DOWN ON THE UP

WITH NOTH­ING BUT GROWTH SINCE ITS BLAZINGLY SUC­CESS­FUL PUB­LIC LIST­ING, MON­CLER IS A BRAND BACK FROM THE BRINK AND MAK­ING A KILLING AROUND THE WORLD WITH ITS STYLISH COLD-WEATHER GEAR.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - CONTENTS - STORY JOSEPHINE McKENNA

Not just for skiers, Mon­cler has cap­tured ev­ery mar­ket, from skater kids to women who wear their jack­ets to La Scala.

Ruffini’s soft brown eyes light up when he’s asked about his favourite win­ter sport.“I love ski­ing, I go to St Moritz,” says the 56-year-old Ital­ian entrepreneur. “I live in Como and we are very close to the Swiss bor­der. If I am not work­ing I go ev­ery week­end in the win­ter.” Zigzag­ging across the fall line through a layer of fresh pow­der seems ap­pro­pri­ate for a man who trans­formed the near-bank­rupt sports­wear firm Mon­cler into a global pow­er­house known for its plush down jack­ets and other win­ter ap­parel.

Ruffini bought the brand in 2003 and as chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive has built it into one of Italy’s lead­ing lux­ury brands by clev­erly ex­ploit­ing its orig­i­nal iden­tity while adding new lines that con­tin­u­ally sur­prise the mar­ket and re­de­fine how sports­wear is per­ceived. The Mon­cler web­site is dot­ted with im­ages of moun­tain climbers and skiers travers­ing spec­tac­u­lar snow-capped peaks, but these days it’s also col­lab­o­rat­ing with in­no­va­tive de­sign­ers and cre­at­ing eye-catch­ing ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns that give a new gen­er­a­tion a con­tem­po­rary take on the brand. The glam­orous June wed­ding be­tween Hol­ly­wood star Jes­sica Chas­tain and Mon­cler ex­ec­u­tive Gian Luca Passi de Pre­po­sulo also cre­ated plenty of head­lines and added to the brand’s ap­peal.

Ruffini is seated in his of­fice in his Mi­lan head­quar­ters wear­ing a tai­lored jacket and crisp white shirt. The walls are painted in sooth­ing cof­fee-coloured tones, the floors are paved in dark mar­ble and there’s a clas­sic sculp­ture sit­ting on a shelf across the room. Vast show­rooms on the floor be­low him are await­ing the ar­rival of the lat­est col­lec­tion as Ruffini dis­cusses Mon­cler’s chang­ing iden­tity and de­mo­graphic. “We sell jack­ets to young kids who love surf­ing and snow­board­ing right up to women who wear our jack­ets to the of­fice or a night at the opera at La Scala,” he says.“We don’t want to con­cen­trate on one tar­get.”

Ruffini has moved from cre­at­ing what he calls “the world’s best down jacket” to col­lab­o­rat­ing with Ital­ian haute cou­ture de­signer Gi­ambat­tista Valli and edgy Amer­i­can de­signer Thom Browne. Virgil Abloh, the Amer­i­can de­signer be­hind cult la­bel Off White and Kanye West’s for­mer cre­ative di­rec­tor, has also pro­duced his own line of streetwear for Mon­cler. Ruffini says: “I don’t like to just show the last jacket, the last prod­uct. We have to show our en­ergy, our ideas, our men­tal­ity.”

The chief ex­ec­u­tive’s ap­proach ap­pears to be a recipe for suc­cess. Last year Mon­cler’s world­wide sales topped €1 bil­lion ($1.5bn) and con­tin­ued to rise 18 per cent in the first half of 2017. Ruffini’s per­sonal wealth was re­cently es­ti­mated by Forbes magazine to be a stag­ger­ing $US1.98bn ($2.5bn). Ruffini in­sists he has only five Mon­cler jack­ets in his wardrobe (“I’m very faith­ful”) but the fa­ther of two does have a Swiss chalet in St Moritz and a 60m su­pery­acht, the At­lante, which

he uses to cruise around the Mediter­ranean in the sum­mer with his wife, Francesca.

It’s hard to imag­ine the qui­etly spo­ken Ital­ian rub­bing shoul­ders with A-list celebri­ties like Madonna, Leonardo Di Caprio, Princess Caroline or Drake, who are all fans of the brand. But Ruffini is ef­fu­sive when dis­cussing the com­pany’s phe­nom­e­nal growth. “When I bought the com­pany we started with pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion and then worked on tech­nol­ogy and qual­ity and sell­ing the best in the world,” he says.“I grew slowly but I wanted to es­tab­lish a su­per qual­ity prod­uct.”

Few peo­ple re­alise Mon­cler is now an Ital­ian brand. It was founded by French moun­taineers René Ramil­lon and An­dre Vin­cent in 1952, and draws its name from Mon­estier-de-Cler­mont, a tiny alpine vil­lage with 1200 in­hab­i­tants near Greno­ble. At first the com­pany pro­duced tents and quilted sleep­ing bags. The first down jack­ets were worn by work­ers over their over­alls to pro­tect them from the harsh tem­per­a­tures at high al­ti­tudes. “It was the first down jacket in the world,” says Ruffini. “For us it is very im­por­tant to keep these roots. They were the first, we try to be the best.”

In the early 1950s the brand caught the eye of French moun­taineer Lionel Ter­ray, and Mon­cler pro­duced a spe­cial­ist range of down jack­ets, gloves and sleep­ing bags en­ti­tled “Mon­cler pour Lionel Ter­ray”. In 1954 Mon­cler equipped the ex­pe­di­tion, led by Ital­ians Achille Com­pagnoni and Lino Lacedelli, that con­quered K2, the world’s sec­ond high­est moun­tain. A year later it sup­plied down jack­ets to a French ex­pe­di­tion that scaled Mount Makalu, another fa­mous peak in the Hi­malayas. Mon­cler’s pro­file broad­ened when it was named the of­fi­cial sup­plier of the French na­tional down­hill ski team at the 1968 Win­ter Olympics in Greno­ble. It even adopted as its logo the cock­erel, the un­of­fi­cial sym­bol of France.

Sport­ing en­dorse­ments helped to raise the brand’s in­ter­na­tional pro­file over the years but Mon­cler failed to keep pace with its ri­vals and by the turn of the cen­tury it was strug­gling to sur­vive. Ruffini had be­gun his ca­reer work­ing in the US for his fa­ther’s cloth­ing com­pany, Gian­franco Ruffini, and re­turned to Italy in 1984. He founded and later sold his own cloth­ing la­bel be­fore be­com­ing cre­ative di­rec­tor for Mon­cler in 1999. He saw an op­por­tu­nity and bought the brand four years later.

“My mum gave me a Mon­cler jacket when I was about 15,” he told one in­ter­viewer at the time. “I lived near Como and when I went to school on my mo­tor­cy­cle it warmed me up. So in my mind it was a fa­mous, pop­u­lar brand even though it had dis­ap­peared a bit from the mar­ket.” Ruffini could never have dreamed the com­pany he ac­quired would be val­ued at close to €4bn when it de­buted on the Ital­ian stock exchange in 2013. It was the largest pub­lic list­ing of an Ital­ian brand since Prada in Hong Kong two years ear­lier.

Mario Ortelli, who heads lux­ury goods anal­y­sis for Bernstein in Lon­don, said at the time that the real chal­lenge for Mon­cler in the long run was to de­crease its de­pen­dency on its core prod­uct. Four years later Ortelli says that strat­egy is bear­ing fruit. “The com­pany is suc­ceed­ing with its strat­egy and it has been able so far to en­gage con­sumers with a style in con­tin­u­ous evo­lu­tion and with high-pro­file col­lec­tions in col­lab­o­ra­tion with es­tab­lished brands and de­sign­ers,” Ortelli tells WISH.

Ruffini still owns a 20 per cent stake in the brand and is in­volved in ev­ery as­pect of the busi­ness from de­sign and pro­duc­tion to mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing. To­day, how­ever, he seems less in­ter­ested in talk­ing about high fi­nance and more in­ter­ested in feath­ers. “The size of the feather, the colour of the feather is crit­i­cal,” he says. “We don’t use heavy feath­ers, they must be light and white. If you have one black spot it is not good enough. “We re­ally want to have the best.” Once the feath­ers came from aquatic birds in the French re­gions of Brit­tany and Perig­ord, but now that

Mon­cler is sell­ing more than a mil­lion jack­ets a year it has sup­pli­ers in Italy, Hun­gary, Poland, the US and Canada. “We are sourc­ing feath­ers from around the world. We are grow­ing so we al­ways need more and more. When­ever we find good pro­duc­tion and good qual­ity we try to buy as much as we can.”

Mon­cler con­sumes tonnes of feath­ers ev­ery season, us­ing about 300g per jacket. The down must sat­isfy 11 qual­ity pa­ram­e­ters and pass through a rig­or­ous dust­ing, wash­ing and dis­in­fect­ing. Sen­si­tive to com­plaints from an­i­mal ac­tivists, the com­pany says there are strict con­trols on its sup­pli­ers and is adamant that no goose is mis­treated or sub­jected to “live pluck­ing”. Mon­cler uses dif­fer­ent plumes from the goose to cre­ate the best com­bi­na­tion of light­ness and ther­mal in­su­la­tion.

“To have the light­est weight in the mar­ket is im­por­tant for peo­ple who are trav­el­ling a lot,” Ruffini says. “They want some­thing easy to put in their bag when they’re trav­el­ling to Hong Kong where it is very hot or land­ing in Tokyo when it may be very cold.” Ruffini’s com­mit­ment to qual­ity and brand di­ver­sity has led to bur­geon­ing growth in Europe, the US, the Mid­dle East and Asia. Ev­ery year Mon­cler shows five dif­fer­ent cloth­ing col­lec­tions in Mi­lan, Paris and New York. Apart from the sig­na­ture col­lec­tion, there is Mon­cler Gamme Rouge for women de­signed by Gi­ambat­tista Valli and the Mon­cler Gamme Bleu menswear line cre­ated by Thom Browne. Los An­ge­les-based de­signer Greg Lau­ren, nephew of Ralph Lau­ren, has also been fea­tured as a guest de­signer. His eclec­tic cap­sule col­lec­tion for Mon­cler shown in Paris last year re­worked clas­sic de­signs with vin­tage fab­rics, tents and duf­fel bags.

‘‘I love tak­ing iconic ideas and rein­ter­pret­ing them through the artis­tic blen­der, de­con­struct­ing what we thought we knew, so that we see it dif­fer­ently,” Lau­ren said. Mon­cler’s un­con­ven­tional im­age has also been re­in­forced by fash­ion shows like the space age “flash mob” that took over Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion dur­ing New York fash­ion week in 2011 and provoca­tive ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns where it is often hard to find a prod­uct or logo.

For this year’s fall-win­ter cam­paign Mon­cler has for the sec­ond time paired Chi­nese artist Liu Bolin with Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher An­nie Lei­bovitz, who placed the artist in a sur­real Nordic land­scape. Known as “the in­vis­i­ble man”, the artist is de­picted dis­ap­pear­ing into an ice­berg. The cam­paign, shot in Ice­land, un­der­scores the com­pany’s com­mit­ment to en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity while re­in­forc­ing Mon­cler’s cold-cli­mate cre­den­tials. There was no prod­uct in sight – Ruffini in­sists it is more im­por­tant for cus­tomers to “un­der­stand our phi­los­o­phy” than see the goods up front. Con­sumers seem to agree: Mon­cler recorded its 14th con­sec­u­tive quar­ter of dou­ble-digit growth in the first half of 2017 and it now has 191 mono­brand stores and 46 multi­brand stores around the world. Asia is driv­ing the ex­pan­sion but Euro­pean stores are also filled with Asian trav­ellers look­ing to take an Ital­ian sou­venir home.

De­spite soar­ing sum­mer tem­per­a­tures in Mi­lan, the com­pany’s bou­tique on Via della Spiga is filled with shop­pers brows­ing the brand’s fall col­lec­tion. In Septem­ber Mon­cler plans to open its re­vamped flag­ship store around the cor­ner on Via Mon­te­napoleone. In­side the Via della Spiga bou­tique there are racks of shiny ski jack­ets in the brand’s sig­na­ture colours of red and blue, multi-coloured rain­coats, fur-cov­ered shoes and a line of chil­dren’s wear in­clud­ing a down sleep­ing set for in­fants. Ev­ery down jacket comes with a two-year guar­an­tee, wash­ing instructions and a cer­tifi­cate af­firm­ing it meets in­ter­na­tional qual­ity guide­lines.

Ruffini says de­mand is grow­ing in Hong Kong, Ja­pan and South Korea and there are 28 stores in China. Mon­cler also hopes to cap­i­talise on Asian tourism with the re­cent open­ing of its first Aus­tralian store at Mel­bourne’s Chad­stone shop­ping cen­tre. The 200sqm store opened its doors in April and Ruffini says he’s sur­prised at the en­thu­si­as­tic re­sponse from Aus­tralian con­sumers. “We have had an in­cred­i­bly good re­ac­tion – hon­estly I would say one of the best for a new coun­try.”

Dec­o­rated in white guil­loche mar­ble and brass, the Chad­stone store was de­signed by the French duo Gilles & Boissier. Ruffini is al­ready talk­ing about open­ing another store in Syd­ney but first he wants to get bet­ter ac­quainted with his Aus­tralian cus­tomers’ tastes. “A guy liv­ing in Mel­bourne has a dif­fer­ent men­tal­ity to one in Harbin or Mi­lan. We don’t do spe­cific pro­duc­tion for ev­ery coun­try, but we try to un­der­stand what they want. We will take it step by step – we want to have good re­la­tions with our cus­tomers.”

“To have the light­est weight in the mar­ket is im­por­tant for peo­ple who are trav­el­ling a lot.”

W

Remo Ruffini, chair­man, CEO and part-owner of Mon­cler

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