Richard Ginori

SESTO FIORENTINO, Italy — Walking through the corridors filled with shelf after shelf and thousands of molds of Richard Ginori porcelains dating back almost three centuries is a unique experience. As is seeing an oven as big as a room, which bakes the porcelain pieces for 30 hours, plus an additional 13, and being told that it cannot ever be turned off, otherwise it would take a year to restart. An artisan shapes a flower, leaf by leaf, that will be applied to a vase, while another delicately personalizes a cup from the Totem collection — featuring cute animals, from monkeys and penguins to shells and flowers, which was launched this year and is conceived as a gift line.

Richard Ginori

A wall of antique Richard Ginori porcelains.  Alexia Stok

In August, after five years of negotiations, Kering, which controls Richard Ginori, succeeded in acquiring the Sesto Fiorentino industrial site, on the outskirts of Florence, which houses the Italian tableware and porcelain brand’s production operations — a fundamental step in the relaunch of the label, explained chief executive officer Giovanni Giunchedi.

“The biggest challenge was to provide the company with continuity after the bankruptcy and the goal was to save a historical patrimony and unique tradition in an area so significant for Kering, as is Florence and its surrounding towns,” Giunchedi said.

The Tuscany-based industrial site had been rented from liquidators and a pool of banks since 2013, when Richard Ginori was declared bankrupt. In April that year, Gucci acquired the brand at an auction with an offer of 13 million euros. In 2016, Richard Ginori, which dates back to 1735, passed under the “other brands” division of Kering.

The company saw more changes following Alessandro Michele’s arrival at Gucci as creative director in January 2015. Michele, who had joined Gucci’s design team in 2002, was also named creative director of Richard Ginori in September 2014. That year he conceived the Oriente Italiano [Italian Orient], which remains a successful collection to this day, Giunchedi said. Last July, Gucci revealed the launch of a Décor line, including porcelain items manufactured by Richard Ginori.

Richard Ginori

Pieces from the Oriente Italiano collection.  Alexia Stok

“We had to restart the activities, the ovens, the machines, and hired 40 additional artisans,” Giunchedi said. There are 220 employees at the Sesto Fiorentino site.

Richard Ginori

An artisan at work at the plant.  Alexia Stok

Kering has raised the positioning of the brand after years of medium-term strategies aimed at the mass market, primarily with tableware. For example, the luxury group is emphasizing its work with Giò Ponti, who was artistic director of Richard Ginori from 1923 to 1927 and collaborated with the brand until 1930. Kering is presenting new collections mainly inspired by the legendary architect and designer at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris during Maison & Objet from Jan. 18 to 22. More than 30 Richard Ginori pieces are being exhibited at the Giò Ponti retrospective at that museum until Feb. 10.

Giunchedi joined Kering in 2012 as sustainability director at Bottega Veneta and was appointed ceo of Richard Ginori in April 2016. Before that, he was ceo of Sergio Rossi from January 2015 until the acquisition of the footwear brand from Kering by Investindustrial late that year.

An engineer, he said it was “fascinating at a personal level” to oversee and combine the industrial and creative worlds that are part of the Richard Ginori business.

Richard Ginori

Giovanni Giunchedi  Alexia Stok

With the new management, the company is aiming at the high end of the market against a backdrop of changing consumer habits and tastes, where “traditional lists of wedding gifts are waning, and the table is rarely seen as an aggregating moment for the family. This is the biggest challenge, to rebuild a market that is changing dramatically,” Giunchedi said.

The starting point was the product. When Michele left to become creative director at Gucci, he left behind a team of young designers, who now work on the collections. “The product was entirely revisited without disowning the past, but making it more modern and contemporary,” Giunchedi said.

One new business avenue is collaborations with top chefs, from Massimo Bottura to Carlo Cracco, who believe in “adding value to the table not only through their dishes but also through the decoration of the china, no longer conceived as a white background to their creations. This is giving us great satisfaction,” the ceo said. Bottura and Cracco are “leaders,” he contended, and other chefs are following their example.

“We offer a service and collaborate with them on different levels, studying what dishes are better for their locations, taste and cuisine,” he said.

The company has provided tableware for Cracco’s Carlo e Camilla in Segheria restaurant in Milan and his new Ristorante Cracco in Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. “We studied decorations that would fit with the frescoed location dating back to the end of the 1800s,” Giunchedi said.

Bottura, who is a close friend of Gucci president and ceo Marco Bizzarri, presents his food on Richard Ginori collections at his Osteria Francescana restaurant in Modena, the Gucci Osteria at the Gucci Garden location and at a new venue that is opening in Dubai. “Depending on the kind of evening, event or recipes, he chooses the most appropriate decor,” Giunchedi said. Ample space is dedicated to plates at the Gucci Garden, a clear sign of Michele’s passion for ceramics, noted Giunchedi.

At the same time, Richard Ginori has been working with a number of luxury hotels, including Bulgari, with dedicated projects. “We have just presented a collection for Bulgari’s new hotel in Dubai,” Giunchedi remarked.

Another sign of the times is that the pieces in the collections today, in particular for the “Oriente Italiano,” are no longer purchased by customers in the same colors and patterns throughout their place settings. “This mix-and-match trend is very modern and also more financially savvy, as you don’t have to necessarily replace the pieces when they break to be exactly the same as the others, they can be progressively renewed and rejuvenated and combined depending on the occasion — also, mixing different colors has a stronger impact,” he contended. Giunchedi also felt this was in tune with the increasing success of fusion food.

Growth is also seen through the expansion of the gift category, “one of the strategic lines” Richard Ginori has worked on, ranging from deliciously scented candles to cache-pots. The Totem collection, which just hit stores, “is the symbol of this trend, it is born as a gift line,” he said.

Giunchedi has strengthened the brand’s web site with a new design and launched online sales in Europe and, last July, in China with Secoo, one of China’s largest premium e-commerce platforms, with an eye to growing business in the region. “This is part of an ambitious plan; we had been looking for the right partner for the past two years. We know it’s challenging, that’s where china [porcelain] comes from, but the Chinese account for more than 40 percent of luxury spending and that young new consumer was not our target in the past. So we are now using a new language and presenting the brand in a different way to speak to that category.” Richard Ginori was present at the Salone del Mobile in Shanghai in November.

“I am strongly convinced we have the right product, the most beautiful and the most modern, to tackle the global markets,” he trumpeted.

While the collections are global, the company does keep an eye on specific needs of single markets, such as rice or soya cups in Asia. The company has already opened three corner stores in China and has plans to further develop that market with several other openings in less than two years.

Giunchedi explained that the collections are distributed in traditional channels such as department stores, as well as in malls that sell luxury furniture, from Armani Casa and Versace Home to Poltrona Frau and Molteni — a strategy that is highly successful, he said.

The U.S., where the company has a branch, is “one of the most promising markets,” said Giunchedi, who sees e-commerce as the next step in the region. “We need to be cautious. We know the importance of service and of time-to-market. We don’t want to disappoint [potential customers]. The advantage is that the market is very receptive and we are already well-known in the U.S., compared with China, and the design turnaround that has taken place in these past few years is very much appreciated.” Asked if the e-commerce site in the U.S. could be expected in 2019, Giunchedi said it was “possible.”

Italy remains the main market for Richard Ginori, but Giunchedi said more than 70 percent of sales are made by foreigners here, and that Americans are “among the top spenders.”

Revenues have grown from 12.8 million euros in 2015 to 13.1 million euros in 2016 and 14.1 million euros in 2017. The goal, said Giunchedi, is break even and to reach a consolidated turnover of around 30 million euros in 2022.

Since the acquisition, more than 80 million euros has been invested in Richard Ginori. Another 15 million euros are earmarked for the next four years. Half of this sum is aimed at marketing, communication and distribution and the other half on improving the industrialization processes, including new and more modern machines and software to reduce costs. The company is also working on a new cultural area and permanent exhibition at the industrial site to open up to visitors and show the brand’s heritage and craftsmanship. The first part of this space, totaling 27,000 square feet, is expected to open in August.

“With the acquisition, we wanted to save the know-how of the company.”

Richard Ginori

An artisan painting a vase inspired by Giò Ponti.  Alexia Stok