MILAN — The role of a creative director is over at Tod’s, a casualty of breakneck business acceleration, declared chairman and chief executive officer Diego Della Valle in an onstage interview at the 8th Luxury Summit of Il Sole 24 Ore here Thursday.
“We do not need the designer in the classic sense, for us, because I think that figure has become, except in some cases, a bit of a hindrance to projects,” said Della Valle. Tod’s parted ways with women’s wear designer Alessandra Facchinetti earlier this month, as reported.
Della Valle said he is overhauling Tod’s to eliminate seasons, and will instead generate new product on a monthly basis to generate regular news for the digital media mill and fresh items for stores.
“We become almost the office of public relations, marketing, that almost becomes a publishing house,” he said.
Della Valle warned that a new order in the fashion system is bound to emerge within the next few years. His company will complete its own transformation by the end of the year.
“I believe that not one of us can think anymore season to season,” he said. “The entire business model truly is changing.”
Remo Ruffini, chairman and chief executive officer of Moncler, agreed.
“The world has changed,” he told a group of journalists after his own appearance onstage. “You must be fast. You can’t bore. And you have to communicate.”
Ruffini also spoke of needing to find ideas to stimulate customer interest each month, not each season. And the target of these efforts should “look after the local consumer” as opposed to visitors, even in shopping-tourism meccas like Milan, London and Paris.
“The consumer is very different from the past,” said Andrea Illy, president of luxury trade group Altagamma and head of Illycaffè high-end coffee. By his account, they are increasingly anti-Establishment, anticonsumption, pro-sustainability, and angry. Because their models of consumption are new, and because the traditional luxury market is saturated, there is tremendous pressure to provide an unprecedented level of service.
“There is enormous opportunity for innovation,” as long as those developments are under the aegis of “the cathedral of lifestyle,” Illy said.
Luca Solca, head of luxury goods at Exane BNP Paribas, said until now, the luxury sector has swelled on waves of new consumers in emerging markets — think Japan in the Seventies and Eighties, and more recently Russia and China, among others. The luxury market’s second source of growth, he said, came from raising prices.
But with the economic slowdown in China, the rise of a price sensitive middle class, and the Chinese government’s desire to bring home hefty spending on luxury goods by Chinese travelers abroad, Solca predicts those levers will collapse within five to 10 years.
“Chinese consumers represent 30 percent of the global market in personal and experiential luxury, a market it continues to feed with new consumers,” concurred Nicola Pianon, senior partner and managing director of Boston Consulting Group. “Three quarters of Chinese luxury consumers make their purchases outside the borders of mainland China.”
And Chinese consumers are pushing the tide toward mobile e-commerce, which BCG expects to reach 74 percent of online purchases by 2020. In addition, strong in-store assistance is preferred by 63 percent of Chinese customers.
That extra attention, however, may not necessarily come from humans in the future. Gianluca Meardi, executive director of PwC, predicted that robots — virtual and real — may prove to be the next aid to creating a winning buying experience in physical stores and e-commerce alike. To make his point, he introduced the two-foot green and white robot “Marty,” which spoke and moved in ingratiating ways, and sat down on the stage when asked to “take a seat.”
Meardi said Marty boosted sales when tested in Japanese stores as an adjunct to human sales assistants, which remains indispensable. Ironically, artificial intelligence and humanoid robotics are hot areas of sales innovation precisely because they make shopping a more “human” experience, amping up the empathy and warm feelings that facilitate purchase.