop. It’s a heady mix and owner and founder Carla Sozzani, who established the first 10 Corso Como in 1991, remains not only at the helm, but still buys everything that you find in the original store on the outskirts of Milan.
But times have moved on and Sozzani, 19 years a journalist and fashion editor before setting up 10 Corso Como, now oversees outlets in Tokyo and Seoul too.
However, the underlying philosophy has not changed and the 10 Corso Como world view today is as much about Carla Sozzani as it was when she set up shop with the help of US artist Kris Ruhs - at its heart is fashion.
When a new designer’s collection appears in 10 Corso Como, it is seen to have the endorsement of one of Italian fashion’s major forces and its creator is likely to find favour internationally immediately. For this reason, the store is keenly watched by observers of the new, looking to read the runes of a notoriously capricious industry.
So is there one brand that finds particular favour with Sozzani? “I don’t think so,” she says. “I think what is important today is that a brand has a specific identity. It’s becoming more and more important for me.” However, that is not to say items appearing in 10 Corso Como are one-offs. Sozzani says that when she looks at a designer or a design house, “I like the consistency of language from one season to the next. If designs don’t have this language, I get confused.”
This seems to mean that becoming a regular at 10 Corso Como is a gradual process if you are an up-and-coming fashion designer. Sozzani cites Greek designer Mary Katrantzou as a case in point: “She is good. We bought from her first collection.” Katrantzou has made prints her trademark and as Sozzani puts it: “She has a strong personality and after her first collection we wondered where she would go, but now she’s in her fourth season.”
Prints are important for Sozzani: “I like prints because they are like an accessory. They can change your mood. Most of the good prints are inspired by art.”
Other designers in vogue at 10 Corso Como, all selected by Sozzani, are Croatian Damien Dames, Tao Kurihara at Comme des Garçon and “Nina” who is, apparently, a new designer at Maison Martin Margiela. The creations of Korean designer Kuho Jung have also been snapped up for 10 Corso Como.
Sozzani might not like to pick favourite designers, but she admits she has her favourites when it comes to shops - last year’s new opening sensations in Paris; Merci and L’Eclaireur’s new store, 40 Sévigné, are both dropped into the conversation.
Interestingly, in Merci - which bears close comparison with the retail experience of 10 Corso Como in Milan - it is the bookshop, rather than the clothing, that captures Sozzani’s eye. “The bookshop is amazing. It’s like a classic French cafe and we all like it because it’s human.”
It is certainly the human aspect that characterises the way in which Sozzani has approached the expansion of her business. Her Tokyo store is co-branded Comme des Garçons and opened in 2002. Sozzani regards Rei Kawakubo, the presiding creative genius behind Comme des Garçons, as the fashion benchmark by which other contemporary labels should be judged and so it made sense to set up the Tokyo operation with her.
A different line of thinking was followed in Seoul, where Sozzani teamed up with corporate giant Samsung to open a store in 2008. “Samsung was incredible. They let me do what I wanted. If it had been a disaster, it would have been completely my fault,” she says.
So where does this leave Sozzani and 10 Corso Como, and is further expansion on the horizon? In the Milan store it is a process of regular rearrangement. She explains: “Nothing is ever perfect. I keep changing things, but they are used to me. Today I moved a table from downstairs [where the fashion collections are housed] to the bookshop. The point is, the store was not designed by an architect. It was me and Kris, who is an artist. This means I can change things.”
She is also clear that nothing is clear when it comes to the business of keeping the store filled. “There are millions of ways to buy a collection,” she explains. “I do all the buying myself. You need a vision. If I decided to send buyers, the identity would be missing. We all buy in a different way and it’s a matter of editing. We all have different eyes.”
Internationally, Sozzani is more circumspect. She says that 10 Corso Como stores in, say, London or Paris are less likely, owing to the fact that the cultures are too similar to Italy. “I could have opened many Corso Comos, but I want to be sure who I’m doing it with.
I think if I do others, I want to explore it with other countries’ cultures. To open in India - that is my dream.” However, she thinks this unlikely in the short term and cites Shanghai and/or Beijing as more probable locations from a logistical and commercial perspective.
Sozzani’s original vision appears undimmed. “My idea was to create a place where people would feel comfortable. The concept is that I choose what I like.” She adds: “The way I see it, it is like an Italian pizza. You have a lot of things that all relate to each other. This is a meeting place.”
This may sound like a mish-mash, but almost 20 years since it first launched, 10 Corso Como is still essential viewing for fashion and trend-spotters.
2008 10 Corso Como opens in Seoul
2002 Tokyo store makes its debut
1991 Gallery is transformed into 10 Corso Como with the addition of fashion and furniture
1990 Opens Galleria Carla Sozzani in Milan
1987 Launch editor, Italian Elle
1976-87 Editor-in-chief for special issues of Italian Vogue
1968-76 Editor of various fashion magazines
The building of an Italian empire
The Milan store opened in 1991 and remains a destination for “taste-makers” wishing to sample the fashion zeitgeist while in the Lombard capital.
The store originally opened as an art gallery and bookshop in 1990, with fashion and furniture following in 1991. In 1998, a cafe was added to the complex and a three-room hotel, called 3 Rooms, joined the party in 2003.
Sozzani’s office-cum-studio is reached via a highly inconspicuous white metal door that forms part of the perimeter wall in the gallery. Within lies a classic creative’s den, filled with prints, paintings, modern classic chestnut bentwood chairs and tables piled high with information and documents about the latest trends in the fashion industry.
10 Corso Como made its overseas debut in Tokyo in 2002, where Sozzani opened a co-branded store with Comme des Garçons. Six years later she launched a second international store in Seoul, in association with electronics giant Samsung. More recently, the brand has spread its wings in the UK, with the unveiling last month of a capsule 10 Corso Como collection at London department store Liberty.
It is worth noting too, that fashion runs in the family. Sozzani’s sister is editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue - where Sozzani herself worked in the 1970s and 1980s.