An unmatched sense of style is Italy’s Foremost Export and that is not happenstance. Masterful design and artisan technique result in superior quality. No space for plastic rice. This wealth of Italian export is founded on centuries of Italian craftsmen making things beautifully and with care and by passing down traditional artisanal methods from generation to generation, until those very techniques have become so refined- that we are thrilled to possess something like a gift of human creativity when we own something, Made in Italy.

Antica Farmacia Santa Maria Novella is in a flaking church. It isn’t a real pharmacy but rather a place with a wonderful old-fashioned atmosphere making products of their own production including a very pungent wet pot-pourri and the best lily of the valley essence on earth. Emilio Pucci, the beloved Marchese, is no more, but his daughter Laudomia carries on the tradition of the man who revolutionized fashion. Marilyn Monroe asked to be buried in her favourite Pucci dress. Now that their intricate and brightly-coloured patterns are back in fashion, it’s a crime to leave Florence without at least a cotton Pucci scarf.

Allegri is not in the tropics but this factory specializes in raincoats. They design and make a padded micro-fibre eggplant-coloured mid-calf coat. Antico Setificio Fiorentino is a fabric merchant. The name of his store translates to ‘Old Florentine Silk Factory’. Their precious fabrics are made on looms that were designed centuries ago. The walls are lined with bolts of silk in every tone and their fabrics are based on traditional motifs. Fornasetti in Milan decorates lampshades and umbrella stands in black and white turn-of-the century prints. Blunauta is owned by the Greco family of nine brothers and sisters. They make pyjamas in silk, pure cotton or cashmere. You can coordinate your wardrobe from nightgowns to your workplace outfit including beautiful warm jackets made of quilted washed silk. And for summer they have T-Shirts in every colour on earth to match their pareo-style silk skirts.

But Italy is crumbling at the seams- debt-ridden, cash-strapped, poorly led and ready for vulture-capitalists. Opportunities abound to take control of distressed firms. Italy is now officially the first G7 country to support China’s $1-trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It is an understatement that Xi Jinping knows that Italian fashion and furnishings meet the taste of Chinese consumers; in fact, China is one of the biggest consumers of Italian luxury goods. So Italy is hoping that the Belt and Road will flow profitably both ways. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is exploring methods to build stronger trade ties with China to ‘maximise’ its own interests but Washington warns that the BRI is a debt trap.

The public debt of the Eurozone’s third largest economy, Italy, is currently measured at 130 percent of GDP. Rome is therefore praying that greater access to China will revive the Italian economy. Italy is in a recession and lashed out at the European Union for constraining its budget. Rome is therefore looking to Beijing for a bailout. Once the MoU is activated, the Chinese will invest in the revitalization of Italian ports like Trieste and Genoa. But it’s not that simple.

Italy would become a Trojan horse for China, because Chinese investment will push Rome to try to temper other European powers’ intransigence toward Beijing. Under the circumstances, official support from Italy could act to curb the nascent anti-China front. Securing a degree of goodwill, or at least neutrality, from Europe is all the more vital with China-US trade relations on the wane. And Rome remains a gateway to landlocked Mediterranean countries including Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Giuseppe Conte hopes to demonstrate his country’s independence by serving notice to the EU that Italy does not depend on its subsidies. China’s Trojan horse will boost infrastructure ties, including financing, interoperability and logistics for railways, bridges, civil aviation, ports, renewables, natural gas and telecommunications. Xi also signed a multi-billion-dollar deal with President Macron but France did not sign up for the BRI.
The Italian Prime Minister is vividly aware that a designer like Diego della Valle has combined a family tradition of shoemaking with savvy marketing, and has managed to put his shoes with its little plastic spheres on the bottoms of the soles, on the feet of Princess Diana, Sharon Stone, Sarah Ferguson, and Luca di Montezemolo, a former president of Ferrari. Luxury is what Italy exports.

Antonio Franceschini, the Secretary General of CNA Federmoda, an Italian Association of 25,000 small and medium size enterprises, with more than 1,000 offices throughout Italy was at CARIFESTA XIII. His capacity training activity was facilitated by the CARICOM Secretariat with support from the Government of Italy. Roberto Corbelli and Daniela Cattaneo from Italy also supported the CARICOM-Italy Project where Caribbean designers like Carol Fraser (Guyana), Henk and Judith Uiterloo (Suriname) Esther Joseph (Saint Lucia), Daphnée Floréal (Haiti), Courtney Washington (Jamaica), Kimon Baptiste (St. Vincent), Nikolai Charles (Barbados) and Rushell Ellis (Antigua and Barbuda) were exposed to training on the regional fashion system within international competition and value added functions and supply chain differentiation. Fashion aficionado Yen’k Murray of Tobago, a graduate of UTT’s fashion school is now at The Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) in Italy. Ferrari and Armani are marks of style that underscore the power of Italian creative intelligence.