A Profile in Luxury Retail Leadership – Gian Giacomo Ferraris, CEO, Versace


March 31, 2016

Gian Giacomo Ferraris

The demand for luxury figureheads to break into the realm of e-commerce has never been greater; and never more under utilized. According to a recent report from Business Insider, luxury consumers are expected to spend $37.4 billion in fashion alone in the next year, while a recent report from McKinsey & Co. indicates that the digital influence among luxury shoppers accounts for over 20 percent of their purchases. So what luxury figureheads are making strides to fill the gaps in the market? What brands are embracing digital culture with a forward thinking perspective?

Versace : A Case Profile

Venerable Italian fashion mogul Versace has never shied away from turbulence since its founding in 1978 by the late Gianni Versace. Since its heyday in the early 90s, marked by runway dominance, iconic advertising campaigns and the ever-present list of super models and a-list celebrities flaunting its latest designs, the company hit a spiral of over-saturation towards the end of the decade–with its once exclusive identity becoming firmly at odds with the more utilitarian approaches to fashion that paralleled with the rise of digital culture. To add insult to injury, the company overexposed itself by licensing designs and faced severe operational infrastructure through numerous executive changes in the early 2000s. When Gian Giacomo Ferraris, former CEO of German Luxury brand Jil Sander, was appointed CEO of the fashion pioneer, the question wasn’t what changes he would bring; the question was could he weather the storm?

“Fashion, Lifestyle and Luxury”—the Key Strands of the Versace DNA

Ferraris’s comments to the Business of Fashion blog last year indicated that he felt key lines in the Versace empire—the Atelier line and the Versus line—were “labs,” further indicating that fashion meant he was “obsessed with attracting younger generations.” Underlying this need to weave together three separate threads—fashion, lifestyle and luxury—into a strategy that would holistically reposition Versace into a brand that still maintained relevance to younger generations meant they had to use the dominant form of communication for younger generations; social media.

Ferraris vs. Social Media

“The Web is not just sales—it’s a way to interact with our customer, it’s a way to create intelligence, it’s a way to create the future… Fashion luxury lifestyle means secure the future and if you are not attracting the young generation, you will not have a future.” — Gian Giacomo Ferraris, panel discussion at the Financial Times’ “Business of Luxury” Summit, June 9 2015.

After careful positioning and re-branding, the company relaunched the Versus line in 2013, hoping to appeal to a much more urbane and digital-savvy millennial segment through an aggressive leveraging of social media platforms to existing marketing campaigns promoting the re-launch. Said Versace CEO Gian Giacomo Ferraris at the time, “[we want] to bring Versus back to the map of young people and re-establish it as the young heart and spirit of Versace…Consumers and followers, the new Versus tribe, will interact with the brand digitally, creating a closer relationship and getting a deeper inside view on the brand by sharing them with the creative process and collection creation.” By using such specific language as “tribe,” Versus relates to the customer not as a distant, high end and unapproachable icon, but as a shared collective, a family wherein their needs, their habits, their decisions reflect both themselves as well as Versace. Versus customers aren’t just purchasers anymore; they are, in Ferraris’s own words “the heart and spirit of Versace.”

Versace Versus

The Result?

Immediately following the launch of Versace’s web presence, the brand saw a 28 percent growth in sales between 2012 and 2013. The company reported a 17 percent increase in sales for 2014, rising to some $596 million, while Versus creative director Anthony Vaccarello stated in 2015 that the brand has “more than doubled its turnover year on year, thanks to the success of the collections and the brand’s new business model.”

While the physical experience of Versace—the combustible glitz of its runway shows and the aggressive rise of its boutique shop networks—is never likely to fade, it’s worth noting that a formerly distant fashion titan can directly increase its presence as well as its reputation through direct digital outreach. And as younger and younger consumers enter the luxury marketplace, this need to remain vital has never been more critical for brand survival.

Atelier Versace

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