CEO of Vivienne Westwood

As long-standing external legal counsel to the Vivienne Westwood Group, Withers has witnessed first-hand the outstanding contribution which Mr D’Amario has made to the business of the Vivienne Westwood Group, and, by extension, to the standing of British fashion worldwide. In particular, Mr D’Amario has been central in helping to promote and grow what was a small UK clothing label (when he joined it) into a globally-recognised, iconic haute couture brand which is known the world over as one of the definitive British fashion exports of the modern era.

By way of background, prior to joining Vivienne Westwood, Mr D’Amario had worked for seven years with Elio Fiorucci, the first European company to sell jeans in America, and then set up business on his own, first as a fabric buyer, successfully supplying the Western market with fabrics and accessories from Afghanistan, and then with his own PR company, Casanova.

In 1983, Mr D’Amario was looking for new challenges and, while in Paris for Spring Fashion Week, met Vivienne Westwood. Recognising her unique talent and potential, but recognising also the chaotic state of her business, D’Amario offered to help Vivienne to bring structure to the business and to develop her own brand worldwide. D’Amario understood that Vivienne Westwood’s name was strong enough to stand on its own (until the mid-1980s all of her designs had sold under the World’s End brand name) and he helped her create the celebrated Vivienne Westwood label. He also helped to extricate Vivienne from the commercially and personally damaging relationship with her former partner Malcolm McLaren by bringing Vivienne to Milan where he set up financing, organised and rationalised her supplier chain and allowed her the space and distance from London to design some of her key collections of the mid-1980s.

D’Amario soon became the managing director of the business and took responsibility for the strategic and commercial direction of the growing brand while Vivienne retained control of all creative aspects. In 1988, Mr D’Amario and Vivienne Westwood jointly incorporated Vivienne Westwood Srl in Italy and later, in 1992, they jointly incorporated Vivienne Westwood Limited in the UK. Business took off. Between 1992 to the start of the new millennium, Mr D’Amario’s stewardship of the commercial side of the business saw the global annual turnover of the Vivienne Westwood brand grow from less than one million pounds to more than ten million pounds.

During this period, Mr D’Amario struck a number of key deals which propelled the growth of the business and saw the brand’s main lines (Red Label, Gold Label and Anglomania) sell into 30 countries internationally. Amongst the deals negotiated by Mr D’Amario was a master licensing agreement with Itochu in Japan, which was so successful that it came to account for a third of the Vivienne Westwood group’s global turnover. D’Amario was one of the few in the industry who understood the value and potential of the British punk label in foreign markets and this led directly to the establishment of the ‘Anglomania line’ which played a key part in the continuing craze for British fashion, especially in the Far Eastern markets.

Another element which was fundamental to the success of the business in this period was Mr D’Amario’s insistence on quality in the product. He brought the manufacture of all lines either to Italy or to the UK. Gradually, Mr D’Amario has taken production out of the hands of external licensees and brought it in-house. Today, 80% of all Vivienne Westwood products are produced in- house meaning that the quality of the clothes and accessories is centrally controlled. Additionally, it was Mr D’Amario’s commercial instinct which drove the brand to focus on accessories as well as clothing, including bags, belts, ties, sunglasses, scarves and fragrance (Westwood was one of the first brands which was principally clothing to offer a fragrance). This policy helped to reinforce the brand as rooted in UK style and culture whilst capitalising on the high-end quality of Made in Italy production.

One of the keys to success of the Group is the clear delineation of roles with Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler as the Group’s Creative Co-Heads being entirely responsible for the creative direction and with Mr D’Amario as Group Chief Executive Officer being the person in charge of driving the Group’s commercial growth. Mr D’Amario’s success is evidenced by the increase in turnover from € 10m to € 74m in the last 15 years.

D’Amario’s interests have not been solely focused on the purely commercial aspects of the business and he has been heavily involved and influential in the brand’s charitable, philanthropic and eco- sustainable efforts around the world. One of the best examples is the ‘Vivienne Westwood Ethical Africa Bags Collection’. These bags are produced in Nairobi, Kenya in collaboration with the International Trade Centre and is currently supporting the work of thousands of women micro- producers from marginalised African communities. Thanks to the great success of the collection, so far the Ethical Africa programme has sustained its success and is providing more and more employment for impoverished communities.

Dame Vivienne Westwood, in her own words, has acknowledged D’Amario as having laid the foundation for all of the Group’s commercial success. In her biography by Ian Kelly (2015 Picador), she says, “Carlo is the other face of the organisation. I owe him so very much. He risked a lot at the beginning. He had faith in me.” It is unlikely that Vivienne Westwood, the designer and the brand would be where they are today without the incredible efforts and achievements of Carlo D’Amario.