Patrizio Bertelli

MILAN — See-now-buy-now doesn’t have that many fans in Italy.

At the Milan Global Fashion Summit organized by Class Editori on Tuesday, leading Italian executives expressed their skepticism of the phenomenon. The main focus of the conference, though, was the digital revolution and the challenges it presents.

“The fashion system is wrong. When we talk about digitization and see-now-buy-now we have to consider time,” said Prada chief executive officer Patrizio Bertelli. “After 20 years we are still discussing about show calendars but the problem is always the same: while in the Eighties reasonable dates were chosen for the men’s shows, the women’s schedule is still a problem. Companies need to spend more money because deadlines are too tight and there is not enough time for an industrial plan. To be fast you have to spend twice as much. We have to consider financial results. Digitization is fundamental for the whole process, but we have to consider how it is applied to avoid any waste of money. People have to be patient, they have to do things in an organic way…actually I see a certain ‘gold rush.’”

Diego Della Valle, chairman and ceo of the Tod’s Group, echoed those sentiments, saying time is a key element of the entire Made in Italy industrial process.

“I think that see-now-buy-now can becomes see-now-buy-never in many cases. Although there will be a change in the organization of the shows, for us see-now-buy-now implies a series of risks and problems,” he said. “At the same time, we have to consider that a customer finds a product in store that he saw for the first time on his mobile device five or six months earlier…he gets bored very quickly. We have to settle for a compromise — it’s key to restock the boutiques every two months with new products scheduling a marketing and communication strategy in advance.”

Della Valle explained that companies are becoming like magazines with a layout and an editorial calendar to respect because new technologies force them to be careful that products don’t get old too quickly.

“For me, see-now-buy-now is the farthest thing from my company. It takes time to craft beautiful things and limited quantities need to be available at the store to preserve exclusivity,” he added. “But I think fashion week will probably become a moment to meet [other members of the fashion industry] and then during the year each company does what it has to do to engage customers.”

Carlo Capasa, president of the Camera della Moda, pointed at how see-now-buy-now finds its roots in the fast-fashion system, launched in Italy in the Seventies. “The see-now-buy-now is perfect if you do low-quality products and you have a huge amount of direct stores,” he explained. “It’s impossible for luxury companies who produce in Italy.”

Despite the alleged non-applicability of the see-now-buy-now method to Italian luxury brands — only Moschino embraced the instant fashion revolution during the latest Milan Fashion Week with a capsule collection — digitization remains a relevant theme.

“With the Industria 4.0 program the government aims to encourage companies’ investments in digital [technology],” said Ivan Scalfarotto, vice minister of Italian economic development, which will support Italian companies by allocating 13 billion euros, or $14.3 billion at current exchange rates, from 2017 to 2020 for digital and educational investments. “Industria 4.0 will have an impact on companies’ internal organization and will create new professional profiles.”

Bertelli agreed with Scalfarotto. “I don’t think digitization will change factories so much because luxury is definitely linked to the skills of each specific technician capable of making a well-done and beautiful product which is appealing on the market,” he said. “The digital won’t change the real craftsmanship but the organization.”

Claudio Marenzi, president of Italian fashion and textile consortium SMI Sistema ModaItalia and ceo of Herno SpA, highlighted the potential of the 4.0 revolution on the industrial process.

“The new phase is about the interconnection between physical services and computerization both in the design phase and in the chain from production and distribution to the final costumer,” he said. “It’s about using 3-D software to cut a pattern. It represents a great opportunity for small and medium-sized companies and it can stimulate re-shoring since new technologies can help cutting time and consequently costs.”

Craftsmanship and human feelings are the elements that need to be transferred from the bricks-and-mortar to the digital environment, according to Brunello Cuccinelli, chairman and ceo of his namesake company.

“E-commerce still represents a small portion of our business. My goal has always been to face the online with an artisanal and humanistic approach. If we are too pushy and intrusive with our customers, they don’t buy,” he said, adding that in January the company will bring the management of e-commerce, currently operated by Yoox, in-house. “It’s because we want to enhance that artisanal and humanistic approach.”

In order to protect the activities of Italian companies online, Capasa said that the Camera della Moda is working on a project on the regulation of digital commerce, which we will be presented to the European Commission.

“We missed the first train, but we are quickly regaining the lost ground,” said Della Valle, explaining how the Tod’s Group reorganized its digital strategy in the past six months. “We are finalizing the mapping and the tools we need to create a dialog with our customers. But we don’t have to forget that our customers of yesterday are still there and we cannot concentrate only on the new things. We have to mediate between what we had and what we can get.”

A pioneer in the online arena, the OTB group is adopting a new digital approach this year, as revealed by OTB ceo Stefano Rosso. “For the first time, the whole group will embrace a unique strategy, spanning from technological innovation  to the revision and optimization of the e-commerce platform,” he said. Through this approach the different brands of the group, including Diesel, Maison Margiela, Marni and Viktor & Rolf, as well as  manufacturing arms Staff International and Brave Kid, will be able to benefit from synergies and key learning sharing.

Companies will be able to capitalize from the new digital revolution only if they will reorganize internally, according to Michele Norsa. “Companies need to change internally to engage the young generation of customers in order to attract them into the stores,” said the former Salvatore Ferragamo ceo, who is a member of the boards of Oettinger Davidoff and Rocco Forte Hotels. “This can happen if companies make room for young people in their structures because only people in their 30s and 40s can activate this change.”

Asked their opinions on the current market situation, the Italian entrepreneurs attending the summit expressed confidence in both the current conditions and the next year.

“This is actually not a growing moment because we reached such big volumes that now the sector is going through a phase of stabilization. I don’t think the fashion system is going through a crisis, I think that the system is looking inside itself to find new solutions,” Bertelli said. “This was not a serene year…Due to the terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice, many people don’t feel like traveling in Europe. But at the same time, the number of tourists visiting Italy this year rose 12 percent compared to last year. The whole geopolitical situation is critical, the election in the United States is also putting things on standby. I don’t see a big crisis, I think we have to be patient and keep working. I think 2017 will be better.”

“I think 2017 will be better than 2016 since right now the elections in the United States and Europe are causing a certain anxiety which generates a certain stagnation,” Della Valle agreed.