If you’re into your menswear then Maurizio Donadi’s C.V. is, quite frankly, breathtaking. When we speak on Zoom one balmy London evening in June, he’s sitting at the desk in his LA office, leaning back in his chair with shards of morning light streaming through the blinds behind him. He looks imposing, filmic almost. Like the head honcho in a gangster film. This, thankfully, is misleading because he’s a thoroughly gentile soul.
There is something of The Godfather about Maurizio, though, because his career has seen him make a significant impact on a fleet of high-profile, international menswear brands. He’s worked at Diesel, Armani, Ralph Lauren and Levi’s, as well as freelancing as a creative consultant. Our conversation opens by unpacking this who’s-who of global brands, as he retraces his steps through the industry.
“Falling into the fashion world was totally incidental,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “It was just about getting a better job than I’d had before.” Donadi entered the working world as a steelworker in the late 1970s, but he spotted an opportunity to apply for a stock boy role at United Colors of Benetton and transferred from Italy to the flagship store in Paris. “For the first few years, I didn’t think of it as a career at all,” he continues. “Then, thanks to the company expanding everywhere I got to stay in Paris for three years, before moving to Germany, Nashville and Miami. I worked my way up to managing different stores and then regions, before becoming more involved in the brand’s marketing and commerce.”
This progression through the ranks characterises Donadi’s meteoric rise in menswear. Following a healthy 13 year stint learning the ropes at Benetton, he moved to Diesel as US retail director, a role he describes as “a great professional girlfriend” for five years – a job he could “give everything to.” From there came six years as Executive Vice President at Armani, a role which saw him working very closely with the great man himself. “It is difficult to describe my role there,” he says. “I suppose I was a concept designer, I was responsible for bringing Mr Armani as many good ideas as possible for him to filter and apply to the brand’s design.”
From Armani, Ralph Lauren came a-calling. Donadi was responsible for leading on the brand’s RRL and Rugby labels, as a concept designer reporting into Mr Lauren. And, finally, following three-and-a-half years at Ralph Lauren, Donadi moved to Levi’s in search of a new challenge. That’s precisely what he got: “The job was to lead a division based in Amsterdam called Levi’s XX with the intent of repositioning Levi’s as a premium player in the industry.”
This is Donadi’s low-key way of saying that he launched Levi’s Made & Crafted and Levi’s Vintage Clothing, which today are two of the company’s most successful and best-loved sub-brands. Under his direction, ‘LVC’ also managed to propel Levi’s into being a ‘full-look’ brand for the first time, offering vintage-inspired shirts, jackets and other core staples – taking Levi’s beyond being a jeansmaker alone.
Today, though, following more than 30 years at the forefront of fashion retail, Donadi’s interests are altogether different. “I reached crisis point,” he tells me. “I wanted a change and I felt that our industry was producing too much. Sustainability is an empty word in fashion. There’s far too much confusion in the market place.” The answer was to break away from mainstream retail: “I woke up one morning and said to my wife, ‘why don’t we show the industry you can build a brand without making anything new?’”
This brings us to the present day, and Donadi’s two current projects. The first is the realisation of his vision for a production-free fashion brand, Atelier & Repairs, which focuses on sourcing and reviving vintage and deadstock menswear in bulk – retailing only up-cycled or rediscovered deadstock pieces. “The leftover in our industry is enormous,” he explains. “I started to seek out defective items, leftover production runs from brands’ old seasons and vintage deadstock, sorting them, dividing them into collections and then customising them on a one-by-one basis. We’ll source 500 pairs of old 501s, and then make 500 one-of-a-kind pairs.” Curious parties can see Maurizio’s current offering on the Atelier & Repairs website.
This endeavour is bolstered by Donadi’s personal archive of more than 11,000 pieces that he’s accrued over the course of his career, which he’s in the process of formally documenting and presenting under the title of Transnomadica. “I don’t believe in a world divided by country,” he says of the name, “a passport is a limit on what we can do together – I’m much more interested in the cross-pollination of different cultures and how that happens in clothing. Transnomadica isn’t a brand, it’s a platform to explore this idea.”
This sense of exploration makes itself plain in Donadi’s camouflage combat trousers too – the garment he chose to wear for this instalment of ‘Well Worn’. As you’d expect, they have quite a story to tell: “These pants feature early Vietnam camouflage. It’s a green-dominant woodland camo. It was the primary American design until the desert storm camouflage, which is brown dominant, was introduced. You only find it in very early-era Vietnam uniforms,” he explains. “I found this pair in a vintage shop in New York and I liked the fact that they’d been repaired. I could sense they’d belonged to a soldier. Then, I took them home and made even more repairs and I’ve been repairing them ever since. I had to fix them further because they were falling apart and I’ve been fixing them and fixing them and fixing them ever since.”
Vintage finds you, you don’t go into a store looking for green-dominant woodland camouflage pants. You go into a flea market looking for a lamp and you come out with a guitar. That’s how I buy for Transnomadica – clothes should be instinctive. If they speak to you, buy them. It’s a simple as that.