At just 35 years of age, Tomaso Trussardi is one of the youngest luxury-brand
CEOs and is taking his Italian label into e-commerce and new territories, while
remaining faithful to the family aesthetic, writes Matt Pomroy.
Tomaso Trussardi could quite easily have elected to live out his charmed life in the enviable tradition of an Italian playboy to the palazzo born. Scion of the fashion empire established by Dante Trussardi in 1911, the family has presided over the business ever since, expanding it from humble origins as a leather glove maker into the global luxury empire that it is today. Taking over the reins from his father Nicola, siblings Gaia and Tomaso find themselves at the helm of one of Italy’s most respected brands. Young, beautiful, and with the kind of wealth at their disposal that is amassed over generations, the fourth generation of Trussardis wears their birthright with the kind of seemingly effortless Italian style for which the brand itself is known.
Trussardi, born in Bergamo in 1983, has grown up surrounded by the spoils of great wealth and by beautiful and stylish people, but the effects of privilege — and its inherent responsibilities — haven’t spoiled the fashion empire successor.
As a youth, flitting from party to party, travelling and driving fast cars, he spent a couple of years working for Italian car magazine Motori and being regularly photographed in Italy’s society pages. Romantic dalliances with some of Italy’s most beautiful heiresses and socialites peppered his fast-living youth. But a life of raffish excess was never his destiny nor his goal, and the 35-year-old heir is today married to Swiss-Dutch model/TV Presenter Michelle Hunziker, with whom he has two young children. Silvio Berlusconi was among the guests that attended their wedding in 2014. A fixture on Italy’s high society firmament, Trussardi, with his trappings of great wealth, beautiful wife and undeniable charisma, is followed by the Italian press as if he were a rock star.
When The Rake met him on the Italian Riviera, he was in gregarious and forthright form, revealing who he sees as Trussardi’s new generation of customers, as well as introducing the brand’s latest men’s fragrance.
Who is now the typical Trussardi customer?
You, The Rake! Ha, no we are searching for a new type of customer. Trussardi is a brand that’s historically more focused on men rather than women, even though we are trying to more a bit more towards womenswear. But for fragrance, for example, the men’s is one of our best sellers in every country where we have a presence. The latest launch of a fragrance – Riffleso – is the first in four years and it’s aimed at a sophisticated man. We are looking to attract a younger man, 25-to-35 or 40, and you see that advert for the new fragrance is a man going from the town to the season on his motorbike and escaping from his job. This is the type of man we now want – men of culture, who wants to enjoy life with passion and positivity.
Is it important from a business point of view to have a specific definition of what your brand stands for?
For sure. Mostly because in this period you have too many brands, new brands and old brands that are revamping, so if you want to have a brand with loyal customers, especially with social media and e-commerce, you need to be in contact with your customer. Of course you need a wide range of products, but you need to identify who is your final customer and what is the behaviour of your final customer. We have two lines – Trussardi and Trussardi Jeans – and we have different types of customer and a clear definition of who that is.
Trussardi, with his trappings of great wealth, beautiful wife and undeniable charisma, is followed by the Italian press as if he were a rock star.
How do you find the luxury market in general at the moment?
It’s not as in crisis as it was in the past three or four years, but we need to identify which cluster of luxury we have in mind. Because if you’re talking about absolute, then there are five or six brands that are still growing but not as much as before. For example, Hermes in 2016 was growing but not a whole digit. The same with Chanel. This segment is really crowded and the prices are really high and China and Asia was the driver of this growth, but now they have to give the product to the normal people and not only the elite, so they need to have a specific product range and price range in order to serve that type of client. Then you have the step below that includes Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, and if you inside one of the three biggest groups in the world, like LVMH and Richmond, you can survive with good margins but if you want to be independent now the most profitable and growing market is affordable luxury and this is where we want to be in the market. It’s where we are. Coach, Furla, Tory Birch, Michael Kors, these brands have had growth in the last five years, some double digit every year, and I think in that segment you have the biggest capacity for growth. Furla is not a proper brand, it’s the brand you buy because it’s the most affordable bag made in Italy, so we want to be in that segment because we are a proper Italian lifestyle brand with a big heritage. We started out business in 1911 so we have the authority to be there.
Are those the four brands you see as your biggest rivals?
I pretend they are, because we are doing nearly $200m turnover but the last P&L for Tory Birch was $800 million, Furla went from $310m in 2015 to $350m last year and this year they will reach nearly $400m, but four years ago they were doing more of less the same as our turnover. So we have something to look at, no? Michael Kors and Coach are still growing in different markets but they have saturated a lot of countries. And we introduced a new range of product and price with the woman’s bag for between 300 and 600 Euros and it’s doing really successfully.
Have you had to change your approach now that Russia and China is not as profitable?
Russia is not profitable, it’s true. We had a really good business in Russia regarding facial products and perfumes but our sales have dropped 20 percent in the last few years, although we are starting to recover now. We have 12 stores in Moscow and two in St Petersburg and 15 stores around CIS territories, so it’s a big market for us, but we see growth potential there now. They are stuck in their political problems, but in one year Putin could be re-elected or go to jail, we don’t know, big change. In China, I was there recently and didn’t really see a crisis, what I see is that brands grow too much and too quick in that market so they are not able to perform. China now has e-commerce and a lot of multibrand stores that are growing so it’s a really crowded business. There’s not a crisis, but you need to rebalance your price range and product range. For a brand like Gucci in Shanghai, from Plaza 66 to the PuLi Hotel there are four Gucci stores in about 500-metres and all are doing really well. The smallest one is 500sqm and they are all performing. Gucci have ten stores in Shanghi, sure there are 25 million people there but ten Gucci stores is a lot.
Is it important to remain a family-owned business?
It depends on the family! If you look at the business we are in, brands that are owned by families are not growing or are losing money. Brands that are owned by big equity funds are growing because the big thing that a large group can do for a brand is change quicker – they can change the CEO or director and change the company really quickly. And that’s important because now if you have the right idea, you have to squeeze that into three years – you can no longer have an idea then ride that for ten years like you could in the past. Often it’s not a problem of the strategy of the brand it’s just that people get bored. Prada – people get bored and they have to change, but they have Miuccia so they cannot change Miuccia, because she is Prada. Gucci have three directors and change them and they’re booming, but with a family business you cannot do it, or you have to be really clever as an owner.
Is it more nimble in other ways though, not having so many layers of management and ownership above you?
Yes, but it depends because nowadays the big groups have become really fast at making a decision. Sure, smaller family-owned business can make quick decisions but the only things that makes a real difference now is you take a decision to preserve the identity and the image of your brand in the long term rather than making decisions with short term thinking just to make a faster profit.
How important is it for you to have the café and the restaurant and other things aside from the core business?
To be honest with you, ten years ago it was nothing, just a passion that we had because we lost a lot of money for the first three years of our food business, largely because we didn’t understand the food industry. If you think that in fashion you produce in the summer then deliver everywhere, but in food you produce and deliver in the same place every day. It’s a totally different model. So ten years ago it was bulls**t, but now it’s really important because everyone is trying to go into the food business and that lifestyle because it’s a generator of traffic and because the food business is the only one that is growing every year. Even if you have the biggest crisis in the world, the Italian and French food business is still growing. In China Vivienne Westwood was a dead brand, then they invented this Vivienne Westwood café and they go on to open 50 stores in China. Agnès b. was a French brand that was famous for the colour blocking shirts in the 1990s then it was completely dead, but they went to China and opened stores with a café. We will now open a café with a shop in China so for us it’s now important to develop this business.
And what was the thinking behind the branding partnership with Juventus?
That’s been going on for a few seasons now. When I started this sponsorship I was talking to Mr Agnelli [Andrea Agnelli, Chairman of Juventus] and he told me that he needed to do something to be more lifestyle rather than just football. Juventus is in the sports papers every day and get written about more than all the others in Italy but outside of football they don’t see Juventus. If you talk about Real Madrid and Barcelona or Paris St Germain all of these big European football brands are more into lifestyle compared to Juventus, so they asked us to do something to be more lifestyle. And we wanted to have a more democratic identity of the brand because we want to be in the contemporary luxury business rather than luxury, so we just decided to do this collaboration.
Does this help to open the brand up to a new audience?
Yes, but I don’t know the numbers. We used Juventus’ stadium – which is one of the newest and coolest in Europe – to do some marketing and advertising campaigns and for sure it helps, but it’s not something where I know the numbers. But when I have the new website platform up and running then I’ll be able to tell for sure the exact type of customer who is buying things from this collaboration.
So is e-commerce big for you at the moment?
Potentially. Everyone is now moving to their own platform, rather than selling through another party, and this is what we are doing so we can do everything internally with e-commerce run by ourselves, and we think that in two years it will be the biggest store by volume that we have anywhere.
Do you think you might float on the stock market in the next few years?
First we need to fix some internal problems that we have, but it’s something we are looking at an perhaps in three to five years we will be ready to be listed somewhere.
You were in your 20s when you became CEO which is young – did having youth on your side give you a different perspective compared to other brands?
I was very young, yes, but I’m 35 years old now. But fashion is a complicated business. You have to be faithful to yourself and to what the brand stands for, but then every season you have to change everything. And when you change everything you have to look at what other people are doing, but then remain faithful to what you are doing. And our industry is really feeling every change in technology – if you have the new technology in your mobile phone we need to be updated with this; if there is a change in e-commerce then we need to update the platform or else we lose money, so everything is changing in the world really quickly. It was difficult in my 20s, but also now. You always have to keep changing and nothing stays the same.