Stefano Ricci: Making a case for extreme spending

Filippo Ricci talks about the making of the world’s most expensive menswear brand

November 17, 2017 03:09 pm | Updated 03:09 pm IST

When Russian oligarchs, Chinese billionaires and Hollywood royalty want to scratch that crocodile itch — say, with a duffel bag, dress shoes, or even a baseball cap fashioned with the exotic animal skin — they turn to Stefano Ricci. The eccentric Italian who lives in a castle in the Tuscan hills, is an authority on the Crocodylus porosus, reportedly sourcing them from New Guinea and Africa, and recently farming them in Darwin, Australia, to meet the demand for this high fashion fix. But his eponymous brand, more than four decades old and possibly the world’s most expensive when it comes to menswear, is also popular for its ‘Made in Italy’ diamond-studded ties (Elton John owns one estimated at ₹52 lakh), gold-buckled belts, bespoke suits and yacht interiors.

Having launched in the country in 2015, with an address at Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace hotel, Stefano Ricci says he has had Indian clients drop in at flagship stores around the world (over 50 at last count, with more coming up in Dubai and the US) for years; and these are not just the industrialists. At the Taj store, their trademark silk shirts are a bestseller, as are the Super 150-grade wool suits, and added offerings like dinner sets and silverware. Earlier this year, Stefano Ricci India president, Jackie Manglani, admitted to the media that while India sales were nowhere near China’s (where the brand launched in 1993), the company expected it to contribute 10% to their global turnover in five years.

In an interview with Weekend , Filippo Ricci, Stefano’s second son who is also creative director of the brand, adds that a special Nehru jacket has been introduced for the Indian market. Sharing plans to open a boutique in New Delhi next year, he admits that younger customers in Asia and Russia have been the driving force behind products like cashmere and silk jogging suits as well as crocodile trainers. Power dressing, no matter the age, is key. After all, this is the brand that has a client send his plane to the Stefano Ricci headquarters in Florence every month to pick up 100 silk shirts (at about ₹65,000 each), and another place an order for 50 suits at one shot, each approximately ₹6.5 lakh.

Filippo, 35, who grew up in the Stefano Ricci office and factory, learning about silk and cashmere with his brother Niccolò (currently CEO of the business), says family plays a big role in day-to-day affairs. While a stint at the Neiman Marcus department store taught him about budgeting and marketing, African safaris and racing trips with his father, and his mother’s competitive spirit are what influences creativity and expansion. “The headquarters were in our grandparent’s villa and every day after school we would spend our afternoons there. I remember spending my time between silk and cotton, assimilating knowledge of fabrics as if it were a wonderful game,” he begins, before describing the patriarch of the family’s attention to detail, and why the brand does not believe in discounts.

Is the idea of ‘feeling good’ taking precedence over ‘looking good’, especially with the changing customer base (from men in their 60s three decades ago to clients in their 30s currently) and Asian and Russian markets?

This is the basic rule. Clothing holds an essential role in distinguishing a successful man. But the concept of feeling good holds a more intimate role, and is a secret in every man’s wardrobe. It is a truth that does not change, a timeless elegance.

How would you define the Stefano Ricci client? I understand the Shanghai store has a private club upstairs for regulars who spend over US$100,000 a year.

Our clients are gentlemen around the world who already have everything, but are constantly searching for timeless elegance and the highest level of quality in terms of fabrics and custom tailoring services. They appreciate rare and precious materials, sophisticated details, exclusive prints and unseen shades of colours. The VIP club has a restaurant, a cigar lounge and bespoke services.

Stefano Ricci e-commerce is limited to certain categories. How do you address the needs of high-rollers who don’t have the time to decide the fabric and style of a suit?

This is probably the case of a customer who simply does not need a Stefano Ricci suit! You aren’t purchasing any suit off the rack, it is an experience that must be lived and shared. You would be surprised how many high-fliers and fast-paced businessmen take time out of their busy schedule to book an appointment with one of our master tailors. This is simply the commitment that must be made for true exclusivity.

The historical silk mill, Antico Setificio Fiorentino, with its warping machine designed by Leonardo da Vinci, is still being used to create fabrics for yachts and homes…

Purchasing the Antico Setificio Fiorentino was a natural path for us. In 2010 we were introduced to this producer, and we fell in love with the place and its craftsmanship. There was a risk that the oldest Italian silk mill would become a museum. That has not happened. My parents wanted it to return to its ancient splendour. My brother and I are committed to this direction knowing the difficulties in this choice, but also of the duty we have towards our city.

What is the latest luxury material used in yacht interiors?

Besides walnut and alligator, our signature material for interiors is the Pietra Serena, often seen in Florence. The dignified sandstone, which tends towards a light blue-grey, has a name that translates literally into the “serene stone”. We use Pietra Serena from quarries in Firenzuola, an area outside of Florence.

The entire family participates in the Mille Miglia motor race and goes on hunting trips. Your father’s best designs are often conceptualised while on safari in Africa, and your mother is a competitive racer. Which of these qualities do you think you have inherited?

Both. My parents' extraordinary capacity was to allow me and my brother to grow in a healthy environment, where the values of respect and fairness became the central point in a vision in which hunting was a school of life and dreams, and travelling was a frontier of constant discovery and interaction with different worlds.

Your father’s relationship with technology is legendary.

He continues to use an old Nokia as his everyday mobile phone that, I think, is no longer in production. He doesn’t use the computer. He just recently started to use an iPad to look at photos of his family and grandchildren. His creativity is still expressed by hand and with the matching of natural colours. But a team of young menswear and junior fashion design professionals do extensive research and interact with the most advanced technologies.

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