Andrea Perrone is deeply apologetic. A miscommunication with his Italian liaison in New Delhi has resulted in a half-hour delay in our interview. “I’m sorry,” he says, “but I have another appointment after this.” And just like that, visions of a leisurely chat over an espresso, perhaps a tea-time pastry or two, vanish.
Perrone clearly does not have the same visions, because apologetic though he may be, the Brioni co-CEO and grandson of co-founder Gaetano Savini (who founded Brioni along with Nazareno Fonticoli in 1945), does not relent.
He is on a tight schedule, having flown in to inaugurate the opening of Brioni’s first store in New Delhi, and second in India. It may be this admirable, but frustrating, unwillingness to capitulate that led board members to eventually appoint Perrone as part of the triumvirate at the apex of the 63-year-old company.
The decision was surprising. In 2006, after the abrupt and much-speculated departure of CEO Umberto Angeloni, reports surfaced that the company would look outside for professional management. Angeloni, married to one of the granddaughters of co-founder Fonticoli, had successfully and rapidly transformed the niche menswear tailor into a high-end bespoke brand claiming tony associations with James Bond and the industrial elite. Net profits soared, and then unexpectedly, without much explanation, Angeloni left. At the time, industry experts wagered the company was just following a course traversed by so many other family-run Italian brands who were eventually forced to turn over management to seasoned outsiders. And, though Perrone’s name was floated, rumours were quickly dashed. At a dinner in Milan in 2006, he was quoted in the American press as saying, “Sincerely, I don’t think I’m going to become the face of the company.”
A stitch in time: Brioni’s Perrone has pushed for stores in Kazakhstan and India. (Illustration: Jayachandran)
So, when 38-year-old Perrone was eventually given the much-coveted role, sharing the title with Antonella De Simone, another granddaughter of Fonticoli’s, and Antonio Bianchini, a non-family member, nobody was more surprised than he was. While De Simone and Bianchini would oversee marketing and finance, respectively, Perrone was entrusted with overall management, in effect becoming the de-facto face that would usher in a new generation at the company.
“It’s still a private company,” he says in lightly accented English. “Of course, there is now in Italy a trend to go public, or give some shares to equity firms or partners in the business,” but he points out that Brioni has no intention of selling, putting to rest any rumours that the company is up for grabs.
As an executive administrator, Perrone worked quickly to dispel speculation that the company was anything but professionally run. In recent years, several Italian brands, such as Ferragamo and Versace, have floundered under inept family management and internal power struggles, and Angeloni’s acrimonious and mysterious departure was threatening to do the same to Brioni. Instead, Perrone pre-empted naysayers by disclosing the company’s financial statements, unprecedented in its history, posting pre-tax earnings of nearly €25 million (around Rs160 crore) for 2006, almost double of what they posted in 2005.
“It was important to show the figures of the company to the market, even after the buzz and rumours and the family situation, and so on,” he says. Brioni had itself set a goal of becoming a €200 million (approx. Rs1,300 crore) company by 2007 and according to Perrone, it managed to surpass that by posting revenues of €201 million. And in a final, expensive and deeply symbolic gesture, the board bought back the shares of Angeloni and his?wife,?wiping away the last remnants of an opaque management.
Looking to strengthen and reinvent a label that had become synonymous with an older and somewhat portly generation, Brioni made an aggressive push into casual and sports wear, with Perrone issuing a mandate to make the classic brand more appealing to a younger clientele.
It helped that Perrone, who had spent his entire career at the company working his way up from the shop floor, was young and dashing. Even now, clearly with little time to spare, he is poised and articulate, speaking in earnest tones. Wearing a navy blue suit (Brioni, obviously), Perrone is every bit the handsome and sartorially-attuned CEO of a company famous for its several thousand-dollar bespoke suits, whose prices can range from Rs2 lakh to Rs10 lakh.
Having worked his way up Brioni’s corporate ladder, Perrone is well placed to understand, intuitively, the legacy he must simultaneously live by, and transcend. As a boy, Perrone’s parents would take him to the factory in Abruzzo, even bringing him along to textile fairs around the country. “They always said you have to start from the bottom and not just for a few days,” Perrone says. “It’s something I have in my blood.”
Stints working in London and New York, rotating through various departments from production and distribution to wholesale and retail, have equipped him to adroitly navigate emerging markets. In addition to scaling up in retail hot spots such as New York and Atlanta, Perrone has also pushed for outlets in Kazakhstan and India (“customs duty is really the problem in your county,” he rues).
Yet, the pace of expansion has been circumspect. Unlike Canali, and Boss, who open dozens of stores a year, Brioni has taken baby steps, opening just 15 in less than two years. “We want to be present where the market can really afford us. We want to preserve the value, be exclusive, and not be all over.”
The strategy appears to have paid off. A 2007 survey by the New York-based Luxury Institute named Brioni the most prestigious luxury menswear brand ahead of Ermenegildo Zegna and Giorgio Armani. For a company that still hand-stitches suits in its factory in Penne, three hours outside of Rome, this is a laudable accomplishment. “As I said, we have 1,200 tailors and we produce only 250 suits a day,” Perrone says proudly.
When asked how many he owns, Perrone laughs. “Not too many,” he says, but admits that he is rarely seen without a suit and tie. “I cannot wear a suit without a tie. It’s become like a second skin for me.”
Despite his own aversion to casual wear, Perrone realizes the value of expanding Brioni’s presence in that sector. Few people know that Brioni makes jeans which, not surprisingly, are bought primarily by clients who wear Brioni suits through the week. “Now almost 50% of our turnover comes from what we call casual leisure wear,” Perrone says, pointing out that the same meticulous craftsmanship is applied to the manufacture of jeans. None of this, however, prevented Brioni from losing the highly-coveted role of dressing James Bond. After 12 years of outfitting Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, Brioni has been replaced by the edgier Tom Ford.
Perrone brushes it off. “Dressing James Bond has become a product placement, and in the past it was a gentleman’s agreement.” Instead, he points out, the Royal College of Arts in London has chosen Brioni for a three-year strategic partnership, where students will be trained by tailors from the Brioni Tailoring Academy in Penne.
“People always ask me why they didn’t choose Savile Row, and I reply: Let’s go and ask them,” Perrone says, smiling earnestly. “And I believe it’s because Made in Italy still has great appeal for the market.”
Born: 12 May 1970, in Rome, Italy
Education: Doctorate in law from Università di Camerino
Career: Worked for Brioni in London in 1991, in wholesale, and in New York in 1997, in wholesale and retail. In 1998, he returned to Rome, and oversaw management of the three Brioni stores in the city for five years. In 2003, he joined the board and was named director of franchising. In 2006, he became a member of the executive committee in charge of business development. Since January 2007, he has been the co-CEO of the company
Car: A6 Audi
Favourite Film: Horse Fever
Favourite Holiday Destination: His in-laws’ country house on the Maremma Coast, Italy