Italian lifestyle and fashion: Inside the world of Stefano Ricci, the fine art of dressing the uber-rich male
- WTI Magazine #119 Sep 15, 2019
The man who buys a $25,000 handmade Stefano Ricci suit doesn’t really need a suit. He doesn’t need a $26,000 crocodile leather briefcase or $1,000 custom-tailored silk shirt. He can do with one less $500 tie. He already has everything he needs and can satisfy his sartorial cravings anywhere he chooses. Except that he actually buys these luxuries at Stefano Ricci, the Italian menswear design house with 60+ boutiques around the world because he covets the brand, the workmanship, and the experience. That’s nirvana for any luxury brand, large or small.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the customer profile. The Stefano Ricci man buys for personal pleasure. He appreciates the workmanship and tailoring of pieces that make him look and feel good. He is somewhere between 35 and 50+ and receptive to the personal attention he receives as a loyal Stefano Ricci customer. He sits back in a boutique’s exquisite crocodile chairs and enjoys the experience of being advised and fitted by tailors who can also be dispatched to wherever in the world he is. He feels that he belongs to something bigger when he becomes a customer. There’s a good reason why the New York Times dubbed Stefano Ricci the “clothier to the 0.001 Percent.”
Hold on, you say. Is this picture for real? Well, yes,
Now a fully integrated lifestyle brand
There are more reasonable purchase points in the world of Stefano Ricci, including an online business that is still feeling its way, but the fact is that the eponymous firm founded by Stefano Ricci and his wife Claudia in 1972 in Florence to manufacture handmade ties for men, has carved out an enviable, profitable niche in the uber-luxury menswear market. The brand is expensive, exquisite, and exclusive. It now includes a fully integrated line of men’s apparel, accessories and home products, from humidors stocked with co-branded, very limited-edition Arturo Fuente cigars, to leather goods, to silver and gold jewelry and porcelains. The company is now designing yacht and residential interiors. Business has thrived for the relatively small, closely held private company that employs 500 people – 300 in Italy and 200 in retail locations globally. The 2018 financial year closed with a turnover of 150 million euro, and the company registered 5% growth in the first quarter of 2019.
Stefano Ricci has dressed heads of state, business tycoons, Chinese power players and Russian oligarchs, all with utmost discretion. Andrea Bocelli is a good friend and loyal patron. The late Nelson Mandela was a devotee of Stefano Ricci silk shirts. Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone, and Morgan Freeman have been customers. In 2015 the label made a white silk vestment for Pope Francis.
Devoted to Made in Italy
All Stefano Ricci products are 100 percent “Made in Italy,” primarily in Florence and environs. About 60% of the line (ties, shirts, leather goods, jewelry and silverware) is manufactured in the 9,000 square meters headquarters/factory in the Fiesole hills just outside the city. Not far from there, another shop houses more than master tailors who produce Stefano Ricci suits and other apparel. The remainder of the production happens in workshops in Italy that are dedicated exclusively to the Stefano Ricci brand. The master artisans are bringing up a new generation of craftspeople in a well-formulated plan to keep the sartorial artistry and more alive.
Integrity of the brand
There’s also real dedication to maintaining the integrity of the brand. Stefano Ricci does not sell in outlets nor has it ever marked down its merchandise. Founder Stefano says he follows this practice out of respect for his employees, many of whom have worked for him for decades, who pour their artistry and passion into every article they manufacture. The master artisans are bringing up a new generation of craftspeople in a well-structured plan to keep sartorial artistry and more alive.
Stefano is a contemplative man. One of the dangers in an artisanal business such as his is to modulate growth so the brand stays true to itself -- meaning that you must have the discipline and skill to value quality over quantity, and even with that, continuously educate customers about the attributes of the brand, the meticulous sourcing of materials, and why a crocodile jacket (Ricci partly owns a crocodile farm in Australia and also sources the pelts in Africa, all in strict adherence with laws) or a custom tuxedo made of special silk woven on the hand looms of the Antico Setificio Fiorentino (see below) could take even up to six months to complete to high standards. Typically, a classic Stefano Ricci suit takes one-and-a-half months to stitch.
Supporting Italian heritage, giving back
Stefano is also a man with strong sensibilities. He ardently supports the continued existence of Italian craftsmanship and has personally “rescued” a number of artisan business from extinction, including a father and son duo of stonecutters/chiselers/engravers, whose business had evaporated because their craft was no longer in high demand. Stefano recognized the artistry of their work and employed them to install 40 kilometers of pietra serena, the gray limestone quarried largely in Tuscany and which was used extensively in Renaissance Florence, at his 1,800-acre country estate, Poggio ai Segugi in the hills of Firenzuola, about an hour north of Florence. Eight people are now employed, and an enterprise has been revived. Stefano’s plan is to replace the existing travertine that had been used in all Stefano Ricci boutiques around the world with the pietra serena. Stefano similarly revived the livelihood of a group of Florentine silversmith/engravers whose highly skilled craft was no longer in great demand. They, too, are now gainfully employed working on the impressive silver pieces that are part of the Stefano Ricci product line.
In the same vein, to preserve one of Italy’s institutions, the Ricci clan bought the Antico Setificio Forentino, an 18th century silk mill that not only had been turning out sumptuous silk fabrics for centuries but had more recently produced the fabrics for the Visconti film Il Gattopardo in 1963 and Death in Venice in 1971, not to mention the materials for Maria Callas’ wardrobe as well as a long line of papal robes. The Riccis bought it in 2010 from the Emilio Pucci family, intending to use it produce fabrics for its new home collection, but its purpose has gone well beyond. In June 2014, the proud Florentine Ricci donated new lighting for the Ponte Vecchio, on the occasion of a festival celebrating Florence as a fashion capital, including Andrea Bocelli performing before an audience of 25,000 people.
Where does this level of artistry play well?
The company’s strategy has always been to focus on the wealthiest segment of society anywhere in the world, but particularly in emerging markets such as China, Russia, the countries of the CIS region (Yerevan, Armenia; Baku, Azerbaijan; and Astana, Kazakhstan among them; Turkmenistan is slated for the future), and the Middle East, in addition to the standard fashion capitals like Milan, New York and London. Two locations have recently been added in India. It is interesting that the first boutique Stefano opened was in Shanghai in 1993, only one year after Louis Vuitton opened its first store there, and four years before Gucci opened in China in 1997. Stefano Ricci now has 14 locations in China. You could argue that this “visionary marketing” has protected the Stefano Ricci empire from some of the issues weighing on sales at other luxury houses. Stefano is quoted to have said: "We've found there is no price limit if the customer finds himself with a quality product."
Stefano has passed the reins to the next generation of Riccis – his two sons; the eldest, Niccolò, is CEO and Filippo is Creative Director. As it goes in almost all Italian family business fashion dynasties, particularly in this one, they have been meticulously prepared for bringing the firm to the next level.
On more than one occasion, both young principals have alluded to the fact that Stefano Ricci does not sell fashion, per se. They have said that Stefano Ricci sells “quality, service, and tradition in evolution.” It will be interesting to follow their progress in the whirling, increasingly dicey fashion world. Stefano will of course be watching and guiding, but more frequently these days from the hills around his Tuscan estate.