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Stefano Ricci doesn't believe in 'luxury'; carries a no Wi-Fi Nokia, & can't do without cufflinks

The 68-year-old fashion tycoon recently opened his second boutique in India.

, ET Online|
Updated: Nov 28, 2018, 04.41 PM IST
Stefano (R) and Niccolò Ricci at their recently-opened store at The Oberoi in New Delhi.
There’s an air about Stefano Ricci, the Florentine designer with a Tuscany castle for a home (that also plays host to designer Roberto Cavalli), that makes a case for the good life. The menswear designer and entrepreneur’s 46-year-old brand doesn’t do or believe in luxury – they may be selling jeans for one lakh rupees and jackets for double the amount, but Ricci goes by the motto that real luxury ‘does not exist any more’.

As we settle in for a chat with the 68-year-old fashion tycoon and his son Niccolò Ricci, also the brand’s CEO, at their recently-opened New Delhi outpost at The Oberoi hotel – the second in the country after one in Mumbai - we are in for a conversation on sustainability, fashion, India as a market, and of course a lesson on what it means to be beyond the over-(mis)used term - luxury.

A term, that many brands aim for, and yet Ricci does not want his products to be associated with. “Luxury is finished,” he says, and quotes from his book on the subject, “It is fresh glass of water in the desert”.

The man who has dressed Nelson Mandela and Tom Cruise, power players and business tycoons, says he would rather have his uber-niche brand focus on quality and detail, traits that he himself has aplenty.

The Stefano Ricci client is one who understands loyalty and values family, says the designer.

It’s not just what he says that gives an insight into the workings of the brand, it’s also the way he lives his life. Whether it’s his no-Wi-Fi, no-social media Nokia phone or the exact angle that he wants the chairs placed at the store’s plush office, or even the ivory cufflinks he has consistently worn for two decades. And as he himself points out, he does own a factory producing cufflinks, but there’s a special reason - apart from a sense of consistency - that he has never changed his pair.

“The ivory was given to me 35 years ago in Africa by a witch doctor who came from the forest,” Ricci Sr. narrates with such intensity that you are almost drawn back in time with him. “Niccolò knows him,” he continues, pointing at his son who nods., “I made cufflinks from it, and have always worn them, even with tuxedos,” he adds, blowing a puff of smoke from his cigarette.

It’s this sense of loyalty that the brand exudes worldwide, and wants from its customers in the Capital, now.

Having taken over markets like Russia, China, the Middle East and now India, there is no rush to grow at a massive scale, and they would rather consolidate the position that they already have.

“I think it is wrong to spend energy discovering new markets when we already have a stage set and the attention we need in our markets; that for us is more important than new attention,” Ricci Sr. says about their expansion plans.

After all it did take them three years in India to open their second store, despite the father-son duo stating that Indian billionaires, ‘elegant people’, are an important clientele who shop from their Paris, London, Milan and New York boutiques.

The 2,400 square feet Stefano Ricci boutique features hand-polished black briar-root wood and the Florentine stone - pietra serena.

“But now we are testing whether the same people will shop for the same products in their own country, at maybe even a lower cost. Or is it just the holiday-shopping trend?”

They do know that it’s not your everyday man who will walk in to pick up a pair of crocodile leather shoes that cost Rs 374,212 or the eagle buckle crocodile leather belt for Rs 150,879, but their loyal customers who are promised exclusivity with their purchase.

However, the mention of animal leather, and the fact that the brand never goes on sale and burns its stock (European luxury brand Burberry recently announced that it will stop burning unsold goods), takes us to fashion industry’s dreaded-terms: sustainability and no animal-cruelty.

“I think that it’s more about actually respecting the environment. But today, you cannot forget that this world is moved by the money. Money does not have religion, nor does it have principles, and it does not respect the life of the people."

It’s here that his son joins in, saying that they use only natural fabric for all products, and do their bit for the environment by making small changes like replacing windows to reduce power consumption.

While the father-son duo imbibe the same values, and work ethic, Niccolò Ricci is more open to the changing world and the impact of technology, in comparison to his father who won’t answer calls from unknown numbers.

Niccolò Ricci gained his first experience in the family business founded by his father Stefano and mother Claudia as a student worker in the mid-1990s.

And Ricci Sr. is quick to establish that fact as we get to discussing how the brand is adapting to the world of tech. “Ask him, it’s controversial,” he points to Niccolo, who shrugs off the accusation with a laugh.

“We generate 2% of our business from online sales, but that is largely in the States and England. We expect it to double next year,” he says, adding that the fast-selling items online include ties, perfumes, t-shirt, and jeans.

The brand that is currently only available online in Europe and the USA, is also looking to expand digitally in India.

From father to son, this family of ateliers understands the importance of nurturing customers, and just as they created t-shirts embroidered especially for China – one of their biggest market, India too got its own Nehru jacket, and so did Niccolo Ricci – a royal blue one. Just what you call, When in Paris do as the Parisians do!
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