Frida Micheli, or never stop putting yourself on the line. In life and in fashion.
Frida Micheli, a very expert woman in fashion, half Italian and half Swedish, knew that Pulchra would come into being before any other person. When the bag and the brand were only an idea, Niccolò Biddau and Stefania Demetz, the founders of Biddau, met her with a question; yes or no, are we crazy or can the idea hold out? Not only did she listen to the project with great enthusiasm, as will be understood when reading her story, but above all she spurred on Niccolò and Stefania and stimulated them to go ahead, always.
Frida Micheli is very Milanese today but one of those Milanese who are real citizens of the world.
Born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and an Italian father, she spent all her adolescence in Sweden except for a few short stays in Italy for holidays.
At seventeen, after her application to an art school in Sweden had been rejected because she was too young, she decided to follow her father and live in Italy, at least for a year, which then became two, three, ten…
“And I’m still here,” Frida tells us, laughing.
With her father she spoke in Swedish and he answered her in Italian, “That’s how I started to learn Italian and I enrolled at the Istituto Marangoni and to make ends meet, because it was impossible for me not to work, I worked in the warehouse of Città del Sole” (the toy shop founded by one of her uncles, together with her mother, who had helped him import wooden toys for Italian children).
Then, after your studies, you joined Armani …
Yes, I was Silvana Armani’s assistant and I followed all the women’s second lines. I worked on the design, but all the rest as well. Then people worked differently, everything had to be done and the company roles were not segmented as they are today. Not only did we create and follow the lines (Emporio Armani, Armani Jeans, Armani Exchange, Junior, Eyewear, accessories …) but we also looked after all the rest from the beginning to the end, from the creative decision to the store’s sell-out, from the advertising campaigns to the tailoring …
When was this?
The late 1980s. Armani started in the middle of the 1970s. Everything that we can see today did not exist. Everything had to be done. The offices were still in Giorgio Armani’s apartment.
After 16 years you decided to leave, to change. Why?
I believe that if you have the gift of life, every 15-20 years you have to a change in your life. It’s essential! You have a huge amount of experience. It is a great privilege to be able to do so.
Why did I? I don’t know, maybe it’s in my DNA. Armani gave me a great deal, but the time had come to change. I had to do it for me, because I felt I was suffocating. I had got to the point where whatever question I asked at work, I already knew the answer. I needed to discover something new.
How did you cope with this deep need you had for change?
It was not simple. It took me two years working on myself, I really put myself on the line. Then, out of loyalty to Armani, I created a team, I set up an office that with my departure could continue the work without me.
And how did you feel?
I remember very well when I left the office on my last day, I was walking in the street and I saw life!
Then what did you do?
I wanted to work for myself, it was a gut decision. I wanted to see what I was capable of doing, I created a fashion line for women, Frida Micheli. I manufactured in Italy, China and India and I sold in Milan, New York and Tokyo.
But after five seasons, you decided to close it…
I couldn’t cope any longer. I had been wrong, because I didn’t trust anyone and I didn’t get help from anyone, I did everything by myself and the market was already starting its great transformation. It was impossible on my own. And so after two and a half years, before starting the production of the fifth season, I had another flash: that’s enough.
And how did you feel?
Satisfied with myself, proud of what I had done and learned.
So you were once again ready to go …
Yes, I thought of putting myself on the line in a large company, maybe in France, but after a few months there was another turning point that made me change my plans: I was pregnant with little Selma.
The barycentre shifted, and the family became a new centre …
It was wonderful! Because I got back in touch with my childhood, my origins, my upbringing (Frida speaks to her children in Swedish). Obviously I only had Swedish sheets, Swedish beds which I went to get directly in Stockholm and my husband followed me everywhere. For me everything was a return to my roots and so: a Swedish pram, Swedish dummies …
But you weren’t just a Mum…
No, shortly afterwards I went back to work. It was a really great and creative period. I worked for Zagliani, which had been taken over by the Labelux Group. I was a product manager. It was a very dynamic time in my life and very gratifying. I learnt a lot.
Then another change …
Yes. Little Dante was born, my second child, and I decided again to stop working for a while because I wanted to give him the same experiences as Selma.
With new trips to Stockholm?
Frida bursts out laughing. No, from this point of view Dante took advantage of what there was.
Your children have grown up now, they are at school …
Yes, about four years ago I got going again. I started a consultancy at Telerie Spadari and I became passionately interested in interior design, in fabrics for the home and discovering how to “dress a home”. I also did some consultancies in design and interior decoration. And now I have a consultancy contract with the Piaggio Group, a very managerial and exciting team.
The most fascinating thing hearing you speak is that you have had experience in so many different aspects of the complex universe of fashion and design. You have touched on different sectors, done different jobs, with different relations. With this immense experience, is there anything in the world of fashion that you do not like?
No, I cannot really say that there are things I don’t like. Inside every new thing, there is always a why and therefore it is more interesting to try and understand how come something, which perhaps I think is ugly, works. Sometimes however, something interesting comes out of even the most horrendous things.
“Ugly things put us to the test.”
There are trends for example, that my teenage daughter likes and I find them horrible, but there you are, I try to understand why she likes them so much. It works, it’s successful, it makes money, why? This helps to keep my brain stimulated all the time. I understand society even inside this successful ugliness. They are fashions that come and go. They make me think and they make me look at the things I love with different eyes.
If you were to define fashion in three words?
Fun, a mirror of society and business.
If a young woman were to come and ask you for advice, what would you say to her?
Start at the bottom. I am thinking of all the people of quality, actors, singers and designers: they became great thanks to working their way up. And working your way up is fantastic. At Armani, I went through pages and pages of printouts on the sales and I remembered everything: the jacket that did not go, the colour that sold more in New York and so on. Working your way up trains you thanks to the variegated and many experiences you have had and this is the base to create leadership, which feeds on experiences.
Let’s come to Pulchra, that you have known since its initial idea. When Stefania came to you the first time, what did you think? Stefania, with managerial experience in sectors totally different from fashion and Niccolò a photographer. You must have thought they were crazy …
No, on the contrary! The fact that they come from different worlds is a great asset because it offers a different point of view on fashion, They come from an external world and approach fashion differently. Niccolò and Stefania are not two fashion victims who follow the trends of the moment. I liked their business project, the solidity of the product and the innovative approach to the selling system straight away. And then there is their tenacity, the real trump card…
Which Pulchra would you choose and for what occasion?
I adore the Mini total white one. It is a bag for always: day, evening, work, weekend or when I need something “extra” to complete the look, it’s an all-rounder!
Pulchra is the reinterpretation of the camera cases of the 20th century. If you were to put a polaroid in it, which one would it be?
An association comes to mind: at Armani we took thousands of Polaroids for the fashion shows. For that reason the Polaroid is this: an outfit. So I would put in one of those beautiful Polaroids, which were studied and experienced.
Thank you Frida, it was really stimulating talking to you.