THE GENIUS OF MONCLER. Remo Ruffini is the chairman and chief executive of Moncler. Since his purchase of the Moncler Group in 2003, he has helped establish the company as a leading luxury group. In 2018 he was named “Knight of Labour” in Italy, one of the highest recognitions bestowed by the president of the Italian Republic.
Remo Ruffini, you are from Como, Italy, and started your career in your father Gianfranco’s clothing company in the United States. You came back to Italy and created your own brand, New England, which you sold in the year 2000. When did you become the creative director of Moncler?
Did you think then that the Moncler brand, which was not navigating in good waters, would become the extraordinary global success that it is today?
When I sold New England I started looking for a prominent brand with a strong proposition. Moncler was familiar to me, because as a boy I used to wear Moncler every day in the winter. I love the mountains, skiing, the winter, and I have loved the Moncler logo since ever. When they told me Moncler was on the market I was very interested. It was founded in Grenoble in 1952, worn by the French ski team at the Winter Olympics in 1968, and in the 80s was very fashionable for the younger generation in Milan, Tokyo and Paris. I started by working on the quality, because quality in these kinds of products is very important, so I reorganized the company’s production facilities and systems, and I opened my first store in Paris in 2009. This was a turning point.
In those days Italian young people wore overcoats in the winter, brands like Loden. The Moncler anorak was sportswear. Now the way of life in winter has completely changed, most people don’t even have a coat, they use anoraks, day and night, on mountains and in cities. How did you become the pioneer of this inflection point?
In the 70s and 80s the Moncler jacket weighed more than one kilo. It was great for mountains, but even in Como was too hot for the winter season. Now one jacket can be100 grams, how you wear it is very flexible, and it is convenient to pack when you travel. You can use them every day in the city, but when I bought the brand it was basically sporting goods, alpine and ski wear. My game plan was to work very hard to turn the company from an Alpine mountain product to a city product, where the big market is. Goose down is a light weight magician that is both comfortable and very warm at the same time. Today the company is international; we sell all over, in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai. We have a collection that can cover every region, every moment of the year. You could say that they don’t need them in Hong Kong in July, but even there they do need them in the office, because offices are very cold in Southeast Asia!
“We have worked really hard on traceability, and animal welfare and all our down is certified under a strict protocol.”
MONCLER GENIUS 2020
Until a few years ago nobody wore sneakers in day to day life or at work, but now everybody wears them. Just as we don’t wear leather shoes anymore, we do not wear coats either? Is it a revolution in our way of dressing?
Five or six years ago the world changed a lot, and what we call casualization is becoming stronger and stronger. In the United States now you normally don’t see men in suits and ties, the classic garments. This casualization movement made sneakers, sport jackets, and sweatshirts very fashionable and trendy. It is a totally different way of dressing. Stores that sold classic shoes, now around 70 percent of their offer is Nike or Adidas, and all the luxury brands like Gucci and Saint Laurent make sneakers. Even Loro Piana, which was one of the most classic brands.
Does Moncler make sneakers?
Yes, not as successfully as jackets, but we try our best to make a good product. Our culture is really the down jacket, and it is not an obvious move to turn Moncler into a sneakers company, but people ask for a Moncler sneaker.
Moncler is quite expensive, in the luxury goods niche. Many other companies make anoraks, like Uniqlo who are very light and cheap. Are you in competition or is theirs a completely other world?
In today’s world, quality and brand perception means a lot. Uniqlo is an amazing brand and they make very good product. It is not cheap, it is inexpensive. It is in a totally different world, and we don’t compete with them. Uniqlo is this huge fast fashion brand where you can find anything and everything, not only down jackets, and at prices 90 percent less than the fashion brands.
In your anorak you use very special goose down, and they say that you, Remo Ruffini, are careful, attentive to each detail and quality. Have you made a lot of changes to your product?
Yes. I work a lot on the product, because it is very important for our long term strategy and vision. We have worked really hard on traceability, and animal welfare and all our down is certified under a strict protocol. We have the best quality product available on the market, and it’s very difficult, because we need tons of high quality down every year and we have to source them from all around the world.
Why did you create the Moncler Genius program? Craig Green, an important British designer with exhibitions in the Victoria and Albert, the Metropolitan Museum and so on, is one of the designers of new line in 2020, and you had many others before, including Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino and Simone Rocha. Why do you give different famous designers the opportunity to create new collection?
A few years ago the world changed over to digital, giving us much more opportunity to talk with our community of customers around the world. We can do so every day, and two or three years ago I decided to turn our seasonal business – spring/summer and autumn/winter – into a business that delivers content and projects, has a collection, every month. Not just to sell more, but also to have an easier discussion with my customers. Five or six years ago you shot a campaign with a famous photographer or a fantastic model and then bought pages around the world in magazines or newspapers, and the marketing strategy was more or less finished. Today, the only way to talk with the young generation is through a social network, and because social networks are completely different in Asia, Japan, China, Europe and the United States, you need a lot of content and you need a lot of culture. These digital channels are not obvious; in China there is an integrated platform that includes social network, shopping, payment, everything, while in Europe and America we have Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. But all around the world people want to surf the web and find new Moncler content. This is why I founded Genius, basically a house with eight floors with eight designers inside. Each designer can develop his own creativity with his own ideas, and every month we present a collection in the stores and we have new content, everything is 360 degrees around that designer. Unique in our industry, Genius was a turning point for Moncler. We attract a much younger generation, and today Moncler is quite a modern brand compared to five years ago.
“In today’s world you cannot just have a digital department, every department must talk digital in every moment of every day for everything.”
Where do you make the Moncler product range?
100% in Europe. Our directly owned facilities in Trebaseleghe (Padua) and Romania and where we have found amazing quality suppliers. We try to keep it as close as possible to Padua, say six or seven hours by truck, because we want to be as fast as we can while reaching one of the best qualities you can have in sportswear goods.
Your number one market is Asia, where China and Japan are your two biggest countries. I read that you have a special secret way of selling in China that makes you more successful than other luxury brands. Is this true?
You cannot make a collection for every region but you have to be as international as you can, not only to sell more but also to understand the diverse cultures better and better. Within Asia talking with a Japanese guy is totally different from talking with the guys from Shanghai or from Seoul. Korea, China and Japan are more than 30 percent of our revenue and big markets for us, but the biggest market in terms of quantities is still Europe. A lot of tourists visit Milan or Paris or London, and 50 percent or more come from China, Japan, the United States and Russia. Japan was always important for us, and China, whose younger generation is super smart, is growing very fast. They really care a lot about new ideas, products and collections. In the next years China can be bigger than the United States, which is much more informal and understated than the Chinese markets. I don’t have a special recipe. I have very good local teams, and try to be domestic but also respect our global strategy. At the end of the day we don’t compromise for any market. We are Moncler all around the world, but the recipe is that we try to understand the local culture as well.
China and Asia are more important than the United States for you because Americans are less interested in your product? Or is it China becoming richer?
For the luxury world, China is becoming stronger and stronger. They’re very keen on fashion. From Hong Kong to Beijing or Harbin, in every major city, all the best luxury brands can open a store. In the next years the very fast growing market will be bigger than the United States. The Sunbelt area that runs from Miami to Texas and L.A. doesn’t have a winter, so the US is not that strong for us there. But on the West and East Coast we have a very good market, in New York and Chicago, and in Miami for South American visitors.
This Corona virus pandemic is damaging our world, and in the first half of 2020, for the first time in your company’s life, you lost money. You created a corona virus task force to take care of the people who work with you, your product and your strategy. It seems that you are ever more keen on Internet commerce, because starting in October 2020 you are going to end slowly, but end, your long standing collaboration with Yoox Net-a-Porter (YNAP), and create your own digital culture. Why?
The communication, the advertising, the way we talked with our customers, was already 80 to 90 percent digital. My e-commerce has been outsourced to YNAP for about 10 years, and I talked with the CEO and said you did a very good job, but I now need to take back my e-commerce platform, because I want to improve the digital culture inside my company. In today’s world you cannot just have a digital department, every department must talk digital in every moment of every day for everything. But I also don’t think the physical spirit is going to disappear. The physical experience in store will continue, but needs to be different than today. We have to integrate the digital experience with the physical. That is why omni channel is the future.
What is omni channel?
People get in contact with the brand through different touchpoints from physical stores to e-commerce, e-tailers to social media.
In the multichannel experience online and offline coexist.
You have several hundred Moncler stores, mono brand, shops in shops. What are you going to change?
The experience. Three years ago transactions were only made through stores, but the future will not be the same. You can have the experience in store and then make the purchase at home on your computer, or when you leave the store you can buy your jacket on your mobile. In future people will not go into a store in to buy a product, but to understand the mood and the philosophy of a brand. The transaction itself is not important to them anymore, even if it’s actually very important for the company. When you go into stores today, the sales assistant is behind you, pushing you to buy something. In future they will have to explain the philosophy, the way the brand is, so that the customer understands what’s going on. It’s going to change the approach between the company and the consumer, a lot. For example, we’re soon going to open a new store in Paris where we really explain to the customer what’s going on with the brand. Today brand perspective is much more important than anything. Product quality is always very important, but to build up a dream and give a lot of energy and a strong sensation to the customer is much more important than everything. You can do a lot of things through digital, and when you are really able to combine the physical channel and the digital channel I think you can win the game.
An image from the Craig Green GENIUS collection for Moncler
Craig Green for Moncler
Craig Green for Moncler
Craig Green for Moncler
Craig Green, GENIUS for MONCLER
RIMOWA was one of the first travel brands to be featured as part of the Moncler Genius platform.
“Today brand perspective is much more important than anything.”
Now the world pays more and more attention to nature, to climate change, to sustainability problems and so on. Do you think a lot about the changes of taste in the younger generations?
Sustainability is very important for the young generation. It is important for luxury products, for jackets, for food, for everything. In 2015 we committed to integrate more and more sustainability into our business model. Sustainable development is a very long process that never ends. We already have fabrics and accessories that are 100 percent sustainable, and the whole company must be sustainable. It is a bit like the digital world. Ten years ago you had a digital division and a sustainable division inside your company. Now the whole company must be sustainable, it is one of the most important values for Moncler. Having said that, people all around the world are going to have new values after this coronavirus. Outdoor life is becoming much more important, and hiking could be one of the biggest sports. People are moving house from the city to outside, and will live more outdoors which is good for our brand, but at the moment business is difficult. Stores are open, but there is little traffic, and people are working less and less in the city.
My own Moncler anorak is 15 years old, and I still wear it every winter. Do people understand the value of quality?
Quality means it must last for life, and for me this is one of the biggest values of Moncler. We are not a fashion business, although we try to be contemporary. I also have the jacket that I bought in 2003 that I still use in the mountains every winter. After so many years you have a good romance in your mind, you tell your son, you tell your friends, and this good perception is the real advertising. Maybe you didn’t buy two jackets in the last 15 years, but you make a lot of advertising when people feel it is an amazing product.
What are you worried about because of Covid?
The world is very big and the Asian markets are growing very fast, but I don’t know if people are going to travel as before. Europe is a big market for us, mostly made up of travelers, but in future are there going to be planes full of people who travel to Paris to go shopping? Maybe we will have to fine tune something in our distribution. We have to wait and see, and flexibility is the word of today and of tomorrow morning. We have to learn how to listen to people around the world. This is the key for the next twelve months.
Neither you nor the world was prepared for this, so now you can no longer make long term programs?
A plan is very important in normal life. In today’s world you cannot make a 3 year plan or a 6 year plan. I care most about staying close to my customers, listening to them, tuned in to the market and trying to be as flexible as possible, capable of modifying our vision, our strategy, and our plan in the really short term. This is important.
These are the challenges of the time, and, if I’m not wrong, you are a man that likes challenges?
Yes, I like challenges, and there is also opportunity in today’s very uncertain world. The first five big technology brands doubled their market cap in three months. We are not in that new economy but we try to be as modern as we can. We are not depressed at all. We can find good new market opportunities and build a different company, one that is closer to the attitude that today needs.
Remo Ruffini, have you changed your way of working and are you going to change your way of life?
Everybody is remote working at home and this can’t last. I don’t think working at home is the future. For my business we need to be together. What is good is that we have ensured business continuity in the last three or four months and we continued to make new strategy and hold meetings. But personally, I need energy, to talk with my team, to brainstorm, in the middle of my company with my people. I really need to go back to travelling, to my offices in China, New York and London, to a normal life.
18th August 2020