DE SOLE FETED BY ITALIAN-AMERICAN GROUP
Byline: Kristi Ellis
WASHINGTON — Domenico De Sole, chairman and chief executive officer of Gucci Group, has roots in this town.
“I became a citizen here, I was married here and my two daughters were born here,” De Sole said in an interview here Saturday, before he was honored by the National Italian-American Foundation with the Special Achievement Award in Fashion and Industry.
Under his direction in the past seven years, Gucci Group has been resurrected from near oblivion and transformed into one of the world’s biggest luxury conglomerates, rapidly amassing brands for its portfolio. Besides the Gucci brand, it now owns Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, the YSL and Roger & Gallet beauty brands, Bottega Veneta, Sergio Rossi, Boucheron and watchmaker Bedat & Co.
De Sole, who graduated with a master’s degree in law from Harvard, spent 20 years here, most notably as a partner in Washington’s high-profile lobbying law firm formerly known as Patton, Boggs & Blow (It’s now called Patton Boggs).
He was introduced to Gucci when a family member needed representation and eventually joined the company in 1984 as chief executive officer of Gucci America Inc.
Although De Sole now makes his permanent residence in London with his wife, Eleanore, he spends a lot of time here, visiting his two daughters, who attend school — at Georgetown University and at Madeira High School — locally.
In fact, he spends so much of his time in the U.S. that he was caught in the chaos of Sept. 11. De Sole was slated to catch a flight from Cincinnati to New York for an Yves Saint Laurent store opening that day, but he rented a car and drove here instead to be with his family.
Despite the scare, he refuses to succumb to the travel paralysis gripping much of the world and continues to fly to the U.S. and around the globe.
“I refuse to live in fear,” he said. “We owe it to ourselves and the people who died not to be defeated by terrorists.”
To that end, De Sole has “doubled his efforts” to maintain a strong business in light of the hit the luxe market took in the aftermath of the attacks.
“Obviously, it was a difficult economic time in the U.S. before Sept. 11, and that has had a negative impact on all industries,” De Sole said. “But it has had such a negative impact on New York, primarily, and that is an important market for luxe brands.”
The slowdown in travel has “dramatically” affected Gucci and YSL stores driven by tourist traffic, he said.
Sales are down at five stores in Hawaii and two in Las Vegas. Although De Sole is optimistic about the long-term business in those areas, he said, “in the short term, it’s going to be difficult for the entire [luxe] industry.”
The attacks also have had an impact on the company’s European stores, many of which have had a big American clientele over the past two years because of the strong dollar, he said.
“American travelers are excellent customers,” he added, “but business has slowed down dramatically in the last month.”
Stores that cater to mostly local traffic, however, like Gucci in Tyson’s Corner in McLean, Va., and the YSL unit in Bethesda, Md., continue to do well.
“One happy note for the Gucci Group was the reopening of the refurbished [9,000-square-foot] Yves Saint Laurent flagship [in Manhattan],” De Sole said. “Sales are up 100 percent, even after Sept. 11, and that is an encouraging sign.”
De Sole said the company plans to continue with an “aggressive” store rollout through next year, including four more YSL shops — in San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Chicago and Bal Harbour, Fla. There are also plans to open a Gucci boutique at the Americana center in Manhasset, N.Y.
Citing the terrorist attacks and an uncertain future, De Sole late last month told WWD that Gucci Group had downgraded its yearend revenue and profit projections, expecting fully diluted net income per share to range from $2.60 to $3, down from a previous estimate of $3. He said he expects to hit analysts’ yearend revenue projections of $2.4 billion as a group.
“I gave my word of caution,” he said, “given that the situation is so unpredictable.”