There is luxury. And then there’s Stefano Ricci. To most people, Stefano Ricci is an enigma; a brand we would have passed by— in Singapore, its sole boutique is nestled right in the underpass that connects the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands with the Marina Bay Sands hotel—but wouldn’t necessarily be drawn to enter. It’s not that the exterior of the boutique looks intimidating because it doesn’t. Or at the very least, it doesn’t look any more intimidating than that of any other luxury label.
Most likely, it’s because we’re not the world’s 0.001 percent that makes up the majority of its clientele.
Among them is multi award-winning opera singer Andrea Bocelli, Hollywood’s Tom Cruise, and the late Nelson Mandela. Oh, and quite possibly the current president of Russia. “The only way we found out was because we saw him on television and could see that the lining of his blazer was a Stefano Ricci original,” Filippo Ricci tells me. He would know; Filippo is Stefano Ricci’s creative director and the youngest son of the brand’s namesake.
Established and based in Florence, Italy, the Stefano Ricci brand has been around for less than 50 years. It started as a brand selling handmade ties in 1972 and quickly grew to include a whole range of ready-to-wear and its now-signature crocodile leather belts with eagle-head belt buckles. Stefano Ricci opened its first boutique at The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai in 1993. This was well before China became the market that it’s grown to be now; a move that the Stefano Ricci team is proud to have initiated. The brand now has 14 boutiques in China alone.
A Stefano Ricci pocket square will cost you USD200 and anything else that you’d like from its men’s, junior, home and
lifestyle categories, as well as anything you’d want bespoke, skyrockets from there. The prices are not unjustifiable. Anything that bears the Stefano Ricci name is entirely handmade in the brand’s privately owned manufacturing outposts in Florence. There are no markdowns for sales. “Whatever we can’t sell after a couple of seasons, we destroy,” Filippo explains. He goes on to say that in this way, the brand protects its quality and authenticity, and clients are ensured of the value paid.
Filippo’s older brother and Stefano Ricci’s chief executive officer, Niccolo Ricci, adds: “Florence is our secret weapon. It’s an added value [to the brand].” It’s in Florence that one gets to truly experience and understand the scale, craftsmanship and logistics that go behind Stefano Ricci.
Among the workshops that the Ricci family owns, the Antico Setificio Fiorentino silk mill is the oldest. The mill has been around since 1786 and was previously owned by the Emilio Pucci family before Stefano Ricci acquired it in 2010. The timehonoured processes since the establishment of the mill haven’t changed much. Each stage of making a silk fabric is done by hand, with the help of machinery dating back to the 18th century. The most impressive is the early 19th-century vertical warper that was designed by Leonardo da Vinci, which helps the artisans prepare the warping threads (these make up the length of the fabric) for weaving. The silk fabrics—among them jacquards, brocades and damasks—produced by Antico Setificio Fiorentino are mainly used by the Stefano Ricci brand for its home collection.
With a lot of brands, and even some luxury houses, moving their production away from Europe, Stefano Ricci has stood by its ‘ made in Florence’ philosophy. But do clients see the value of where their purchases are made? Niccolo is sure of it. “I see today that people and consumers are trying to get an experience out of the product that they’re buying, so there must be a story behind it,” he says. “We try to invest as much as we can in the quality of the materials, in research and innovation. Everything is still handmade, but we try to find [different] treatments for leather, wool and cotton. There’s technology behind it to make [materials] softer and more appealing for our customers. And the fact that it’s done in Italy; they understand that there is a lot of added value compared to wherever else.”
So precious is this resource that the brand is ensuring that the Florentine craftsmanship skills will live on. Aside from having generations of artisans working for them, Stefano Ricci has made it a point of creating a conducive apprenticeship environment for the past 20 years. Young apprentices are attached to senior craftsmen for about two to three years to fully learn the craft; akin to an internal craftsmanship school spanning all departments under Stefano Ricci, including jewellery, shirting, ties and leather.
Niccolo is confident there is an increasing number of youths interested in the arts. He opines that there’s been a shift in the mentality where it used to be that securing deskbound jobs puts people in a socially better position. Now, working in production is somewhat of a novelty and especially if one is skilled at creating something special, the rewards could very well be more than that of working in front of a computer. “In the last five years, we see that the younger generation understands that this is something, if you know how to do it, you might be able to double your salary in five to six years,” Niccolo explains.
“Think about the way you would cut exotic skins. One wrong cut and you burn €1,000. But if you’re very talented and you’re able to make 100 shoes with maybe 85 instead of 100 skins, that’s where you get rewarded by the company in the long run.”
Exotic skins are one of Stefano Ricci’s specialities. At the brand’s headquarters along via Faentina—about nine kilometres away from the centre of Florence—exotic skins are kept in a temperature-controlled room. Here, a majority of the skins are crocodile and are arranged by as many colours as one could imagine possible. Filippo tells me that due to demand by clients, there has been an emphasis in constantly innovating the way the brand uses exotic skins. This has brought about a range of treatments including nubuck as well as shaving down the skins such that they get as thin as 0.6mm, opening up the possibility to applications beyond belts and bags.
The Stefano Ricci business is largely targeted at men with mini-sized options for juniors. There have been accessories here and there for women—mostly limited-edition pieces—but there are no plans to extend the Stefano Ricci brand into the women’s luxury market.
Niccolo jokes that in order to be committed to that level of expansion, he’d probably need two more brothers. “We’re already doing six collections a year. Add Salone del Mobile and that’s seven. If I were to add another six collections [for women], I could do it but it would be impossible to follow through it personally. When that happens, I feel that maybe that sense of uniqueness gets a little bit lost,” he adds.
Just off the coast of Punta Ala in Tuscany, the Ricci family brought me on board SaraStar. This super luxury yacht belongs to a long-time client of Stefano Ricci and is the second such yacht to be outfitted with fabrics from the Antico Setificio Fiorentino mill as well as the Stefano Ricci home collection. The superyacht made for a fitting space to present Stefano Ricci’s spring/summer 2019 collection. Inspired by nature and the vastness of the open sea, the Stefano Ricci man is primed for adventure (in the lap of luxury, no doubt) with technical silk blousons and knit travel jackets designed with hidden pockets.
The campaign for the spring/summer 2019 collection was shot on and around the highly protected island of Montecristo. It’s the same island that was made famous by Alexandre Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo. And one that the Ricci family had made special arrangements for a cruise within the restricted 4.8km radius that ships are normally prohibited from entering. Making the most extraordinary plans in the most extraordinary places; that’s the Stefano Ricci man.
It’s just the kind of story that Niccolo mentioned earlier. It’s not enough for a product to be made in Italy, with exotic materials and with exacting quality standards. What stands out is the story and crafting a unique vision of what lies next in the life of the Stefano Ricci man.
In a way, it’s a life that the Ricci family knows all too well. But when asked what luxury means to him, Niccolo simply puts his arms out, looks at the surrounding view of Punta Ala and says: “I think luxury is being able to do a job you like. Luxury is being able to spend the weekend with family and feel good about yourself. Waking up in the morning and doing something you really like; I think that’s the best of all.”