Domenico De Sole Advises Luxury Should Stay the Course

Domenico De Sole, chairman of Tom Ford International, told Penn students "“the key is to stay the course and not change the brand."

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PHILADELPHIA — Domenico De Sole had a clear message for students at the University of Pennsylvania.

This story first appeared in the April 14, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

During a recession “the key is to stay the course and not change the brand,” said De Sole, chairman of Tom Ford International and former president and chief executive officer of Gucci Group.

Along with designer Tory Burch, who said she had no plans to sell her business, De Sole was a featured speaker during Penn’s third annual fashion week, which ended April 7. More than 1,500 students attended fashion-related events on the campus here, ranging from beauty workshops and career panels to the annual student fashion show.

De Sole told students at Claudia Cohen Hall who are worried about finding fashion industry jobs: “In the end, companies need new people, need new blood. It’s a great industry and there’s always room for people who really love it.”

Burch, a Penn alumna, returned to campus for the first time in 10 years. She described the evolution of her company, which began with an image notebook and has grown into a globally recognized brand. Burch said she is focusing on growing the company strategically. She recently signed two long-term Asian distribution deals, signifying the brand’s international vision. After her talk, Burch told WWD she attributed her success to the team with whom she works. “One thing I’m really good at is surrounding myself with great people,” she said. “It’s all about teamwork.” She also said she had no plans to sell the company.

Representatives from companies such as Bottega Veneta, Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., Rolls-Royce, Maserati and Robert Burke Associates, as well as Philadelphia restaurateur Steven Starr, gave their perspective on the economy’s impact on the luxury industry.

The consensus: they believe the recession forces companies to be more creative and make smarter business decisions. Although some companies are adjusting their prices, most of the executives agreed such a move would ultimately hurt a brand rather than strengthen it.

The student-run fashion show featured the collections of Penn’s aspiring designers. Fashion week was supported by the Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative at the university’s Wharton School.

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