As Sergio Rossi opens its boutique in the Dubai Mall, a&e talks to CEO Riccardo Sciutto about how he’s using the heritage of the brand to achieve global recognition and the importance of the Middle Eastern market.
Sergio Rossi has a sixty-year heritage of beautiful Italian made shoes. This is something that as a luxury house they are preserving until today.
Their unique ability to hand-make shoes from start to finish, of the finest quality in the San Mauro Pascoli Factory is something quite unique and at the core of the brand. Riccardo Sciutto was appointed CEO of Sergio Rossi in 2016. With a background in luxury Sciutto most recently held the position of General Manager at Hogan (part of the Tod’s Group). Sciutto’s appointment came just one month after Sergio Rossi was appointed by Investindustrial, with him being brought in to develop a new chapter of the brand in the form of a relaunch and development for the future.
Sciutto worked from day one on rebuilding the credibility of the brand with taste makers and industry insiders. He recovered key pieces from the Sergio Rossi archive, studying its roots and DNA closely and creating a versatile, seasonless collection; SR1, which has become the symbol of the rebirth of the brand. Sciutto reconstructed the management teams, from design to communication, and put the San Mauro Pascoli Factory back at the centre of the story, enhancing the greatness of Italian craftsmanship and shoemaking. With a complete new plan for international store openings and refurbishing – in line with the new direction of the brand – the new era of Sergio Rossi is centred around the idea of ‘thinking heritage and playing digital.’
Part of this new direction incorporated the brand’s first store in the Middle East inside Dubai Mall’s new Fashion Avenue extension. On a recent visit to celebrate this milestone opening, A&E met with Riccardo Sciutto to talk about the new direction and why the Middle East is so important to them at this moment.
You are opening a store in the Middle East for the first time, why now?
As we open here it is very important that we tell the right story of Sergio Rossi. The story is sixty years old, so you have a great story which we have told all over the world, but we have never had the chance to tell it in Dubai as we have never had a store here. So now is the right time to do it because Dubai is one of the key cities in the world. You have people living here from over 100 countries so you are really speaking to a small world within the same city which is amazing. Personally what I love about Dubai is how everything moves so fast and is growing so much. There is a lot to learn, a lot to tell and great opportunities, so it was natural to be here.
What can you tell us about the Dubai Mall exclusive collection?
I believe that women today want to be sexy but they want to be more feminine. So we started with the SR1 archive collection. With a low heel and square shape. With the exclusive collection we took the idea of the SR1 and we gave it a diamond plaque. We have a beautiful silk fabric and we also have an incredible sandal that’s very wearable.
Who are you targeting with this collection?
I think there are no longer different types of women. Today all countries and all types of women are coming very close to each other. What is different is the time they arrive at certain points, but if you are telling one story you need to be consistent. If you look at the new generation you cannot be targeting one country or the other as that is a big mistake.
What do you think women in the Middle East are looking for in a shoe?
It’s the same as all around the world. The first question we had when we opened the store was ladies asking for a lower heel. Everyone is wearing lower heels. Today there is no ‘Middle Eastern lady’ or ‘European lady,’ today it is just the lady. We are all travelling like crazy. The world has changed because of aeroplanes and the internet. Everybody can be everywhere in the world. Today’s lady wants to be modern but they want to feel OK. They no longer want to prove themselves to each other, they just want to feel good.
The core of Sergio Rossi is the factory – what can you tell us about it?
The factory is the difference that we have over anyone else. 30,000 square metres with 120 people making 1,000 pairs of shoes per day. It takes up to 14 hours per shoe. Everything is done internally. It is really amazing because we have also revealed the archive at the factory. We are the only factory able to do some of the most difficult techniques in house.
What’s your position on sustainability?
We already produce 20 per cent of our energy from solar power at the factory. We have approved all energy reducing for the next three years. It is something we don’t express in our marketing, but for me it is crucial that every company thinks about this today. For all of the cuts of leather that are not used we have a company that collects it and reproduces leather that is sold and re-used by other companies. We also sell to local schools and they do artisan works with the pieces. This is crucial today and luckily for us this is normal now. There are a lot of brands that are not doing it, but for us it is already under control.
Is there something at Sergio Rossi that you still want to achieve?
Absolutely! We’ve established the factory, the message, and the story of the brand, we have the new shoes of the future and we are established in Milan. Now the next step is that we need to go worldwide.
We have branches in Japan, China, America and Europe, but we need to focus on the Middle East. We are opening a store in London and this will create a close partnership with Dubai. We have stores opening in New York, (close to Tom Ford, who loved Sergio), we also have a pop-up store opening in LA in January which will be fantastic. The point is that now we have an incredible product, what we need to do is to tell the people to come and try the shoes, because when they try the shoes they will love them.
How would you sum up the vision you have for the brand?
We make timeless shoes for the modern lady. They are handmade in Italy so they have incredible capability, but it’s also a modern shoe for a modern lady. I don’t want to be following fashion trends because that is very risky. You have fashion today, tomorrow you’re no longer on trend.
How would you define a timeless shoe?
Timeless is that it can be worn all day long. You can dress from the day to the night and you feel great wearing one shoe for an interview, for work, for dinner. Today there is no time anymore for ladies to dress only for day or for evening.
How important is comfort in shoes?
Comfort is in our DNA. Sergio Rossi was always looking to find comfort in his shoes and today I am following him on this same philosophy.
You are now using social media and digital marketing, what impact has that had on the brand?
For us it was crucial. We started on Instagram and we grew from 60,000 followers to over 800,000 in two years. And this is organic growth. We are the fastest growing luxury brand worldwide in terms of percentage. We also create content internally. I hired a team to create dedicated content. The thing I love about social media is that we can make mistakes, if we don’t like something or it doesn’t work we can change it. It’s very important to have a team internally who understands the DNA.
How do you feel about endorsements of your products?
We believe in real endorsements. Making an organic story using people that really love it and wear it. If they don’t like the product after one year it will fall apart.
How do you balance keeping the exclusivity of a brand when everything is so accessible?
This is the crucial part. We are not a one billion dollar company and we don’t want to be that. If I want to preserve the DNA and the capability to internally produce the parts of the shoes we cannot be that big. But I do think that from being very close as we are today, we can open up our view globally a little bit. We need to spread the story and thanks to media and social media we can speed up the process a little.
How do you think the brand can maintain desirability?
Today it is different from the past. You need to be very fast, and coherent with your DNA, innovative and full of energy. If you can try to mix all of this well, the wheel will turn.
To what extent do you think co-branding is something that a lot of brands are looking into today?
If it is linked to your DNA and it is helping you to spread a voice – I love it.
How important are stores to the luxury experience?
For me the store is more important than before. You cannot have as many as before, but not having a store that gives a good experience is a big mistake. Obviously it’s easy to say “I’ll close the store and open online,” but online you take only a part of the customer and you only give a part of the experience. You cannot skip the possibility to give the customer an experience. It must be a positive experience, well treated, well organised, using people who understand the brand and who will tell you something you don’t already know – that’s what I love about the store. Every few months I want to drop something special only in the store for the customer. That’s the way to make them realise that they need to go there.
How would you describe a woman’s relationship with her shoes?
I have worked with apparel, jewellery and shoes. Shoes and jewellery are very similar because they give you the capability to understand a lady. Shoes have one plus – you live your life in your shoes. You are literally on your shoes all day every day so this changes a lot psychologically. This is why shoes are the centre of the luxury business today, because you have such an intimate relationship with them that is incredible. You can put twenty ladies in the same dress but with twenty different pairs of shoes and you will have twenty completely different ladies.
What is your personal motto?
Happiness is the essence of life. If you are not happy and you don’t enjoy your life you cannot move anything.
What about your professional motto?
Think heritage, play digital. This is very linked to Sergio Rossi today.
What do you say no to?
What is something you would never do?
I would never physically hurt someone. This is a way of my culture.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
Always be coherent. In yourself and in the story you are telling.
What book are you reading?
I just read an economics book on the flat tax in Europe. It’s very interesting. Politics is not something that is in my DNA but everybody needs to read this book.
What do you tell yourself every morning?
You will do it. I’m a very positive person.
When you feel that you’re stressed, how do you re-energise yourself?
I look at a photo of my family and I tell myself I’m a lucky man!
What is your biggest challenge at Sergio Rossi for 2019?
To show the world what we made and to gain more visibility.