Valentino strives to turn into “cool, modern, young” couture label
The Italian luxury label is busy on a string of integrated communication, distribution and organisational projects, as its CEO Stefano Sassi explains.
“Customer loyalty has all but vanished. Nowadays, consumers follow trends that are increasingly short-term, while the market is drowning in the noise generated by the web.” Such was the assessment made by the CEO of Valentino, Stefano Sassi, on Wednesday April 17, during a debate organised in Milan by Altagamma, the association of Italian luxury brands.
“The digital revolution has generated a sort of constant noise that leads to the disintermediation between luxury labels and the market, while creating a genuine disruption for brands. Communication has therefore become an essential tool for labels, which have to find a distinctive voice,” said Sassi, who encouraged brands to focus “on their DNA while also constantly transforming themselves.”
Collaborations with partners that are far from a label’s proximate environment can be a useful way of doing so. This is why Valentino recently teamed up with German sandals brand Birkenstock and Japanese designer label Undercover.
“Valentino is rooted in haute couture, a world which may appear to be anachronistic. But it is a very important value for us. Our job is to counterbalance this, demonstrating that we are also cool, modern and young,” added Sassi.
"Of course, if a few years ago someone told me that Valentino was going to associate with Birkenstock, I’d have struggled to believe it. It’s an unexpected collaboration, but what’s important is to go about it with a couture touch, showing who we are, but in different way.”
Connecting with the zeitgeist without jettisoning history
To be distinctive within an increasingly complex luxury market, dominated by the web’s distorting perspective, labels need to broadcast a “precise and very clear” image of themselves, “supported by consistent products.”
“Being contemporary and relevant is every company’s mantra,” said the Valentino boss. “There are different ways of achieving this, while previously there were clearly defined business models. The range of products on offer is huge, and consumers want the best of the best. Brands must assert their positioning while constantly trying to evolve. It isn’t easy.”
The other key strategic element is adopting a holistic approach, something luxury players must embrace in order to capture the attention of consumers globally. Communication and distribution strategies must be approached at all levels and at the same time in each project.
This means investing on classic media as well as on influencers, and on all the various distribution channels, as Sassi emphasised: “To stand out amidst the noise generated by the web, [labels] need to be able to manage all their distribution channels in synergy, from retail to wholesale, to their own e-stores and online partners, social media, pop-up stores, etc.” A huge undertaking, given that the number of special projects launched by Valentino has increased from one to between three and five each year.
“We must adopt a 360-degree perspective, engaging the whole organisation in each of our initiatives, whether collaborations, special projects or collections. This means there has to be a consistent operational effort across the entire company,” said Sassi, who since 2006 is at the helm of the label owned by Qatari investment fund Mayhoola, with Pierpaolo Piccioli as creative director.
“Merchandising, distribution, the creative team and all the other departments are involved in each project. There wasn’t so much complexity before. This means the organisation must be more informal, and that everyone must be able to talk to everyone else,” said Sassi.
The rise of casual fashion
Talking about the boom of casualwear, which has made its mark in the luxury world too, Valentino's CEO gave the example of the label's menswear line, which was relaunched a few years ago.
“To begin with, we used to feature a rather formal kind of menswear, the equivalent of our women’s ready-to-wear. It was a complete flop! Since then, we redesigned the range, going in a more casual direction. We were one of the first luxury labels to introduce sneakers. Nowadays, formal wear accounts for 4% of our menswear sales, accessories account for 50%, while the rest is generated by fashion and sportswear items.”
For 2018, Sassi reported a revenue of €1.2 billion, up 3% over 2017, when the label's revenue growth was 5%. “We are still growing, though at the kind of rate we were used to in the past,” said Sassi, who assured that Valentino “still has ambitious growth plans.”
“In the first few months of 2019, all markets were buoyant, except for Hong Kong and Macao, penalised by the fact that wealthy Chinese consumers are travelling less in those areas,” he concluded.
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