On a rather chilly November morning in Milan, we made our way to the Milano Centrale train station. But instead of entering through the regular main access to the station, we were shuttled off to the right of the building and towards the quiet end of it. In front of a nondescript doorway, two guards stood, controlling admission. We entered, made a left turn and went up two flights of marbled stairs to a grand room; definitely not the usual entrance to Milano Centrale.
It was here that Stefano Ricci’s autumn/winter 2019 presentation began. A relatively unused portion of the station that was once the waiting lounge for the royal family of Savoy, the Sala Reale provided privacy and close proximity to the royal family’s convoy that was stationed and departed from track number 21. Tall, paned doors open up directly to the tracks, a good 500m away from the main crowd.
Stefano Ricci has a knack for revisiting old-timey luxuries, fitting them into a collection’s narrative. The aptly named autumn/winter 2019 collection, A Timeless Journey, tells of a man who creative director Filippo Ricci describes as someone “who loves to choose, who seeks a unique proposal in every detail”.
And what could be more unique than presenting the collection onboard a 1920s-original steam-powered locomotive?
The shrill whistles of the train, coupled with the chugging of its wheels, broke through the usual din of Milano Centrale as it entered. And as the train made its stop, its brown and riveted façade was a stark reminder of how much rail travel has changed since then—both aesthetically and technologically. If there was a point to be made for having such a classic mechanical grandeur in a relatively newer setting, we reckon it’s to echo how traditional methods and quality materials could stand the test of time, if maintained as well as how the locomotive has been throughout the decades.
“For a company such as the one founded by my parents in 1972, which has never accepted compromises in terms of quality, ‘100 percent made in Italy’ is in itself a value; not a marketing strategy,” explains Filippo. “That is why we are constantly renewing our message—in our lookbooks, our advertising, in the creation of expressive videos and in our communication—and always looking for places that demonstrate the great beauty that can be found in Italy.”
We could go on to describe the cinematic way that the models—wearing key looks from the autumn/winter 2019 collection—seemingly appeared from the carriages as clouds of steam slowly dissipated. But it’s a scene best experienced—words can never do justice no matter how hard we try. One thing’s for sure though: we recall being gobsmacked at the drama of it all, a visual stripped from the pages of a film noir script.
It’s this champion of an Italian-first vision that has enamoured clients the world over. Of late, it has even run beyond the highest tier of fashion and luxury.
In January, the company successfully completed a Leonardo Da Vinci-based exhibition at the famed Uffizi Gallery in its hometown of Florence. The Water as Microscope of Nature: Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester exhibit ran from 30 October 2018 to 20 January 2019, and featured the return of Da Vinci’s revered manuscript to Florence, in conjunction with the fifth centenary of his death. The pages detail Da Vinci’s hypotheses and experiments, in words as well as sketches, with regard to nature (specifically water) during the period when what we know now as scientific facts about the various subjects were not even formulated yet.
Stefano Ricci’s contribution to the project included sponsorships of the secure transportation of the various precious manuscripts exhibited. In honour of Da Vinci, the brand created a one-of-a-kind blazer that was designed using the ‘golden ratio’—a mathematical formula that the artist has been known to practice in his works, especially in the piece often referred to as ‘the man in the circle’; the Vitruvian Man. The Antico Setificio Fiorentino jacket, as it’s named, was made using fabrics from the Antico Setificio Fiorentino silk mill—owned by the Stefano Ricci family—where a warping machine designed by Da Vinci is still in mint working condition till today.
“As a concrete testimony of our work, and at the request of Uffizi Gallery’s director Eike Schmidt, the jacket dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci was donated to the Museum of Costume and Fashion in Palazzo Pitti, Florence. This location is doubly special as it is where the term ‘made in Italy’ was born in 1951,” Filippo elaborates.
In essence, Da Vinci has little to do within the fashion sphere. But for Stefano Ricci, the multi-hyphenate is an important part of the Italy (and in turn, its heritage) that the brand wholeheartedly celebrates. “For those of us who have had the good fortune to have been born in a city like Florence, we know that a dialogue with the greats of the past is natural; it’s a source of continuous inspiration and encouragement when facing challenges,” expresses Filippo.
Yet at the same time, there’s this undeniably constant need to evolve as well. The Stefano Ricci brand has been around for over 45 years and has made incremental steps to ensure that the brand progresses on par with technology, design and aesthetics.
London’s Savile Row might immediately come to mind when one thinks of suiting, but it’s Italy that has been steadily keeping the suit alive. It’s during the Pitti Uomo trade shows in Florence that one gets a real sense of how Italian gentlemen dress, while London’s fashion sense has relaxed, and at times, mirrored the aesthetics of the previously maligned chav.
Stefano Ricci’s core business revolves around the world of sartorial essentials in the most exquisite fabrics and treatments. The brand remains focused in making luxurious silk-lined suits, crocodile leather outerwear and the like, but the vibe has skewed to be a bit more modern; and for lack of a better word, younger. The Stefano Ricci customer has changed too and with that, their discerning tastes.
There is a more calculated approach to luxe details. Crocodile leathers are used to accentuate bomber jackets instead of being the main feature of the garment. For autumn/winter 2019, a jacket is constructed in a blend of wool, silk and vicuña, topped off with crocodile detailing and lined with fine mink fur. The Stefano Ricci man is more refined and understated than before.
Niccolò Ricci, the brand’s CEO, acknowledges this. “It is no coincidence that while the average age of our clients has fallen in the last few years—from the 45 to 55 range to the 35- to 45-year-olds—we have not abandoned our proposals aimed for this gentleman. Nor have we renounced attention to the millennials,” he explains.
Niccolò also elaborates that change is in the way the Stefano Ricci brand communicates on the various social platforms it has a presence in. He calls it a “sort of education on style” to better allow customers—both existing and potential—understand the value of the product beyond the brand name. This will be even more evident in a new Stefano Ricci website that will connect better with its e-commerce platform, targeted to be launched in June. Niccolò reiterates: “This is an important step, even if we remain convinced that the experience a client has in our boutique—especially in his ability to personalise garments—remains a necessity.”
Stepping into a Stefano Ricci boutique ensures a truly luxe experience. Its main boutique in Florence is spectacularly adorned with bas-relief decorations, dark wood furnishings and a feature glass ceiling. The boutique reminds us of a refurbished Roman temple. The look has remained consistent around the world since the first Stefano Ricci boutique in China, but has slowly acquired a new perspective. While the furnishings are still made by Florentine artisans, the materials used have changed to depict a more modern look.
“The original characteristic elements were the brown-toned Californian briar-root wood and travertine marble. However, in the past two years, we have exchanged these elements with black Californian briar-root wood and pietra serena, a Tuscan stone found in historical Florentine squares,” Niccolò divulges. This new concept has been applied to the Singapore boutique as well, which has reopened following an expansion of its size.
In 2018, Stefano Ricci opened nine boutiques around the world; its last store opening of the year was in Sochi, Russia. To date, this brings its total number of boutiques to 67, not including the 20 shop-in-shop concepts worldwide. Fifteen of them are located in China, a market that Stefano Ricci ventured into even before the Chinese boom.
It was a worry then when the debacle surrounding fellow Italian brand Dolce&Gabbana, and its problematic portrayal of Chinese culture, set off an almost instant backlash in China. More than tarnishing the name of Dolce&Gabbana the brand, as proud Italians, the Ricci family sees it as showcasing Italy in a bad light.
“We have been in China since 1993. Truthfully, we have always strategically followed this market, based on recognition of the traditions and culture found in this extraordinary country. Thanks to our local management in China, we present ourselves with an image that both respects our brand DNA as well as the perception of our proposals, which is tied to the requests of this unique market,” Niccolò explains. “Mutual respect between cultures is a powerful platform for any venture.”
“Mutual respect between cultures is a powerful platform for any venture.” – Niccolò Ricci.
At a time where we’re becoming more aware and attuned to a plethora of injustices, fashion brands are increasingly taken to task for mishaps and mishandling of issues. But even in these more sensitive times, the brand doesn’t believe that this increasingly politically correct era stifles creativity and the ability for brands to push boundaries. As the creative lead of the family-owned business, Filippo stands firm on the brand’s ability to excel in the face of changing attitudes.
“Over 45 years have taught us that we must take on the various periods, international crises as well as opportunities in emerging markets with certainty in our capabilities,” Filippo assures. “This is not the first time we have faced a moment of change.”
He goes on to say that it’s creativity and the ability to be quick to adapt to changes that will help grow the company. While the creative team anticipates certain trends in the fashion landscape, the Stefano Ricci brand does not follow trends. “We offer style and quality,” Filippo continues. “Today, in particular, we are pleased to see a return to taste and elegance.”
Amen to that.
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