The meeting in the desert.

The Gobi. It’s a vast expanse of emptiness and sand—so much sand—that spreads out into forever where the sky meets the endless horizon in a union of dust and sunlight. From the pictures, you’d imagine it to be tomb-quiet but the howl from the whipping wind says otherwise.

It’s hard to imagine such a landscape to be replete of life but travellers walked these sandy plains once and still. Except, in this day and age, SUVs and motorbikes leave their treads in the sand—signs of existence. These lay there as testament before, hours later, the wind would return the desert to its unblemished state.

For now, a Mongol herder—a sullen man, adorned in weathered leather boots and a dusty blue down coat bisected by a brown belt—leads his camels; trailing foot/hoofprints. They see a figure perched on a dune ahead. As the figure approaches, the herder brim his eyes with his free hand, while the other hand tightens around the reins.

The stranger, a tall foreigner of the Western persuasion, is attired in a white coat and slacks the colour of chocolate. He may look like a fish out of water but, here in this parched land, he feels perfectly at ease. Were this any other encounter, the herder would baulk at the stranger but this is a meeting that had occurred minutes ago. This is the second take before documentary photographer Chris Rainier, satisfied with the shot, directs them to another spot, angled in a way that the near-afternoon sun would flatter them.

A fashion shoot at the Aryabal Temple's inner sanctum.

From the Sands, a Seed of an Idea

It started at Luxor.

Two years ago, to commemorate its semicentennial anniversary, the Italian luxury lifestyle brand Stefano Ricci decided to host the celebration at the Hatshepsut Temple. As part of the Theban Necropolis, the temple is carved into the sheer cliffs of the Deir el-Bahari complex. The monumental architecture characterised by three terraces proved to be a fitting space for Stefano Ricci.

The two-day event culminated in a fashion show for 400 guests. Dr Zahi Hawass, archaeologist and former Minister of Antiquities and Culture, described the show thusly: “I have seen this temple more than a thousand times in my life, but Stefano [the namesake founder and brand chairman] made me see it in a new and different way. The fashion models began to come down the temple stairs, escorted by Egyptian warriors. We saw a great new fashion that the world had never seen before.”

The event created a lot of buzz but it also sparked an idea for a series; one that would take the Ricci family to far-flung corners of the world.

It's called the EXPLORER Project and it’s spearheaded by the sons of Stefano, Niccolò and Filippo—the CEO and creative director, respectively. Filippo said that the Luxor event alerted them to a new outlook in appealing to men’s innate wanderlust. Their clients are “dynamic, independent, powerful men” and the real luxury is to “have remarkable [travel] experiences”.

They started with Iceland. A land of contrasts, where glaciers meet black volcanic sands. The Vatnajökull Glacier—Europe’s largest ice cap—is an indomitable presence on the south-eastern horizon. For their AW24 collection, Filippo came with an intrepid crew consisting of hair-and-make-up artists, stylists, videographers, drone operators and models. They also roped in the expertise of Terry Garcia, CEO of Exploration Ventures, and the aforementioned Chris Rainier.

Terry leapt at the chance to work on the project. He cited the importance of exploration, especially in this day and age. They shot against the Skógafoss waterfall; along the black sand beaches of Reykjanesbær and Reynisfjara; the Diamond Beach, a sand beach next to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and the cavernous ice caves of the Vatnajökull Region.

The Galápagos Islands were the next chapter of the Explorer project but that wasn’t Stefano Ricci’s first choice. They were supposed to shoot elsewhere but unforeseen circumstances forced the crew to scramble for another location. They eventually ended at the Galápagos Islands.

A Diverse Crowd

We suppose there is some poetry to this. The volcanic archipelago was where naturalist, Charles Darwin, was inspired to develop his theory of evolution. In this place, where Darwin witnessed the adaptations of finches’ beaks, Stefano Ricci will adapt to shoot their SS24 campaign.

Terry Garcia is still on board but this time, Mattias Klum, photographer, and National Geographic fellow, helmed the photoshoot. Niccolò has decided to come along as well; no sense in letting the younger brother have all the fun. With the supervision of the Galápagos National Park Directorate, extreme care was taken in shooting in the archipelago’s fragile and unique ecosystems.

They shot at Santa Fé Island, a small gem in the Galápagos crown. There, the the sea lions and marine iguanas were nonchalant accessories to the photoshoot. The unique fauna (giant turtles) and flora (cactus and Scalesia forest) complemented the “nature tones” of the collection. This was also their first underwater shoot. On a boat ride out to Isla Guy Fawkes, Matthias said that the underwater perspective added another dimension to the story that they were telling.

That story is part of a bigger one. It’s post-Covid and the borders are slowly opening up. The pent-up agoraphilia that those mindful of quarantine have broken loose. It seemed serendipitous that Stefano Ricci managed to be in the thick of this sudden worldwide yen for travel.

The Land of the Conqueror

A ride along with the Kazakh eagle hunters.

For the AW24 collection, Stefano Ricci’s took to the birthplace of Chinggis Khaan—Mongolia. Aside the return of Chris Rainier as the principal photographer, for this expedition, they included the locals in their campaign, opened the expedition up to valued customers willing to join them and introduced exclusive material for their winter outfits.

First, the material. It’s made from the undercoat of the Hircus goats from Alashan. The fibre is collected through gentle hand combing on goats no older than 10 months of age in the spring. Then, it’s processed into a superlight and resistant cashmere: the Stefano Ricci Alpha Yarn.

Second, the inclusion of Stefano Ricci’s clientele in the project added another facet to the brand’s growing portfolio—that of a semi-bespoke travel agent. Stefano Ricci’s exclusive patronage is a by-invitation-only club. These valued patrons will have the opportunity to embark on this once-in-a- lifetime chance to evoke their inner Magellan (or insert your own ethical explorer alternative). Lorenzo Quinn, an artist known for his large-scale sculptures (one of his works, “The Force of Nature”, is found at Marina Barrage) is an inaugural invitee. In a reportage video, Lorenzo paraphrased the essence of exploration from the project’s motto, “[to] explore the world is to explore ourselves”. For an artist like him, this was a much-needed respite to stir the creative juices.

Shooting at the Chinggis Khaan Statute Complex.

During the time in Mongolia, the group slept in gers (a Mongolian yurt); traversed the Flaming Cliffs; posed at the Chinggis Khaan Statue Complex; climb the many and winding steps of Aryabal Temple and communed with the Kazakh burkitshi (eagle hunters) in Altai. It is the latter that held great significance with Stefano Ricci; the family’s emblem is the eagle. It is this commonality that the Riccis donated to Kazakh Falconry Association for the preservation of the raptors. (Stefano Ricci also donated to the Charles Darwin Foundation at their last Galápagos project).

For a luxury brand, there is nothing luxurious in how the campaigns were shot. In fact, productions were closer to the point of discomfort. There have been a lot of unearthly hours to aspire to, just to catch the first light of the sun. They also had to contend with the local amenities in these far-flung corners. In their journey from Three Camel Lodge at which they resided, to the shooting location in the Gobi, the early morning darkness caused even the guide to lose his bearings.

Model/ Monks.

But Niccolò had nothing but praise for the professionalism of his team. Everybody knows what they need to do. It’s a well-oiled machine, one that was honed during previous excursions. In classic Italian fashion, the smiles break through the sweat; the camaraderie flows easily.

A fashion house and the theme of travel... this isn’t a novel idea. Luggage brands like RIMOWA extolled the virtue of a well-travelled suitcase and Samsonite highlighted the “man on the go”. Coach had an air travel boutique inside an aeroplane. Japanese label, TEÄTORA, specialises in outfits to ease the rigours of travel—ie, packable T-shirts, jackets to fit carry-ons like a passport and/or an electronic tablet.

We leave off with a quote from Terry: “Exploration, yes, it’s about adventure, it’s about the unknown. But sometimes, exploration is about seeing an old place through new eyes.” And what better way than to view it through the lens of fashion?