DIOR’S FORWARD STRIKER. The interview with Pietro Beccari, the new president of DIOR – in France they call him PDG (Président-directeur général) – took place at the Dior headquarters in Paris at 30 Avenue Montaigne, on the eve of the construction work that was scheduled to begin there. By chance, fifteen years ago the office we met in was the office of Mr. Bernard Arnault, the Chairman and Chief Executive of the LVMH Group. There is a portrait of Mr. Christian Dior done by a Chinese artist; in yellow and in blue, because Pietro considers Mr. Dior to be vital energy.
You are originally from outside Parma?
The town is called Basilicagoiano, a village of 1,200 inhabitants. And now I find myself here in Paris, in Dior headquarters. Life is funny like that, isn’t it?
How did it happen?
It was like a videogame, where you have different levels to get past, first one and then the next. You keep opening doors, and wait for the next level to open up. I’ve gone from one adventure to the next, without being too strategic, without having planned anything. I think it is important to have a good attitude in life.
What do you mean?
I say to young people that, in the end, perhaps having a good attitude is more important than books, than what you study, than what you plan, than all the strategies you have in your mind. Opportunities are circling all around us, and, if you have a good attitude, you recognize them as opportunities and then take advantage of them. If you don’t have this kind of attitude they will pass you by. Curiosity, courage, and a certain amount of ambition, by which I mean a willingness to make sacrifices, to work to reach objectives, to give everything down to the last second, a bit like the attitude of an athlete. I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone – and I’ve met a lot of successful people – who didn’t work hard to reach the position they’d attained. Often, people want to get results by doing the least amount possible. In my experience it’s not like this.
How long have you been together with your wife Elisabetta?
My wife Elisabetta and I met in Basilicagoiano at nursery school when I was five and she was three. Then we did elementary school in the same place, in different classes because she is younger, but in the same school. For high school, I studied classics while she studied science so we took different paths, but we got together when she was sixteen and I was eighteen. We got married when she was twenty-five and I was twenty-seven. It has been thirty-four years now that we’ve been together, and this year will be our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.
You have three daughters?
Yes, all of them born in Düsseldorf, Germany, where I was an executive with Henkel for ten years. When I got there I didn’t speak a word of German.
You had worked in America before?
After getting married in Milan we left for the United States in 1994. We were in Montclair, New Jersey, where we lived in a small flat that was only forty-five square metres for three years while I worked for Parmalat. When we left for Germany Elisabetta was pregnant with my first daughter. We had some wonderful years in Germany. I moved up through the ranks: from a product manager in the marketing department, I became the manager of the hair-care division, then shampoos and hair colour. I was one of the top fifteen executives in the company.
Why did you come to Paris?
Elisabetta said, “Listen, Germany is nice. We’ve had a nice life, but Düsseldorf is not really the city where I want to raise my daughters. Let’s see what else is out there.” I began looking immediately, and after two months I had an offer from Louis Vuitton, which was surprising because I had never worked in luxury, I didn’t have many luxury goods, and I stayed away from luxury boutiques because I didn’t want to spend too much money.
What was this offer?
Louis Vuitton called me to be vice president of marketing and communications, the right-hand man to the top man. I knew nothing about luxury, and I didn’t even speak French. But the more you see, the more you realize “I actually know very little!” This is the motto of our life.
“Dior is the brand dreams are made of.”
You say you don’t know a lot, but you have succeeded?
I don’t consider myself a success story. I have travelled a wonderful path that I’m proud of having taken. I don’t feel like I’m at the end of the road, and I still have a strong desire inside to learn, to see, to discover, to evolve.
You headed up Fendi, didn’t you?
We returned to Italy after our eighteen years abroad and I was President and CEO at Fendi from 2006 to 2012. We made great strides, and I’m very proud of that. I left behind many wonderful friends, connections, and memories. I believe they would feel the same because we were able to double the brand and to push it beyond a billion euros in only five years.
What did you do?
We repositioned the Fendi brand around Rome, putting the focus on the brand’s Roman qualities, distancing it from its competitors. At that time Karl Lagerfeld began to say we were friends, and I was proud of this. Karl was an exceptional representative for the Fendi brand and we put him and Silvia Venturini Fendi, one of the daughters, at the centre of the mechanism. We had a fashion show at the Trevi Fountain, which we had restored, along with various others. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event, historic, inimitable, an extraordinary evening.
Then they called me from Dior. It belonged to Mr. Arnault personally, then it was ceded to the group. LVMH paid 6.5 billion, and obviously promised that they’d develop the brand so it would justify such a high amount. The challenge is to take Dior to an ever higher level and allow it to grow a great deal. My task is to guide the company toward this objective, with an ambitious three-year plan to increase market share in all markets. This is my mission, along with my team.
What is Dior?
Dior is 7,000 people throughout the world, almost 300 stores, and Dior is the brand dreams are made of, because its founder decided to create this brand, when he was forty-two, already well into his life, and after the horrors, the disaster, the dark times of war. He decided to say: “I will bring my dreams to life and create my brand.”
What did he do?
He was a gallery owner and an illustrator, a lover of art and gardening, who made designs for other creators, and then he decided to design dresses himself. As a couturier with his own brand, with his surname, his mission was to make women after the war not just more beautiful but happier, realizing their dreams in a sense when he had realized his as a reaction to the horrors of war. Dior, as a brand, was founded based on a sense of optimism about life, about people, with a courageous act, because, at the time not everyone founded brands in their own name. Mr. Dior raised enough money to be able to embark upon this adventure. He did this with ambition, the way I love to do, starting with fragrances and with haute couture.
He made fragrances?
Yes, immediately. He launched fragrances during the first fashion show, so for him it was a complete brand that was meant to go from the senses to aesthetics, and this is why I say the brand is a dream based on an optimistic foundation. We aren’t here to preserve the brand because, these days, it is no longer modern to preserve brands. I say to my people and to myself every day that the brand needs to stay current, it needs to evolve and keep up with the times while still respecting its core values, and this aspect is very important. We are here to get back in touch with the original energy that Mr. Dior had when he decided to say, “I don’t care about the war. I don’t care what anyone says. I’m going to risk it all and found my brand.” If we can get back in touch with that spirit and adapt it to today, then we will be able to create something successful.
“Perhaps having a good attitude is more important than books, than what you study, than what you plan, than all the strategies you have in your mind.”
What is Dior today?
It is fashion, fragrances, jewels, and products for the home, so it is a mix of things. When I say fashion, I mean everything: shoes, bags, hats, swimsuits. We’ve just launched “Dior Riviera”, which is products made for the beach, to meet the needs of clients in the places they go on holiday. We are in Mykonos, Forte dei Marmi, Portofino, Capri, Ibiza. With this line of swimsuits, cover-ups, and beach towels, we go where the clients go and are trying to put a new face on the brand.
Luxury, and class as well. Dior is a classy brand. It is a brand of dreams, but it also has an innate class that Mr. Dior was able to create.
Is he a legend? In all the books that mention Dior, you see photographs of the most famous divas.
Dior is certainly a legend. From Marlene Dietrich to Sofia Loren to the Princess Grace of Monaco. In the Christian Dior Museum in Granville, where Mr. Dior was born, we currently have a show of all of the dresses purchased by the Principality of Monaco and worn by the princess.
Does this tradition still go on today?
Stars, queens, the wives of heads of state, are happy to wear Dior, as well as others. We also have people that are interested in the brand but don’t have the means to buy haute-couture or ready-to-wear dresses, so they buy accessories, little objects that might be bracelets, necklaces, small bags, or wallets. Dior has the ability to sell a dream to people who perhaps can’t shop for it all.
There have been many Dior designers, is Dior still Dior?
Dior is still Dior in terms of fundamental values seen through different eyes, from Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan to Gianfranco Ferré, to John Galliano to Raf Simons. Today, we have Maria Grazia Chiuri for womenswear and Kim Jones for menswear. I hired Kim Jones as soon as I arrived, to bring a sense of vitality to the important area of menswear as well.
In the latest haute couture collection why was there a lot of black?
This was a really strong stylistic point of view from Maria Grazia, because with black you can appreciate the volumes, shapes, the folds. It was a way to bring prestige and place importance, highlighting the amazing work of the atelier.
In which countries are you most successful?
We are seeing very balanced growth for Dior in all countries and with all of the clientele, and we’ve seen incredible returns from European clients for example. In Italy, we are seeing extraordinary success, and I’m very happy for that. Maria Grazia and I together, we are two Italians.
Is Italy doing better than elsewhere?
We take stock of our clientele more than the countries where we have success. We follow the clients, because each client fills out a questionnaire saying where they are from, etc. So even if an Italian makes a purchase in Moscow or in China we know that he or she is Italian, and at the end of the year we compile this data. We know who the Italians are, who the French people are, regardless of where they buy. Our business is going well with the Americas.
What about Asia?
Asia has become an incredibly important market. If we weren’t doing well in Asia, we wouldn’t be doing well at all.
Obviously you have stores all over the world?
We have stores in sixty-eight countries. I was recently in Ho Chi Minh City to renew a contract. I take more than two-hundred airplanes per year. Traveling is part of the attitude of being curious to learn, learning from the competition, understanding the markets, talking with the teams, letting them know that you are there, because we could have the best strategies here, but they are the ones selling to the client. They are the ones who decide whether we win or lose.
What about the Internet and mail order?
It is more and more important, but the customers that buy online are the customers that buy in the shop. They may shop online from home but then they come into the store with a photo, or there’s the day it is raining and they don’t want to go out so they order online and it is at their home the next day. We call that “omnichannel”, a channel that needs to flow between online and offline, and if it doesn’t exist we haven’t done a good job. If it is an online purchase and you don’t like it, you need to be able to take it back to the shop around the corner.
How has Instagram changed things?
In today’s world you need to be authentically good to be good. You can’t fake being good and today clients don’t just buy a product. They approach a brand because they feel a kinship with the aesthetic and moral values. They want to hear the story behind the product that makes it well made.
Where does Dior make its products?
Dior products are made exclusively in Italy or in France.
What changes of location are you now making in Paris?
As an act of respect toward what 30 Rue Montaigne represents – where the brand was founded, it is at the heart of our DNA, it is where the heart of Dior beats – we are bringing back the nobility it deserves. This is an ambitious project requiring two years of work that gives Montaigne a more central, more key role in the everyday.
What are you doing in the meantime?
We are closing the store here and we opened on the Champs-Élysées on July 12th, a wonderful adventure. It will have all product categories, so there will still be continuity with the business in Paris, and we hope the clients will follow us from here in Montaigne to the Champs-Élysées, known as the most beautiful avenue in the world.
Is the atelier also moving?
They are going around the corner, nearby.
Pietro and Elisabetta Beccari with Karl Lagerfeld.
Pietro Beccari, Kim Jones, Bella Hadid and Karl Lagerfeld attend the Dior Homme Menswear Spring/Summer 2019 in Paris.
Pietro and Elisabetta Beccari at the Rome Opera.
Elisabetta and Pietro Beccari, Marrakech April 2019
Pietro Beccari with Monsieur and Madame Arnault in Marrakech, April 2019
Pietro and Elisabetta Beccari at the Dior Tiepolo Ball in Venice, 2019
“If I am able to light a “holy fire” in people, then I’ve done a good job as a boss.”
What kind of a manager are you?
I very much like to work as a team. I am someone who prefers to lead others by shared values and vision, getting them on board with the project as opposed to having them follow me out of fear. I spend a lot of time saying where we are going, and why I want to go there. For me, it is ideal when people are ready to do anything it takes to reach objectives. If I am able to light a “holy fire” in people, then I’ve done a good job as a boss. I’m a person who can adapt his style to his employees and bring out the best in each. At the end of the day I have my ideas, and I know how to get others to respect me. This is the boss I try to be, but I don’t know if I am always successful.
Do you take a lot of risks?
We often joke with Mr Arnault and tell him that he has hired someone who is an attacking forward more than a goalkeeper. In reality the concept is more of a trainer who prefers attacking schemes. By attacking you make a few mistakes and you make more goals. In the end, we will score more than the others. I am using a sport analogy to talk about the desire we have to invest. Things are moving at Dior. Things are happening, as we said, so this is a risk we take. Closing Montaigne and opening on the Champs-Elysées is certainly a risk, but, in life, if you don’t take risks you are scared, and those guided by fear don’t get anywhere. You need to try to achieve your dreams, your vision, because otherwise you set objectives. Objectives don’t make you look much further than your own nose, while if you say, “I have a dream”…
What is your dream?
I have many dreams for Dior, which I would like to be even more important in terms of sales. It is already an amazing brand, but we can develop Dior even more. I have a dream to make Montaigne once again a place where millions of people go to visit because of its unique qualities. “Don’t think big, think huge,” I say. If you have big dreams or visions, there is always time to adapt them later.
You have worked in Italy, America, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, is it the same all over?
Obviously, I’ve been fortunate to come into contact with many cultures, to have learned something from each, to have adapted, and learnt languages. To manage you need to interpret the moment, the mentality of people, and adapt your own style if you want others to follow you and give you their best, each with their own characteristics. Americans have to have clear, precise objectives, and need to be motivated from that point of view; there isn’t a lot of room for improvisation. Italians are often very good at improvising, and that is their strength. The Germans are a bit slow to understand, but when they get on the right path they don’t give up, are very serious and profound. We Italians have the flaw of being a bit superficial. The French are a mix of Germans and Italians, also very reliable they have less imagination than we do, but they still have this ability, especially in fashion, that comes from their DNA, the luxury DNA. Luxury brands are either French or Italian, and without offending anyone else there are very few luxury brands outside these two countries.
Asia is the future, isn’t it?
If you look at the worldwide economy, and at the importance Asia has in our business, I would say that it is very much in the present.
How do they see us?
In terms of my industry, with a great deal of admiration. There are many young Asians who want to come and work with us. They go to university in Europe, learn about luxury and adore high price, high quality products.
You didn’t have much of an interest in luxury, but now you are on the inside. What is the difference? Were you sceptical?
I was sceptical. I didn’t think I’d be able to understand this world, which was so outside of my realm. I’ve become really passionate about it, especially high quality products, the attention to detail, the artisans, all of the care that goes into it. Everyone asks me, “What is luxury for you?” First and foremost it is the excitement a luxury product brings you, the excitement of touching it, picking it up, understanding how it was made; the excitement of wanting to buy something beautiful that, beyond just the eyes, strikes you in the heart. This is the excitement I felt when I approached this world, and it has become a passion.
Has this job changed you?
It has certainly changed the way I see things, even my personal taste. It has opened my eyes to art, it has taken me around the world, allowing me to understand cultures. I have met amazing people – I mentioned Karl Lagerfeld. I can also mention Marc Jacobs, Silvia Fendi, Maria Grazia Chiuri, and Kim Jones. I have worked with amazing creators, I have worked with artists on collaborations, with architects like Peter Marino on designs. It has truly enriched and satisfied certain instincts I wasn’t aware that I had. Returning to the mass market to sell shampoo, hair colour, or detergents would be difficult for me.
Paris, July 2019.
Portrait of Pietro Beccari by Jackie Nickerson
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