New Delhi: An emergency landing in 1979 is the first memory of New Delhi for Stefano Ricci, founder of the eponymous luxury fashion and lifestyle brand. The 46-year-old Italian brand, best known for its crocodile leather pieces, has recently opened a 2,400 sq. ft store at the city’s The Oberoi hotel. Ricci was in India along with Niccolò Ricci, his son and chief executive officer of the firm, to formally unveil the hard-to-miss store located in the five-star hotel’s lobby. “We are extremely happy with the location of the new store. India is a growing market for us and we want to stay invested in it. It’s a long term commitment," Niccolò said.
The brand, which has more than 65 exclusive boutique stores globally, entered India in 2014 having set up a flagship store at Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace hotel. It sells menswear -- suits, crocodile leather shoes and bags, dress shirts, jeans, polo shirts and diamond-studded neckties -- along with homeware and a junior line for children, at a starting price of ₹ 12,500, which can go up to a crore.
The brand has a powerful global clientele that ranges from wealthy businessmen, oligarchs, and oil tycoons in the Middle East, to Hollywood star Tom Cruise and world leaders (Nelson Mandela was a client). In India, it has dressed Bollywood celebrities such as Anil and Boney Kapoor, as well as the promoters of Hero Group, the Munjal family, and many others. The owners of the family-run business talk about the changing concept of luxury, India as their focus market and making the brand relevant to millennials. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How big is your business globally and where does India stand?
Niccolò: We are a €160 million strong company and currently India contributes 2-3% to our overall revenue. For us India is our main market because there is a lot of potential for growth here. It took us 25 long years to crack the China market where we run 14 stores. The first 10 years were difficult in China and now the market has matured to deliver more than one-third of our luxury consumers.
India also needs similar nurturing where we are building customer satisfaction and loyalty. It is a long term investment. US, Europe, China, Russia and the Middle East are our top five markets globally. Apart from India, we see a lot of potential in Southeast Asia. Having opened a store in Cambodia recently, we wish to explore Malaysia and the Philippines.
Which is your fastest growing product category—apparel, accessories, fragrances or jewellery?
Niccolò: To be honest, all our categories are growing. Leather goods, belts and briefcases are always very important. Our sportswear collection, which includes jeans, sneakers, bright coloured silk and cashmere sweaters, is driving growth bringing young consumers to our stores. One of the biggest surprises for us in the accessories category has been the cigar. It started as a joke but my father collaborated with cigar brand Arturo Fuente and launched Opus X collection, which has leather cigar boxes and cigar sets (with a cigar cutter) and has become a great gifting option.
What is the biggest challenge for a menswear luxury brand today?
Stefano: It only takes half a century to establish a luxury brand that doesn’t compromise on quality and is not attracted by big volumes. Therefore, the biggest challenge is to ensure that the increase every year is kept under control to maintain quality standards. Our suit collection is timeless and can be passed on for generations and still look modern. Typically, we take one-and-a-half months to stitch a classic Stefano Ricci suit.
What are the biggest consumer trends in the menswear luxury market?
Stefano: Our clients (mostly between 35 and 50 years) like to wear gentleman suits. But once they get a chance to escape formal wear, they like to wear our sportswear collection, styling it with sneakers or fur.
We have seen that clients who own multiple grey and navy suits have a desire to buy a burgundy and blue or orange and navy jacket that they can style with blue pants. Burgundy and navy is a lovely colour combination that is working well in jackets as well as ties and suit combination. We are playing with royal blue colour when it comes to our suit collection to break away from the black and grey palette which might be classic but may get boring after a point of time. In terms of fashion trend, I feel chocolate brown will make a comeback in luxury menswear.
How are you making your brand relevant to millennials?
Niccolò: Millennials need to be taught and trained about high-end luxury and made-to-measure fashion. We are creating videos on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, and also on our website to make young consumers understand the history, craftsmanship and essence of brand Stefano Ricci.
Every time we launch a new collection, we create a film with a story behind it which helps us connect better with young consumers. Our junior collection is also a way of reaching out to young millennials. Our sportswear collection is also bringing a new set of consumers aged between 25 and 40 preferring to buy crocodile leather sneakers, jeans or T-shirts spending anywhere between €500 and €1,000.
We are definitely investing in future consumers because young buyers are not lining up outside our stores like they do in Gucci. Therefore, we are making extra efforts to inform them about our heritage and products and once they experience Stefano Ricci, hopefully, they will become our long-term clients.
The idea of luxury menswear is changing. It is becoming casual, suits being worn with sneakers. How does a traditional menswear brand think about it?
Niccolò: Today we were at the airport. While we were boarding, I told my father that everybody was wearing Nike sneakers and only two-three men were wearing laced up shoes. Casualisation is definitely a trend now but the minute a fashion designer decides to put laced-up formal shoes at a fashion show in Paris, who knows, it will become the next big trend. We recognize that people are looking to play it up and that’s why even in our formal wear we are experimenting with different cuts, using velvet and jacquard as a fabric for dinner jackets, which can be easily worn with a pair of jeans. It gives clients options to wear something different than a classic dinner jacket.
What does luxury mean to you?
Stefano: I wrote a book on luxury and for me, the real luxury is a glass of fresh water in the desert. Luxury doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive and eccentric. It needs to have an energy that is simple, natural and chic. It should be understated. The word luxury has been abused by many brands that don’t even have any connection with the concept. But I believe the consumer of today is mature and intelligent enough to understand luxury.
Niccolò: Luxury is something that is limited. In terms of lifestyle, luxury could be spending time with family and friends in the countryside and waking up every day to do the job that you love. Luxury clothing is something that makes you feel special and to own a piece that has been designed intricately with a lot of time and finesse.
What is the most expensive luxury piece you own?
Stefano: My family (smiles).
Niccolò: Our collection of vintage cars.
What is your individual management style?
Stefano: I knew the names of all the employees when I created the company but for my son it is impossible to do that since we have grown so big. But I believe in the power of personal contact and respect with employees. When I started, the competition was way less but we never ran any end-of-season sales. We want to not only respect our clients but also the craftsmen who made this company big.
Niccolò: As things are changing so fast, I need to be more agile and aware about new trends so that we can tailor our collection accordingly. I’m constantly in touch with our sales team and I take daily feedback from our stores on what’s selling and change our next season’s collection accordingly.
Social media is also impacting fashion in a big way, so we have to get used to making multiple changes before a collection launch. While my father has a Nokia phone and doesn’t even use a computer, I have to make sure that our entire operation, warehouses and logistics are digitally savvy.