Mumbai: As the fourth generation Zegna, Ermenegildo Zegna, chief executive officer of the 100-year-old Italian men’s luxury clothing company Ermenegildo Zegna Holditalia SpA., started his career in New York 30 years ago.
The US was the luxury menswear brand’s largest market then. It’s China now, and in the future it could be India, says Zegna, who feels the country could warrant a similar stint by one of his two sons spending time here in a bid to unlock the potential of the emerging economy and understand the Indian consumer. Edited excerpts:
You have been in the country for over seven years now. This is your third partnership change from collaborating with the Modi Group initially to changing partnerships to take on a silent partner. Now you have once again sought an active partner in the brands division of Reliance Retail Ltd. Can you explain the rationale?
We have always been the majority partner. That has not changed. The customer does not care who is behind. The customer cares about the brand and how you serve the brand and customer experience. With Reliance as a partner we can both play an active role. They can be helpful to increment our marketing, attract more customers provided we find infrastructure. It’s nice to be here in the Taj. But, the key to grow this business is traffic. Attracting traffic is achieved easily in a mall.
What are you looking for in a partnership with the Reliance Group?
We have nice stores and we are doing okay and could have gone on like this for many years. But we think that there is more to say and more to do. Going into the Chinese model, there is opportunity to go into the tier-II and tier-III cities where there is 1 million population.
Changing perceptions: Zegna says he finds the Indian consumer very service conscious.Photo: Sanskrut Kumar/Mint
We can micro-segment and go after the consumer. If you look outside the boundaries, we find opportunities; that is why we prefer to have an inside partner to help us speed up the development.
Can you tell us what your investments for the country would be?
We will both invest whatever is appropriate to make the name better known. Being in a 50:50 partnership makes it easier for both of us. But, being a private company, we do not share these numbers.
China has become your single-largest market in less than 20 years after opening your first store there. How do you see the Indian market developing?
One of the biggest developments we have had in China is the development of luxury distribution and our own retail network. The effect of luxury distribution has played an immense part in our success there. The customer goes, finds the right mix of brands, brands are present in more than one city and brands have 3 or 4 or 5 stores in a single large city. Hopefully, if we bet on India and we take x years, say 5 to 7 years, truly we will be more important, more prominent to serve the Indian customer. India will be one of our most important markets in the future.
How big is the opportunity here?
If you asked me 10 years ago, if China would be a larger market than US, I would have said, no. If you would have asked me, whether we would have success in China, I would say, yes. It depends on the right infrastructure. Thereafter it is to attract the right customer who shops with joy and enjoys the experience of luxury brands.
The Chinese phenomena, Brazil phenomena, Russian phenomena is you have malls in which you join in with the best luxury brands of the world. It needs a critical mass. It’s not just about having one store in the best hotel.
You were here last in summer 2008. Can you tell us if anything has changed since.
I can’t say much on what has changed in India since my last visit. But globally, the perceptions have changed. Till now we were only reading about China, now we are reading a lot more about India and about the opportunity here. There is something cooking here. Indians are smart, quick and educated, they can make it happen. Otherwise we would not have made the investment here. I am very optimistic of this country.
Have you dressed Mukesh Ambani in a Zegna suit earlier?
No. The day will come. He may have been wearing Zegna fabric. He has his own tailor, you know. But he will be more into Zegna from now own.
Can you tell us who is the Indian consumer? What are his likes and dislikes?
We have a 1,000 Indian consumers. They are professional, entrepreneurial businessmen. They travel the world. They usually buy from outside India in London, New York, Paris and Dubai.
My experience with Indian consumers is that they are very service conscious, and they love great experience. We are assuring them that they will find the display, experience and service here and are hoping that they would buy our product here. We have been adding new products here like the Zegna watch and the pens from the limited collection, which has only 100 pieces.
How would you describe the Zegna customer?
They are usually very smart men. They look very dapper, they watch their weight. They really attend to their look. I think it’s the Anglo-Saxon tradition. They look at the watch they wear, the shoes they wear. Overall sophisticated. I think the big opportunity here is the sportswear style and not just the international clothing line.
If you had to dress Mukesh Ambani, what would you advice?
I would suggest a centennial suit (the collection Zegna launched this year to celebrate its 100 years) to him for his international travel. For India I would suggest the high performance, cool effect suit as it keeps the body temperature 8 to 10 degree less. His weight is a little heavy, so I would like to dress him in a charcoal pin striped double-breasted suit with a little blue or purple stripe. I would play a little with colours.
Do you advice your customers? What makes a good gift for men?
Yes, all the time. Knowing the colour a man likes makes it easier to pick a gift for him. I like green and brown. It’s easier to pick ties, sweater, shirt and leather accessories.
Is the fifth generation inducted in the business?
The fifth generation is interested in new challenges. My older son is working outside the group with another retailer. The younger one is studying.
Eventually, one of them may come to India for understanding the emerging economies and consumer. India will become an important part of our business just like America was 30 years ago, and it was important for me to be in New York to understand America. Today, China is a must and tomorrow getting India experience will be a must.
What are the other new initiatives being planned?
Internet. We are very interested in the medium and are launching our own online site very soon.