MILAN — Massimo Macchi believes he wouldn't be chief executive officer of Gianfranco Ferre if it weren't for his personality.
"I'm a good soldier, I enjoy working with a team and I have a positive attitude," said Macchi in his first interview with WWD since his appointment in February.
He obviously underestimates his qualifications. With a university degree in nuclear physics, Macchi's career ranges from Procter & Gamble, Playtex and American Express to luxury goods companies Bulgari and Gucci, where he was vice president of the group's jewelry and watch division. At A. Testoni, his last post, he was the company's group director of marketing and sales.
But it's true his easygoing manner serves him well in his new role, where he has to daily deal with two strong individuals: the willful designer Gianfranco Ferre, and Tonino Perna, chairman of IT Holding, which controls the brand and has made growing the Ferre business his priority.
"Ferre personally introduced me to his company, meeting with me every morning for weeks on end. He has very strong opinions but is also willing to listen to others," said Macchi. "As for Perna, he is very stimulating and it's hard to keep up with his ideas. He's a source of inspiration."
In 2004, Ferre reported sales of 143 million euros, or $175.8 million at current exchange rates, up 22 percent compared with 2003, and Macchi expects a 10 percent yearly growth over the next five years. Italy is one of the company's main markets, accounting for 35 percent of sales. The rest of Europe, including Eastern Europe and Russia, accounts for 34 percent of sales, with Russia increasingly emerging as a strong market.
Macchi said the company is working on rebalancing its geographic markets, pushing business in the U.S., which today accounts for 9 percent of revenues, and Asia, which accounts for 15 percent of sales. Macchi views the accessories division as a means to further penetrate the American market.
The signature line is available at eight brand stores, 45 franchised stores and 700 points of sale around the world, down from 1,000 a few years ago — a consequence of a more selective distribution. GF Ferre is available at 10 franchised boutiques and 600 multibrand stores.For his part, Macchi clearly maps out his next steps: "My immediate goals are to correctly position our labels, aggressively expand the accessories division and strengthen our communication."
Since his arrival, the executive has:
Inked a license with Giuseppe Zanotti's Vicini to produce a full-fledged footwear collection, which bowed for fall 2005;
Signed a license with Global Watch Industries for a timepiece under the GF Ferre brand, which was introduced at the international Baselworld watch and jewelry exhibition in April;
Launched a new iris-based fragrance called Ferre.
Next up is the development of a handbag to become the classic bag that will identify the brand in the leather goods arena. Ferre is working with Sergiolin, a renowned leather goods company here, and the new bag should be ready by the end of the year. "Many monothematic brands expanded into other categories, such as Gucci, for example," said Macchi. "Our core business is clothing, and we need to diversify the other way around, but I believe it's simpler and more natural to go from clothing to accessories."
He added that he wants accessories that can stand on their own and are more approachable. "We want to offer larger collections: shoes, for example, with heels in different heights, not only runway stiletto shoes. They'll still be high-end, but less couture-like."
While courting a younger clientele with its GF Ferre line, the company also is pushing for exclusivity. For fall, it introduced a special-order service that allows customers to choose designs from a selection of Ferre's evening gowns in different variations. Customers at the Ferre boutiques in Milan, Paris, London, Cannes, Monaco, Vienna, Moscow, New York, Beverly Hills and Dubai will be able to view fabric swatches, color palettes and sketches and choose accordingly. The designer also included wedding gown possibilities. Seamstresses will work from the Milan headquarters and travel to the customer, wherever she is based, for fittings and adjustments. Clothes will be delivered in four to six weeks. Retail prices range from $16,000 for a dress, from $1,700 to $14,000 for a top, and from $12,000 to $30,000 for a skirt.
"This is a service which emphasizes our most interesting clothes and helps fuel our brand image. Also, it's a way for our customers to feel close to the maison," said Macchi.Also, by the end of the year, the company will offer a custom-made service for men at its brand stores. "Custom-made is in Mr. Ferre's nature," said Macchi.
Industry sources speculated earlier this year that the designer was mulling the idea of launching his own couture line. Macchi said this project was not in the works right now, but did not rule it out for the future. "If and when an element becomes important for a company, things can change — we must always be flexible," he said.
Macchi said one of his priorities is to give a "more dynamic, biting touch" to the brand's image. "I believe the brand is associated with creativity, sophisticated elegance and class, and we don't intend to change this perception," said Macchi. "The market appreciates our continuous history, but we want to dust up our image."
He noted that the company has asked Steven Meisel to shoot its fall ad campaign, the focus of which will be on "poetic, magic and sophisticated refinement." The company is investing 10 percent of sales into communication, and plans to grow that figure by 10 percent each year.
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