ROME — Earlier this spring Andrea Perrone, who leads Brioni’s new executive team, traveled to Dallas to meet with Karen Katz and senior Neiman Marcus brass.
The Dallas trip capped off months of nonstop travel for the 37-year-old executive, who until recently had been accustomed to a much more even work schedule. Like the transatlantic jaunts before it—where Perrone met with executives at Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York as well as top men’s editors—the Dallas meeting also served as a kind of road show to present Perrone and the new Brioni.
A year since Brioni chief executive officer Umberto Angeloni cantankerously left the company, the dust had finally settled, and left standing was a new guard with Perrone, the grandson of Brioni cofounder Gaetano Savini, at its center. Earlier in the year Brioni’s board of directors named Perrone, who for his entire career has held various roles within the company, one of three executive administrators.
His counterparts include two longtime Brioni veterans: Antonella De Simone, granddaughter of Brioni’s other cofounder, the master tailor Nazareno Fonticoli; and non-family member Antonio Bianchini. De Simone oversees marketing and communications, and Bianchini handles company finances.
Just as Angeloni’s departure was never formally announced, there was no communication about the company’s new corporate structure. As is often the case with Italian companies, the families behind Brioni opted to show rather than tell.
“It’s important to reiterate that we’re a team that is capable of coordinating well,” said Perrone during an interview at his Rome office earlier this spring. “Obviously every new page needs to be written and probably written a new way.”
Perrone may defer to the team, but he has clearly emerged as its figurehead and as such will be the one doing much of that writing. In a wide-ranging interview he laid out his business strategy, which blends both grassroots concepts and prudent brand building, to make Brioni a 200 million-euro brand by the end of this year. He acknowledged Brioni’s successes under his predecessor and said he wants to make Brioni even better by improving production efficiencies, encouraging and capitalizing on internal strengths, and reinforcing the company’s relationships.
“The greatest change is that we’re looking to increasingly involve managers of all levels in the company,” Perrone said. “As a company we can try to transfer the idea of Brioni, but there’s nothing better than getting these managers together and letting them feel like they’re really a part of something.”
Talk to Perrone and you quickly discover that interpersonal relationships—both with Brioni employees and Brioni clients—are just as important for the father of three as his goal to beef up Brioni’s sportswear offering. His numerous trips to meet with top Brioni clients demonstrate the former, while the company’s hiring of designer Jason Basmajian to consult on sportswear underscores the latter.
“Perrone’s management style is refreshing and balanced,” said Tom Kalenderian, executive vice-president of men’s merchandising of Barneys New York. “He’s not just interested in commercial or fashion or retail or wholesale. He’s concerned and interested in Brioni and is approaching the business in a balanced way.” Poised and soft-spoken, Perrone strikes a handsome figure that befits the leader of a luxury men’s business known for handmade power suits. He has taken on the role gracefully, with aplomb and charm. His approach, while still evolving, is visibly hands-on, and when he talks about strengthening the culture of Brioni you sense a sincerity that reflects his personal experience rather than textbook branding jargon.
What he lacks in terms of international exposure and experience he makes up with intimate knowledge of Brioni. When he was just a child he would help pack up bolts of fabrics destined for Brioni clients. He held stints in both Brioni wholesale and retail, as well as worked for six months at Brioni’s factory in Penne.
Located about three hours east of Rome in the Abruzzo region, Penne is the heart of Brioni and the hometown of cofounder Fonticoli. Here master tailors continue a long tradition of handmade tailoring. A well-managed machine, the factory stays open until 8 p.m. and on Saturdays—a rarity in Italy—thanks to progressive shift work. Moreover, it boasts a tailoring school that is helping to safeguard Brioni’s manufacturing prowess.
“This is a company built on human resources,” Perrone said. “It’s a great world of excellence that needs to be managed well.”
Perrone clearly understands that he is inheriting a well-established, well-positioned brand. Under Angeloni’s 16-year tenure as CEO, Brioni evolved from a high-end men’s clothing company to a premier luxury brand.
When Angeloni left, the company was performing very well, which made the news of his departure that much stranger. In his reserved style, Perrone offered little insight into what caused the schism between Angeloni and family members, saying only that “the family wanted be more involved in the activity of the company.”
Regardless of what kind of internal conflicts may have unfolded or continue to unfold (Angeloni is still a shareholder), the brand enjoys an unblemished reputation. Last month the New York–based Luxury Institute released a study that named Brioni the most prestigious luxury men’s brand, ahead of Ermenegildo Zegna and Giorgio Armani.
Where do you go from there? Only up, according to Perrone.
“What we want to do is give more luster to the brand,” he said. “Everyone that has had a chance to get close to the brand says it’s a brand that still has much more to give, and we want to give more.”
That means a prudent retail rollout and a more articulated sportswear offering. Brioni opened its first store in India earlier this year. Stateside, it inaugurated its first hard shop in the Saks Fifth Avenue New York flagship in February. In the fall it will unveil a new, exclusive shop-in-shop concept inside the Atlanta Neiman Marcus. A Brioni store is scheduled to open in Bal Harbour, Fla., later this year as well.
“We want to grow the brand, but we don’t want to inflate it,” noted Perrone. “We want to make sure we grow the brand in a stable and steady way that allows Brioni to maintain the same status.” Perrone said the company would release 2006 financial figures later this summer, which he characterized as a “record balance sheet with an interesting profit.” He added that his goal was to make Brioni a 200 million-euro company by the end of 2007. “I want to underscore, though, that sales aren’t the only important indicator,” Perrone said. “EBITDA and operating profits are really important aspects that go toward the growth and health of a company.”
Such talk could lead observers to believe that the company is preparing for an eventual sale. It’s no secret Brioni has been a possible acquisition target by private equity funds, and at one point the family talked about selling a minority share.
Although Perrone acknowledged that interest is still high—he still receives calls to open up Brioni’s books—he emphatically denied that the family has any intention of selling. “Right now the company doesn’t have the need for outside financing,” he said.
Instead, Perrone and his team—headed by Todd Barrato in the U.S. (see sidebar)—are focused on building even greater brand equity. “We realized the industry is hungry to know Brioni even more,” Perrone said. “I’m not in a hurry. I’m looking to do things well, and in time the industry will judge if we were good or not.”
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