MILAN — Despite the crisp winter weather on Wednesday, the mood was upbeat and cheerful at the traditional unveiling of Rinascente’s holiday windows at the Milan store, located across the Duomo cathedral.
As the score Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s score to “The Nutcracker” played in the background, a couple of professional dancers flanked by a crew of young ballerinas entertained the audience gathered under the colonnaded arch waiting for red curtains to be lowered and reveal the windows’ installations.
Keeping its commitment to highlight craftsmanship and hinge on childhoods memories, the department store owned by Thailand’s Central Group called its holiday theme “Finding Christmas,” a nod to customers’ desire to celebrate festivities, scuppered last year by the ravaging pandemic when Rinascente moved its traditional ceremony online.
In particular, for the 2021 holiday season the retailer partnered again with Lemax — a Chinese company specialized in music boxes and miniatures — to develop a series of windows at seven of its flagships, including Milan, Turin, Florence and Palermo, among others, re-creating enchanted Christmas villages with white slopes, moving trains and carousels, which required some 100 days to realize.
Imposing nutcracker statues are placed throughout the windows, while lighting installations covering the stores’ facades additionally embellish the Milan flagship and other banners.
Rinascente continued to support San Gregorio Armeno, a historic street in Naples known for local artisan ateliers specializing in handmade figurines, for nativity scenes, installing them in the windows of the Roma Tritone and Roma Fiume units.
“It takes one year to see the Christmas windows come to life,” said Rinascente’s chief executive officer Pierluigi Cocchini. “Christmas at Rinascente is very complete and ‘out there’,” he said. “It expands to all the doors, including our 10th, which is the online platform,” he added.
Further highlighting the department store’s commitment to fully utilize the holiday shopping spree potential, Rinascente offers the windows’ decorations for sale on the sixth floor of the Milan unit, which is dedicated to holiday and Christmas-themed knickknackery. The seventh-floor food court offers a wide selection of gourmet dishes and traditional holiday pastry including, of course, the Panettone.
Marking a first for the department store, Rinascente conscripted Tuscan artist Virgilio Villoresi to develop a stop-motion short movie inspired by “The Nutcracker,” which “turned out so beautiful that for the first time in our history we’re airing it as a TV commercial,” said Cocchini.
The cheerful mood translated into the business outlook Cocchini shared with WWD at the tail end of the unveiling event.
“We are moderately optimistic, hopefully if no additional safety measures are put in place, even without Chinese tourists in town and with a still limited number of extra-European visitors, we’ve already bridged the gap [with 2019],” the executive said, expressing caution about potential restrictions that the new Omicron COVID-19 variant could impose.
“In 2021, although no one is saying that, we had the exact days of store closures registered a year earlier and despite this we are expecting year-end figures to jump up 20 percent,” the CEO explained.
In 2019 Rinascente posted revenues of 800 million euros, marking “a record year for the department store both in terms of sales and profits. And this came on top of several years of record-breaking figures,” Cocchini said.
Due to lockdown measures in 2020 its revenues plummeted 40 percent, but they are now on track for recovery, he noted.
Ongoing travel bans and reduced mobility are still impacting footfall at Rinascente’s store network. In 2020 touristic flows were halted, denting around 35 percent of the company’s sales versus 2019, but year-to-date the CEO said Europeans, Americans and visitors from the Middle East are returning en masse to the city, with non-Italian footfall increasing four to five times compared to 2020. With no Chinese visitors in town, that’s still half the number of tourists it welcomed pre-pandemic.
A latecomer on the omnichannel arena compared to its international competitors, Rinascente is quickly picking up, with e-commerce and on-demand services expected to generate some 30 million euros in sales this year.
“We’re never going to quit brick-and-mortar but still we are committed to increase our online presence,” Cocchini said.
The retailer launched an e-commerce platform in mid-2020, showing financial prowess amid the pandemic, and the channel should exceed 10 million euros in sales in 2021.
The executive mentioned particularly the lack of top tier luxury products on the e-shop as concessions. It operates physically with key players including Dior, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren and Gucci, among others, and those offerings cannot be ferried online due to technological roadblocks.
While acknowledging that the retailer is still in the initial stages, Cocchini stressed that the company had started its omnichannel transformation well before the pandemic by introducing an on-demand service four years ago that allows clients to stay in touch with sales assistants, browse the product assortment — including luxury products — and finalize their purchase via WhatsApp or email.
The latter is “a mature business, expected to surpass 15 million euros in sales and it comes with little to no costs for us, except for logistics,” he explained.
The company didn’t hold back on investments during the pandemic. Cocchini proudly mentioned renovation works for the third and fourth floors, as well as the jewelry section at the Milan flagship and the partial revamp of the Florence and Turin units.
In the first quarter of 2022 the unit will unveil a fully renovated Roma Fiume unit, which represents the third best performing banner within its network. While he didn’t rule out entirely new openings, he said nothing has been planned yet.
As reported on Thursday, Rinascente’s owner Central Group is said to be closing in on a deal to take over British retailer Selfridges, which began exploring a sale earlier this year following the death of W. Galen Weston, the patriarch of the owning family.