Andrea Panconesi opens New York pop up, and reveals his secrets
Andrea Panconesi is a fashionable one-of-a-kind.
He has owned and guided LuisaViaRoma, the best fashion boutique in Florence, and probably Italy, for over half a century, a truly landmark and influential emporium. Plus, he is the only fashion store owner, more or less anywhere, who has turned that into a global brand thanks to the Internet.
Now he is on to his next project, opening a pop up in downtown Manhattan this Friday, to bring his unique combination of retailing and etailing to New York, timed to tap into Christmas shopping. A five-week pop up, located in Spring Studios.
“My company is one of the last family-owned business in fashion etailing. We are the smallest of the big ones. And, the fact that several are ten times bigger does not scare me; not at all,” insists Panconesi over lunch in the Hôtel Costes.
Small is relative. Last year his boutique, located a stone’s throw from Florence’s magnificent Duomo, posted sales of 7.5 million euros; but his online business tipped 125 million in turnover. It’s a sui generis store and company.
“People try to tell me, to grow a company you have three choices: Either you get financed by a hedge fund? Or you sell the company to a big group? Or you go public to make money? Well, I don’t want to do anything of this. Why? I don’t want to sell my company because I wish that it goes from one generation to the next,” snaps this 67-year-old.
LuisaViaRoma has always been profitable, boasting a margin of 8% of sales over the past half-decade. Depending on the season, it handles between 800 and 1,000 brands selling men's, women's, children's, homeware and beauty. Selling in nine languages: English, Italian, German, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, French, Korean and Japanese.
When I ask him his best-selling brands, he checks his iPhone briefly: “Right now, Gucci, Balenciaga, Thom Browne, Dolce & Gabbana. The less successful? No, I don’t want to say.”
He insists his company has never been in the red any year over four decades, arguing that, “with so many brands there is no risk. But, if I had one brand and the designer wasn’t creating, then I could go bankrupt.”
Almost incongruously today, when Farfetch and YNAP command huge valuations on the stock market, Panconesi owns his own private platform, affording him considerable independence.
“Twenty years ago there were no commercial platforms, so we were forced to go alone. I didn’t realize that the web would be the Next Big Thing. Not at all! I had no idea what I was doing. But, the best things I have done have been by chance, including my children,” he says.
The only thing he outsources is distribution; working with the giant logistics company XPO, who operate literally out of his own 10,000 square-meter warehouse outside of Florence, mainly with a team of some 20 former employees he provided.
“XPO manage it better. I would not be competent,” says Andrea, pausing to greet multiple Italians in the garden of the Costes.
Though gruff and overly self-confident in the way of successful Tuscans, Panconesi does have a generous heart.
Last summer, he raised two million euros for UNICEF, selling paintings, sculptures and yachting holidays in an auction at a summer gala in Porto Cervo, Sardinia where Ricky Martin, Rita Ora and Sofia Carson performed. While Diana Picasso, Emily Ratajkowski, Gina Lollobrigida, Heidi Klum, Nicole Scherzinger, Shanina Shaik and the Missonis, Angela and Margherita, all showed up.
“I love children and there is no future without children, which is why I support UNICEF. I live for my children – I have three children and a nephew and niece, so five altogether,” adds the Tuscan who sailed to Sardinia in a sleek Perrini 53-meter ketch that “I don’t dare helm myself, we have a crew of 12."
“We started 20 years ago with a small shop in Florence and now we sell in 180 countries. We have done well for ourselves especially via the web. So, I decided to spend my energy on something different to help the others,” continues the etailer, who staged a large bash in Paris during the latest fashion week in October to fete Carine Roitfeld’s CR13 magazine. Once again, the Hôtel des Monnaies was jammed full of beautiful people and designers. Clare Waight Keller, Haider Ackermann and Olivier Theyskens showed up, alongside Mick Jagger, no less.
For his New York debut, Panconesi promises, “a new generation combination of the physical activities of a shop where you meet people and sales staff, where you go with girlfriend or wife, to the “totally different experience” of being at home in front of laptop or phone." So while the store will only feature 30 items, screens inside the boutique can let the audience order 30,000 other items. Stylists will hover to provide advice on brands from the Italian peninsula like Versace, Missoni, Marni, Moschino or Emilio Pucci.
LuisaViaRoma NYC is a 250-square-meter boutique located inside the main entrance of Spring Studios, the innovative and integrated production, shoot and events space in Tribeca that stages many of the best runway shows in the New York fashion season.
The new space echoes the design of the store in Florence, designed by critically noted Tuscan interior designer, Cristina Celestino of Attico, who jumbles up Gio Ponti graphics with a David Hockney color palette.
“I wanted a combination of ideas for my first steps in New York. Finally, after 20 years of me dreaming, we open as a digital force in Manhattan,” enthuses Panconesi of the store, scheduled to operate from November 15 to December 15.
“I love New York in this period. Everyone is excited about the holiday, they window shop and then they really shop. I always took my children on holiday in New York, to see the 50 Rockettes in Radio City. I even got married in NYC,” he chuckles.
Back in the 1920s, Luisa Jacquin opened a millinery boutique in Paris, with her Italian husband Lido Panconesi, before moving to Florence in 1930.
“She met my grandfather at the Arc de Triomphe. But he was a gambler and lost all his money on the wrong horse. So, he moved to Buenos Aires to bet at the Palermo hippodrome. Granny went all the way to BA and took him by the jacket back home, and they opened their shop, which is where it still is,” marvels their grandson Andrea.
Some 40 years later, the family handed over the store to Andrea, aged 18 at the time.
“I was a long-haired hippie hitchhiking and my father stopped working and hold me to take over, and he was nearly 50 years older than me. That was in 1970, and in beginning was very hard. I really didn’t know anything,” he concludes, before downing a glass on Pommard before he embraces yet another fellow Tuscan.
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