Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Milestones issue 02/23/2011

“To give gucci a chance to be Gucci,” is an expression Patrizio di Marco likes, and one he believes hits the mark.

This story first appeared in the February 23, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In the two years since his appointment as president and chief executive officer of the label, di Marco’s objective has been to “fine-tune a clear brand positioning.”

He has said, historically, that Gucci has always offered a wide range of products in different colors and materials while maintaining its exclusivity. He contends that this focus grew blurry a few years ago, when financial pressures became a priority, and too many pieces at opening price points flooded the market.

“The same style was multiplied in too many ways, which shortened its shelf life and confused the customer,” said di Marco. “We’ve been reducing and focusing the offer, while maintaining a more balanced variety.”

The outspoken and personable executive has been instrumental in highlighting the handmade craftsmanship of the company, and credits creative director Frida Giannini for recovering archival gems and making them contemporary. 

The partnership has been a successful one, despite the “very difficult 18 months from the second half of 2008 — the worst period this sector has ever lived,” he said. Indeed, in an upbeat interview at his Milan office, the executive said the company closed 2010 on a positive note. Last year, Gucci reported sales of 2.6 billion euros, or $3.4 billion at average exchange, up more than 17 percent, compared with 2.2 billion euros, or $3 billion, the year before.

Di Marco partly attributed the positive data to the fact that Gucci “faced the year as if we had been in war, with a mentality in line with that of 2009, paying attention to costs and efficiency.” However, he remained cautious, stressing “maintenance of these ways as a mental attitude in both good and bad times and to continue to be flexible.”

The reason? “Structurally, the sector and the market have changed. Customers are slightly less worried, but they don’t have the same attitude they had precrisis and I don’t think that carefree spirit will come back,” said di Marco.

Surrounded by black-and-white photos of past Hollywood and Cinecittà icons, from Anita Ekberg at the time of “La Dolce Vita” to Peter Sellers, the executive speaks of the brand’s growing legion of aspirational customers.

“Gucci does Gucci,” is another Di Marco mantra. Going back to the company’s roots, its jet-set glamour, its aura of exclusivity is a must for di Marco.

“Gucci refers to itself, but in a current way, as a brand cannot live in the past,” he remarked. With its artisans traveling to shops to demonstrate the making of accessories, or its Forever Now ad campaigns highlighting the continuity of tradition, Gucci’s communication has recently hinged on heritage and quality. As a consequence, di Marco said the company has seen “a return of sophisticated customers, and they return to stay, which is the biggest compliment.”

Di Marco also underscored the size of the group, which rarely coincides with traditional craftsmanship.

“This is an enormous company that works as if it were an artisanal one. And not only are we artisans, but fashion makers and trendsetters at the same time, and we offer a lifestyle brand,” he noted.

To further illustrate such history, Gucci is gearing up to open its own museum in the fall, located in Florence’s iconic Piazza della Signoria, in Gucci’s former design offices. Di Marco envisions a dynamic and cultural location, with a bookstore and a cafe.

“We are proud of our history, and this is for Florence, for our staff, for those who are interested in design and the history of costume, and for those who love Gucci,” he said.

The company is also focused on its e-commerce site, which di Marco said was “Gucci’s second-largest store in the world” in terms of revenues in the U.S. in December. “We have ambitious plans for e-tailing,” he said, noting that Gucci will launch in Korea at the end of February.

Close to di Marco’s heart is also the yearly talent search dubbed the Gucci Heritage Program.

“The participants will be matched with managers based on their skills and interests — one is already working with me — and can become part of the next generation of leaders within Gucci,” he said.

Participants go through a formal training program and have an experience in one of Gucci’s flagships globally.

“The strength of a company is in its people,” said di Marco. “From the very beginning, people with a great passion, know-how and tenacity have been the most important asset.” 

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