MILAN — Touch is the most important sense to appreciate Loro Piana, and “one that actually creates addiction” to the brand, chief executive officer Fabio d’Angelantonio says with a knowing smile.
D’Angelantonio joined Loro Piana in September 2016, but his fascination with the brand — and the softness of its fabrics — dates back at least two decades, as a customer who felt he was treated with special care despite his young age. At a time when experience is a retail touchstone, d’Angelantonio believes this is an intrinsic element of the brand that draws clusters of loyal customers to Loro Piana’s precious and superfine fabrics.
While the essence of the luxury brand and its investments into sourcing the best yarns and materials around the world remained constant, the company has transitioned from a family-owned structure to a managerial organization. This followed LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s acquisition of a majority stake in the summer of 2013, and the death of entrepreneur Sergio Loro Piana in December of the same year. Together with his brother Pier Luigi, Sergio Loro Piana helped build and expand the company, which dates back six generations, rotating the chairman and chief executive positions on a three-year basis. The siblings developed the firm, based in Quarona, Italy, into a prized manufacturer of exclusive fabrics and yarns, preserving its unique heritage, offering exclusive men’s and women’s wear lines and manufacturing for its own use while also supplying high-end garment producers. Pier Luigi is now vice president of the company, which employs 3,000 people, and LVMH scion Antoine Arnault is its president.
D’Angelantonio was previously chief marketing officer of Luxottica Group, as well as president of Sunglass Hut within the Italian eyewear giant firm. Prior to this, he held senior positions in sales and marketing between 1995 and 2004 at publishing house Editions Hemma in Brussels, then in Milan at Ciaoweb — Internet portal of the then Fiat Group — and home appliance manufacturer Indesit Co.
At Loro Piana, he succeeded Matthieu Brisset and devised a careful retail strategy in Asia and set plans to enter the Middle East while consolidating the brand’s storied markets, Europe and the U.S. The goal is to maintain Loro Piana’s exclusivity. While the textile division accounts for 25 percent of revenues and continues to perform solidly, apparel represents the brand’s core business and the intention is to further develop categories such as shoes — including the cashmere slippers that are a favorite with LVMH chief Bernard Arnault. While speaking in soft and measured tones at the sophisticated Interiors showroom in central Milan dedicated to the brand’s home textiles, d’Angelantonio’s passion for the brand seeps through every word. Here he shares with WWD his views on the past, present and future of Loro Piana in his first comprehensive interview.
WWD: What attracted you to Loro Piana?
Fabio d’Angelantonio: It’s a wonderful brand, and [my role here] goes back to my own personal history and relation with Loro Piana. For more than 20 years, even when there were no Loro Piana stores, I would go all the way to Quarona, where there was a company store where they sold their fabrics. Rather than having small swatches, you could see these huge pieces of fabrics. This is what I bring with me, that impression from those early days. There are three dimensions that make up Loro Piana: a sensorial universe, led by touch. Our consumer recognizes the excellence of natural fibers through touch. Quality speaks to the senses. The second is timeless and effortless elegance, which is not ostentatious, and our products fit with the lifestyle of our consumers. The third is connected to the understanding of the needs of consumers, which I realized back then in Quarona, where I felt a refined, natural sense of intimate and polite service. I was a 20, 25- year-old kid, and I was asked about how I felt about the fabrics, how I expected to receive them, whether they should send them to the tailor.
Now, we come from a phase of transition from an independent family company to becoming part of a big group. There have been a few years of getting to know each other. LVMH is always very respectful of the brands that become part of the group. Now that the first phase is over, there is a strong desire to grow this company, make it bloom, but the ambition comes with respecting Loro Piana’s elegance and service.
WWD: How would you describe the brand?
F. d’A.: I admire leaders that have a strong and clear vision of the future and the ability to build a brand with dedication, skills and tenacity. I did not have the privilege to meet Sergio Loro Piana, but I still go to Pier Luigi for his advice. Their vision and ability to imagine and create a brand and a universe of ready-to-wear, shoes, coats and jackets based on natural fibers was extraordinary, and targeting a consumer with very precise characteristics, one who appreciates and can afford these products, who is self-confident, cosmopolitan, sophisticated and very demanding, yet not trends-oriented. That consumer, once in the Loro Piana universe, develops a relationship with the brand that almost verges on addiction. Once you feel that baby cashmere scarf on your skin, on a coat, you realize it’s difficult to find the same anywhere else. Touch is a very intimate sense, and, within a sphere of self-indulgence, it’s very important.
WWD: When news of the acquisition broke, many questions swirled around the future of Loro Piana, whether it would become a producer dedicated to LVMH or if it would continue with its apparel line. In your view, what triggered the purchase and what did LVMH have in mind for the brand?
F. d’A.: I believe Mr. [Bernard] Arnault is really passionate about the brand, and is an intense and frequent consumer, with a passion for our cashmere slippers [smiling]. I can say that — it’s evident [from sales records]. It was a very complementary meeting of the wills, between Mr. Arnault, Sergio and Pier Luigi, who started the conversation with the desire to give perpetuity to the brand, to make it immortal, believing that being part of the group would help them reach this objective. After a first phase of timidly getting to know one another, the bases are there to see the brand bloom and flourish.
WWD: Is the fact that Pier Luigi Loro Piana is still part of the company as vice president a sign of continuity?
F. d’A.: Yes, and he is very involved, as is Luisa Loro Piana [Sergio’s widow], and they contribute with their good taste and passion on a daily basis. Historically, Pier Luigi is the pioneer of the group and remains so in his discovery of raw materials. This passion for quality has passed through six generations of Loro Piana. A crystal-clear and very simple philosophy stands as the basis of the label, it’s in research for the best materials, from baby cashmere to the Gift of Kings [exclusive wool with a diameter of just 12 microns]. It’s where beauty and excellence originate. Our duty is to find these fabrics, protect them, guarantee sustainability and transform them into products. Whether they are fabrics or products [our goal is for] consumers to appreciate the raw materials in their beauty and substance. I fully respect and appreciate what I found at the company. Integrity in order to achieve quality is a cornerstone of Loro Piana and recognized by the industry.
WWD: Did you find there was something that had to be fixed?
F. d’A.: No, the first store opened in 1988, and the company’s path has been extraordinary and wonderful. I believe that, after the integration, there is a group today that allows to learn and continues to dream to restart a new cycle of expansion, built on an organization with a lot of passion and with new talent in different areas. There was nothing to be fixed as there was nothing broken. There are still assets to exploit — from the network of stores to areas of product where we are still beginners, to the world of interiors where we have wonderful products, which allow us to enter the home of our customers. It was necessary to respectfully pass through a moment linked to the transition and, once that was over, to give new energy to the brand and a company that went through a cultural evolution, from a family-run business to a managerial one.
WWD: How many stores are there and what is the plan going forward?
F. d’A.: We now have 167 stores, of which 140 are directly operated and several shops-in-shops are in the U.S. and U.K. in particular. The first store opened in Venice in 1998, and the first in U.S. opened in New York a year later.
We start from an internal growth. We have a very high-quality and selective footprint, and from analyzing our stores, we gather we don’t have any wrong locations, and the size is appropriate to display our men’s and women’s ready-to-wear offer. We want to continue to improve our in-store hospitality, but we are not obsessed with growing [the network]. At the same time, we have a measured desire to cover cities, locations and geographies where consumers can accept us and where we can surprise them.
WWD: How much does women’s wear account for? And what are those regions?
F. d’A.: It’s fifty fifty, well-balanced.
As for the regions, in 2017, we changed and raised the profile of our presence in Asia, where we opened four stores: one in Hong Kong at Landmark, very important, we were already present in the city; at Plaza 66 in Shanghai; in Beijing at Shin Kong Place, and a flagship in Seoul. In early 2017, we opened at Tretyakovsky [Passage] in Moscow. We also renovated our stores in New York and we opened four shops-in-shops in Canada, with great returns. We renovated our store on Bond Street.
WWD: Is there a new store concept?
F. d’A.: No, it was more about details, colors, lighting. Our consumers very much appreciate our stores, they offer a moment of polite, calm relaxation in a fast-paced world, but we think that stores must continue to evolve, maybe just the facade or in visual merchandising, there must always be something new that can breathe new life in fabrics, materials and colors.
In June, we will have a very important opening of a 4,320-square-foot store in Dubai at Dubai Mall, which will open doors to the Middle East. We already have a very high percentage of customers from the Middle East, but we’ve never had a flagship in that area. We will also open in Barcelona, and renovated our venues in Munich and Berlin. Germany can be a particularly good market for us. The ambition is to develop our distribution but in a very selective way because we are already very happy with our cities and locations.
WWD: What are your main markets?
F. d’A.: Our business is very balanced. The most important region is Europe: Italy, the U.K. with London and France with Paris, then North America and Asia are balanced. America is where perhaps we proportionally have a bigger role than our market.
WWD: What products are key for Loro Piana? What contributes to revenues the most?
F. d’A.: Totally apparel and we have the ambition to grow in ready-to-wear, shoes, bags and shawls, which are already the biggest part of our business, representing 75 percent of revenues. The rest is derived by fabrics and yarns, where we remain leaders in the high-end range. We want to continue to be so, we grew in this area in 2017 and will continue to see it as a goal in the medium-long term.
Although we can’t reveal our sales, I can tell you that 2017 was a year of growth in all the regions of the world and in all areas of business. We had great satisfaction organically and from the development of our network, and both in men’s and women’s.
WWD: What is the format to present your collections going forward?
F.d’A.: As of today, we don’t hold shows, nor are we thinking of showing in the future, it’s not part of our way to communicate, but we will continue to hold presentations. We are working on an organization with a new leadership and new talent in terms of product, management and design, starting from our strength and assets, with a modern and recognizable identity, evolving shapes, volumes and colors. In men’s wear, we are looking to our heritage of our wonderful fabrics and sartorial and iconic products, which are greatly appreciated, revamping, reinventing and reinterpreting them, from the Windmate [a trademarked cashmere and microfiber blend] Traveller jacket or bomber or the [trademarked water and wind-proof treatment] Storm System.
Also, we are looking to the world of active and ath-leisure, where knitwear is less for leisure and more for quality time, with Baby Cashmere, the Gift of Kings [a collection of outerwear, sweaters and scarves crafted from wool of 12 microns, which is finer than cashmere and vicuna and available in only limited quantities, or 2,000 kilos a year] and vicuña, all very appreciated from the elite in the world. Loro Piana sits at the intersection of trends. Cultivated consumers are looking for authenticity and quality, and we are there, tick [the box]. Second, there is an increased understanding of price and quality ratio and in our case the extreme rarity of fibers explain our prices. Third, there is a shift from formal to informal looks. Think of the Chinese or the U.S., the Silicon Valley leaders — being comfortable is what drives them. The expectations in terms of service and understanding of the needs of customers are increasingly higher. Loro Piana consumers are happy, loyal and satisfied and ask the brand to continue to stand at this intersection while refreshing and renewing the brand’s styles. Also, we are discovering a new leverage: communication. While there was none in the past, going for understatement and leaving the consumer to discover the hidden gem, we now realize there are stories that we can tell and we want to tell them, without abusing the conversation. I’ve chatted with loyal consumers, who told me: “We really like your new communication, but don’t do too much.” We want to tell a story of materials, products and excellence. Customers want to recognize themselves in an exclusive communication.
WWD: Would you consider hiring a high-profile creative director?
F.d’A.: This is not a design brand, we don’t need a design leadership. We have several designers, for different business areas, and we are working on the team. Our history is one of discovery of materials, the Gift of Kings, wonderful wool. This brings us to sustainability and the partnership with second-generation campesinos [in Argentina] that work with us [protecting the vicuñas]. The reputation of Loro Piana in these countries is marvelous, and it’s an element of differentiation.
WWD: What sparks your interest when hiring new people for your team?
F. d’A.: I invest a lot of my time meeting with candidates. Since I consider the skills a given, after the first interviews, I want to discover their attitude, their qualities on a personal level and chat with them, see if they feel at ease or smile. They should have the ambition to have an impact on the company, but also the humility to work as part of a team. I often solicit questions from them, as I feel questions are more revealing than the answers. And I like to meet people more than once, do a little due diligence, which helps me make the choice. Hiring is one of the privileges and responsibilities of this role.
WWD: Are you still involved in sports competitions?
F.d’A.: Yes, we have a consolidated reputation in sailing competitions, from the Superyacht Regatta we sponsor in Porto Cervo [Sardinia] to racing in Saint-Tropez and St. Barths. We are a partner of the Ryder Cup, and sponsored Piazza di Siena [horse racing competition]. It is all part of our customers’ lifestyles and we try to interpret their needs.