Italian luxury menswear designer Stefano Ricci picked up his first gun when he was 8, to go hunting with his uncle. He has been on hunting trips all over America, Canada, Mexico and even Pakistan. Ricci has hunted wild boars in Italy and lions in Tanzania. “Hunting is about waiting and planning and it leads to a huge adrenalin rush" says Ricci.

Ricci runs his business in a similar fashion. His label, Stefano Ricci, which he founded in 1972, is headquartered in Fiesole, near Florence in Italy. He has patience and is willing to take bold decisions.

This explains his decision to open his first mono-brand store in China in 1993, after reinforcing the brand’s presence in the US. This was before Gucci, which opened in China in 1997, and just a year after Louis Vuitton opened its first store there.

Dressed in a traditional Italian hunting jacket (worn at dinner parties, after hunts), a light-blue shirt, an elephant-print tie and ivory cufflinks, he exuded old-world charm as he smoked and sipped on his espresso. With a burly frame and a thick mop of silver beard, Ricci, 65, has a grandfatherly air.

The company has been interested in the Indian market for the past four-five years because of its large Indian clientele, which has been insisting that he set up shop here. But everything came together only now: the location, permissions and partnership with Jackie Manglani, the president for the company’s Indian operations.

It took Ricci over a year to get the Foreign Investment Promotion Board’s clearance to set up a wholly owned company, Luxury Lifestyle Trading India Pvt. Ltd, under single-brand retail policy. The only other luxury goods company that got clearance at the same time, in 2014, was Bulgari International Corporation. For the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned brand, which relaunched in November in New Delhi, it is their second entry. Bulgari had exited the Indian market in 2011 on account of a failed partnership.

Stefano Ricci considers his ivory cufflinks to be his lucky charm. The ivory was presented to him by a witch doctor in Central Africa more than 30 years ago. The witch doctor used to use them to read the future. Ricci met him by chance right after his father’s death, when he was visiting Africa to clear his mind. The story goes that a stranger came to the resort where Ricci was staying and said that a witch doctor will be visiting later in the night to talk to a gentleman who has recently lost his father. At around 11pm, a ramshackle Jeep came in with a blind man. It was the witch doctor, and he spoke in the native language, which a local hunter translated for Ricci. Everything the witch doctor had said has come true, says Ricci.

In spite of that, Ricci’s entry comes at a time when luxury marketers are still shying away from investing in India. The last luxury brand to enter the country was Michael Kors in 2013; the sole luxury brand to enter India that year. In 2011, Hermès was the only luxury brand to expand to India, according to a March report by Pike Preston Partners Ltd, a boutique advisory firm on mergers and acquisitions in the fashion and luxury segments.

Stefano Ricci is the only new luxury Italian brand to enter India in a decade.

Yet, Ricci is optimistic. “I have 22 years of experience in China. There is no reason why that will not repeat here".

China, with 13 stores, is the biggest market for the company followed by Europe, Russia and the US. Ricci’s calendar for the year is chock-a-block—there are plans to increase the number of stores globally from 43 to 50. Later this year, the company plans to open a flagship store in Shanghai—spread over 22,000 sq. ft, it will be called the Stefano Ricci Mansion. It will be the biggest Stefano Ricci store in the world.

Nature inspires his work. Every year, before starting on the design process of a new collection, Ricci spends a month in Africa. Next year, he hopes to visit the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand to see tigers. He spends the weekends at his country house, an hour’s drive from his home in Florence. It is home to 22 hunting dogs, and Ricci loves doing his design work there.

The Mumbai store is done in the signature style: polished walnut-root furniture, orange crocodile skin sofas and chairs and the walls and flooring in Tuscan travertine. Crocodile skin is everywhere in Ricci’s stores; in the detailing of its ready-to-wear collection, in accessories like belts and sunglass frames, and on furniture. Ricci says the company is one of the largest users of first-grade crocodile skin, which is ultra-thin and blemish-free. It uses 20,000 skins a year, 25% of which comes from its crocodile farms in Australia. The rest is sourced from New Guinea and Africa.

Ricci has been involved in the designing of the Mumbai shop, like each of the 42 other stores, paying attention to every small aspect. It is this attention to detail that has over the past 43 years seen the brand expand from menswear to also include home décor and homeware, a bespoke tailoring section and Royal Suite Collection that offers silverware, crystalware, leather goods, etc.

“Our clients would come into the store and ask us to design their homes and offices," says Ricci, adding that these services will be available in India too. In 2012, the company also got into yacht interiors, designing the Super Yacht for the Benetti Custom line, one of the oldest luxury shipyards in the world.

The pursuit for perfection and care for detail also saw the company, in 2010, acquire Antico Setificio Fiorentino, a historical silk factory founded in 1786 which has looms and warping machines based on a design by the 16th-century artist Leonardo da Vinci. In the past, the factory produced silk fabrics for noble families the world over and now the company caters to the requirements of the czars of the new millennium, says Ricci.

The Stefano Ricci board of directors includes Ricci, his wife and his two sons, all of whom share the same passions: hunting and racing vintage sports cars. The family has a collection of sports cars from the 1950s-1960s and has in the past sponsored the Mille Miglia (“Thousand Miles") race, which features 375 vintage cars on the road from Brescia to Rome.

Work is part of family life. Big decisions, such as launching a new line of glasses, a perfume or a new collection, are made on family vacations. Work is discussed at the dinner table too. However, money is not, says Ricci.

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