How Fendi’s CEO, shakes up the world of luxury fashion

Since taking over as CEO of Fendi less than 8 months ago, Pietro Beccari, has defiantly re-invented the Fendi brand, enhancing its luxury positioning, a level higher than any of the LVMH or Kering fashion brands, boosting desirability, yet maintaining exclusivity and, sensibly broadening its consumer target.

And his achievements are even more remarkable given the fact that Beccari, at least in theory, must have had the same opportunities at Louis Vuitton (Fendi sister company within LVMH), where he held the very high-sounding positioning of Group Executive Vice President, Marketing and Communications, for quite some time.

But how did Beccari achieved this in such a short time? Much like a designer, a talented marketing communications professionals needs freedom of expression and ’free-hand’ to maintain his level of responsibility.  When arriving at Fendi, he found a smaller team a top designer – Karl Lagerfeld (who also ‘happens’ to work for Chanel), the Fendi family (founders of the brand) very much involved in the day-to-day operations (especially Silvia Venturini Fendi) and last but not least important he found Rome.

Besides Brioni which has its headquarters in Rome and Valentino operating an haute couture atelier, Rome has become a retail destination for most Italian luxury, who manufacture and operate in Northern Italy. The once Alta Moda – Rome’s couture fashion week has long lost its sparkle, for this year’s edition, organizers have sufficed to be able to tap French designer Jean Paul Gaultier as the main couturier to show during Alta Moda.

And then, Beccari used common sense. Unlike the Chanel Maison which breathes through Lagerfeld, at Fendi, his presence has always been almost subdued and discreet (which is a word hardly to be associated to Lagerfeld). Consumers would hardly buy a Fendi product because its design is signed by Lagerfeld. He also realized that the presence of the founder family is also discreet but in an effortless way.  And then there is Rome, which is not only Fendi’s birthplace and home to the imposing Palazzo Fendi, but it is where the DNA of the brand lies.

Beccari’s latest ‘move’ was to bring Rome to Paris, a project called The Glory of Water scheduled during the Paris Haute Couture Week, creating an artistic ’dialogue’ between the two cities. What a better way to celebrate the opening of the new Fendi flagship store on Avenue Montaigne than with a photography installation by Lagerfeld’s on the River Seine with pictures of Rome’s beautiful fountains, while drawing inspiration from Histoire d’Eau, a trailblazing fashion film that in 1977 served as the launch of Fendi’s very first ready-to-wear collection.

The photography exhibition did mark the opening of Fendi’s new flagship store in Paris, the re-launch of FENDI.COM and the restoration of the Trevi Fountain for which Fendi will make a donation, but the attention was, subconsciously, on Rome! I would compared this brilliant marketing exercise to last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where L’Oreal and Chopard allocate gigantic sponsorship budgets, and where Miuccia Prada’s collaboration with Martin Scorsese, grabbed the entire attention.

Similarly, during last week’s Paris Haute Couture, Diego Della Valle’s ‘mysterious’ has eventually made the first step in re-launching ythe legendary Elsa Schiaparelli house (which he acquired two years ago). The choice of a display of gowns created by Christian Lacroix (a one time collaboration) seemed futile and even lacklustre, in comparison with last year’s stunning exhibition at the Met in New York Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations - who better than Miuccia Prada to understand that Schiaparelli’s genius is impossible to be re-interpreted or replicated but it can only be challenged!

Without a Creative Director such as Miuccia Prada, no other designer (still no name confirmed) will be able to understand Schiaparelli! – unfortunately, this is very unlikely, unless Diego della Valle (Tod’s Group) will come to this realization and present Schiaparelli as a gift to Miuccia Prada and go back to what he knows best – shoes and leather goods!

In their obsessive quest to conquer the world by opening more and more stores, many luxury brands (Prada, Armani, Ferragamo – to name a few) seem to have forgotten that luxury is not only about exclusivity, desirability, craftsmanship, quality, creativity but it is also about SURPRISE! In other luxury sectors, it may bear different names but with the same importance – in hospitality – ‘the WOW factor’, in watches ‘precision’ etc.

As for product development, Fendi made yet another innovative move created an ‘IT bag’, the ‘Baguette’ probably the first IT luxury bag launched in the past 5 years, which in stores and at events is mounted on what the house calls ‘the Baguette wall’. The versatility of the range (colours, materials, finishes etc), the merchandising and the endless capsule collections can be created (in Brazil, for the first Fendi store, several Baguette models were created by local designers) reach out to the younger generation which all major luxury brands crave for.

Baguette Wall at Fendi flagship store Paris, Avenue Montaigne

Fendi’s latest surprise ‘Fendi 2Jours’, exclusively at Harrods in London, where only 5 bags are available (hand-crafted) for 2 days only (8 and 9 July). It is yet another very simple idea borrowed from the luxury watch industry – the collectors’ strategy. And this could lead, naturally, into a non-discount policy, but not imposed by a ‘strategic vision’ but because, consumers seek to collect items….

A lesson for the majority of the LVMH fashion brands, which are still ‘lost in transition’ such as Givenchy run since last year by Prada’s no 2 executive or Emilio Pucci run by an ex Ralph Lauren store manager. Their innovative touch since taking over – Givenchy is no longer showing at Haute Couture (this was the second consecutive year) but it has just launched a line of ‘fashion’ watches. As for Pucci, last year, soon after taking over her position, the new CEO launched an campaign with a dedicated website for men’s swim trunks.

Kering Group is no exception, and probably the best example is how fast controversy can destroy the DNA of the brand – conducting a most confusing re-branding strategy (Yves) Saint Laurent  but only for ready to wear, as L’Oreal was more sensible in evaluating the nonsense so the make up and perfumery remains YSL. And in a final blow, as if not enough damage has already been done, the visionary CEO of Saint Laurent resigned to move to Apple Inc, the company he used to work at the beginning of his careers.

I leave it up to you to judge or better to say contemplate the element of SURPRISE

Oliver Petcu

Histoire de l’Eau, Fendi 1977