MILAN — The morning after the Roberto Cavalli show in Milan, chairman Hussain Sajwani, who owns the brand through his private investment company Vision Investments, feels he’s a lucky man.
“You need a dose of luck, success can’t only be based on intellect,” he said, referring to having hired Fausto Puglisi to design the brand in October 2020. “I’m not an expert in fashion,” he admitted, “but many of my decisions are based on gut feelings and in my 40 years in business eight times out of 10, I am right. When I first spoke to Fausto, I saw his motivation, desire and passion, his commitment and drive and this leads to success. He is doing a fantastic job and, actually, his collections turned out to be even much better than I thought.”
Sajwani praised not only Puglisi’s design chops, but also his marketing skills and his ability to build relations with celebrities. Indeed, scrolling through the designer’s Instagram feed, it is easy to spot the likes of Jennifer Lopez or Gwen Stefani wearing his looks.
As WWD’s West Coast executive editor Booth Moore said in her review for fall 2022, “In his first year of Cavalli collections, [Puglisi] has brought momentum back to the brand, and with this outing seems to have put all the pieces together — sizzling eveningwear, strong tailoring, sexy knits and animal prints galore, all designed with a multigenerational, diverse customer in mind.”
Sajwani, founder and chairman of giant real estate Dubai-based Damac Properties, acquired the company from Clessidra SGR in 2019 after the company had filed a restructuring plan with the Court of Milan and a “composition with creditors” allowing the business to continue while it held discussions with creditors and implemented a debt restructuring plan.
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the brand’s retail expansion that Sajwani was planning with general manager Ennio Fontana, but he now has hopes it can finally be implemented. A new store has just opened in Miami’s Bal Harbour shops. Covering 1,317 square feet, the entrance through imposing gilt-framed doors opens to a space that is marked by natural materials such as travertine marble, green onyx and burmese teak, complementing gold metal furnishings and finishes. The custom-designed rugs with animal print patterns reflect Cavalli’s signature motifs.
Sajwani is looking at locations in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, as well as in Europe, which with the U.S. and the Middle East, is a key market for the brand. Stores in Spain and Montecarlo are in the pipeline, all with a new store concept, “sleek, clean, simple and welcoming,” he offered. “We don’t need huge spaces, we are looking at medium-sized venues, around 3,240 square feet is enough.”
At the same time, the company is also revising and building its wholesale channel and its online store with an in-house team. “Early next year, we will see a double-digit contribution from our e-store,” he predicted.
A focus on Asia will come next year, as the goal is to first strengthen Europe and the U.S., he explained.
As news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine started to spread on Thursday, asked about the potential impact on the brand and on Damac, Sajwani said he had “no business in Russia or Ukraine, but we are a global company. For example, we are building a resort in the Maldives, with Mandarin Oriental. We have yet to see the outcome and how things will shape up. I hope diplomacy and common sense will [help put an end to the war].”
Next year the company will also see benefits from taking production of the Just Cavalli brand in-house. The label has been produced and distributed under a licensing agreement with Staff International, controlled by Diesel owner OTB. (OTB was also in the run to buy the Cavalli brand).
“It will be great to have Just Cavalli under one single umbrella,“ said Sajwani. While several luxury companies have opted to focus on a single brand, he believes commercially this decision makes sense and there is “still room to grow” for both a premium collection and for a younger sister line.“
He believes the signature brand can leverage its diversified product offer, from its fragrances and children’s wear to its accessories. The focus this year will be on ready-to-wear, and his intention is to raise its positioning even higher.
“One category that was not marketed well was the home line,” lamented Sajwani, who is planning dedicated stores. “It’s amazing and we will focus on it next year.”
Damac is planning a 70-story residential building located on the Dubai Marina, overlooking the Palm Jumeirah, called Cavalli Tower and to be furnished with items from the brand’s home division.
The residential project will offer 485 luxury units boasting different, high-end services, including a sea-front view; access to a sky pool and garden, as well as an infinity pool for residents of one of 70 apartments in the upper part of the tower, labeled “super luxury.” Designed by architect Shaun Killa, the skyscraper is to offer amenities including a butler, babysitters, personal trainers, as well as chefs and at-home medical support.
Damac is investing $600 million in the real estate development, and Sajwani said that 80 percent of the apartments sold in two weeks. Sajwani has a track record of real estate developments for Italian fashion houses, having teamed up with Versace and Fendi.
Hotels and resorts are also a possibility for Cavalli Home, he said. A new Cavalli Café is also in the works in Milan.
“This is a global brand that has gone through severe financial challenges but our goal is to bring it back to where it was and beyond. Its brand equity and heritage are strong,” he said.
Asked if he would consider buying other fashion brands, Sajwani said Damac, which also invests in technology and private equity, “is open if there is an opportunity and if the price is right, but we are not looking at this possibility every morning.”