Via Financial Times

In a sumptuous Milan palazzo that is home to ultra-luxe cashmere brand Loro Piana, deep sofas and armchairs arranged around the two-storey building give the visitor the impression of being in an exclusive private members’ club rather than a store.

For Fabio D’Angelantonio, chief executive of the 96-year-old company, that is precisely the intention.

“If people buy Loro Piana they like to feel a little bit like they are part of a club, a club of connoisseurs,” Mr D’Angelantonio said in an interview, sitting on a sofa upholstered in Loro Piana fabric overlooking a leafy cobbled courtyard.

Loro Piana has long emphasised the rarity of its materials and its culture of craftsmanship as a way of justifying the brand’s sky-high prices and to make it stand out from the increasingly democratised and industrialised nature of luxury. Now it is doubling down on the customer experience — the latest battleground for luring clients who already own everything that money can buy.

Social media feeds and blockbuster catwalks shows are widening access to the luxury market, but some brands — particularly at the very top end — are concerned that this is alienating the traditional luxury customers, who want to feel recognised, special and known.

A recent report from consultants Bain & Co argued that new growth in the luxury goods industry was going to be driven by brands that go beyond just offering shoppers a product and were able to also provide a mixture of new experiences and ideas, and even provoke emotions.

Loro Piana’s core materials are the likes of vicuña wool, sheared from miniature cinnamon-hued camelids that live in the high Andes, and the fleece of the Capra hircus, the so-called cashmere goat that is native to Inner Mongolia. These fibres might then be turned into a €7,260 baby cashmere wool coat or a €1,565 DolceVita jumper.

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The notion of trying to make the clients who are willing to pay these sorts of prices feel special stretches far beyond Loro Piana’s 90 or so directly operated own-brand stores, where visitors are encouraged to recline on sofas for hours while they browse the collections.

Vicunas Loro Piana
Loro Piana’s vicuña wool is sheared from miniature cinnamon-hued camelids that live in the high Andes © @Giulio Di Sturco

Loro Piana is increasingly cultivating these clients by offering them access to experiences. This might include entrance to a hard-to-get-into art exhibition in New York, a front-row seat at a glamorous equestrian event in Rome, or a berth on a yacht during a regatta in St Barths, said Mr D’Angelantonio, 50, a jocular Roman who joined Loro Piana three years ago from Luxottica, the Italian eyewear conglomerate.

“Our customer is the nomadic global elite,” he said. He defined this as “people who are in three different seasons and four different time zones in the same week. They start in Moscow, Beijing or London and can end the week in Ibiza, Gstaad or St Tropez.”

Part of what Loro Piana offers them — if they are forking out for its pricey cashmere — is an entry to actual “private club” style meeting with other kindred spirits. “We like to bring our customers together in groups of 20 or 50 people,” Mr D’Angelantonio said. “It’s a networking opportunity for people with similar [economic] situations. They can be Chinese, British, American, Russian, but in 15 minutes they realise what they have in common and are exchanging business cards.”

It’s not just a networking opportunity for the guests. Mr D’Angelantonio admitted he also used the gatherings as an opportunity to talk with his best customers and gather feedback. “Our entire proposition is to create products that sweeten their lifestyle,” he added.

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Loro Piana, an Italian family brand that sold control to the world’s largest luxury goods group LVMH in 2013, is not the only high-end house seeking to pamper VIPs. Brunello Cucinelli, founder of the eponymous label, recently hosted Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and other tech entrepreneurs at Solomeo, his medieval hilltop town in Umbria. Cruise collection fashion shows at brands such as Chanel, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana have become more elaborate every year — as they jet top customers to front-row seats in exotic locations from Havana to Capri. The dynasty behind Ermenegildo Zegna hosts top clients at its family villa in northern Italy.

Loro Piana goats Inner Mongolia
The wool of the so-called cashmere goat, native to Inner Mongolia, is used to make coats and jumpers that sell for thousands © Loro Piano

Having a glamorous family behind the brand is part of the attraction to clients, said Mr D’Angelantonio. LVMH bought 80 per cent of Loro Piana for €2bn, leaving 20 per cent in the hands of the sixth-generation scions of the Piedmont dynasty, which has been trading wool and textiles since the 19th century. Pier Giorgio Loro Piana remains as deputy chairman and, with his sister-in-law Luisa Loro Piana, “our muse”, said Mr D’Angelantonio.

Under LVMH, Loro Piana is expanding its range. Mr D’Angelantonio said that a recent expansion into shoes was bringing in younger customers. Interiors, including selling cashmere to upholster furniture, private jets and yachts, is a new frontier. “Bags are one middle-term category we want to win,” he added. It’s opening a huge skyscraper store in Tokyo this year designed by Japanese architect Jun Aoki.

Loro Piana’s new direction appears to be paying off. LVMH does not publish revenue numbers for individual brands, but analysts estimate that under LVMH’s ownership, Loro Piana’s sales have almost doubled from the €700m revenues recorded in its final year of family ownership.

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This puts it ahead of independently owned Italian rival Brunello Cucinelli, which made about €500m of revenues in 2018, but still a good way off France’s Hermès, which is renowned for its craftsmanship and recorded €6bn sales in 2018.

Mr D’Angelantonio said that the Loro Piana clientele was equally split between men and women, and it was getting younger every year as it tapped into demand from newly minted rich in Silicon Valley and China.

“We’ve got a brand in great health, we have built a good energy in the past three years,” he added. “Our customer is looking for luxury and rarity, and they are willing to pay for it. It’s a very elitist, snobbish club.”