Luisa Via Roma’s CEO on Navigating China’s Luxury Market

Andrea Panconesi, CEO of the Florentine luxury retail behemoth Luisa Via Roma, is in the process of writing a new chapter in the company’s 90-year-old history.

After reporting impressive sales of $146.7 million (130 million euros) last year, Panconesi has spearheaded a few new projects since the beginning of 2019 that should further expand Luisa Via Roma’s influence and footprint across the globe. Those plans include an unprecedented runway fashion show set in the center of Florence (perhaps the first in the history of fashion), a disruptive retail store concept, and a strategic partnership with the Chinese e-commerce giant Secoo that will help facilitate the company’s expansion into China’s luxury market.

On June 13, the hottest names in fashion — including Virgil Abloh, the Hadid sisters, and Ju Xiaowen — gathered in Florence to celebrate Luisa Via Roma’s 90th anniversary and view a catwalk show featuring 80 different luxury brands. Over 5,000 distinguished attendees flew in from all corners of the world to show their support for Panconesi, most of whom were acclaimed designers, celebrities, influencers, and members of the press, and the extraordinary event quickly became an online sensation for the brand.

Ahead of the event, Jing Daily sat down with Panconesi at the Palazzo Michelangelo to learn more about the inspiration for the show, Panconesi’s business philosophy, and Luisa Via Roma’s plans for retail innovation and expansion in China.

Where it all began

The star-studded runway show is a tribute to Luisa Via Roma, but it’s also a tribute to the roots of contemporary fashion. As the grandson of Luisa Jaquin, the original founder and spiritual essence of Luisa Via Roma, Panconesi said he became involved in the family business in the early 1960s and was lucky enough to witness the evolution of contemporary fashion in Florence as the company grew. “The runway show is like a Broadway performance,” Panconesi said. “I wanted to give recognition to Florence being the home of our brand and being the place where everything started. And it created a reason for young people from across the world to visit Florence and to be creative here again.”

A bright future

Luisa Via Roma’s collaboration with Secoo gives the brand a chance to grow in a market where it’s impossible to grow on your own. “I’m very glad and very proud to have reached this partnership because it is a part of our strategy to grow in the future,” Panconesi said of the company’s breaking into China. As of now, the Chinese market represents only 15 percent of Luisa Via Roma’s total business, “which is very small,” Panconesi acknowledged. However, entering the world’s largest luxury market requires specific know-how and expertise. That’s why Panconesi would rather do it with a trusted partner that already has this knowledge, yet one that will allow the brand to hold onto its independence, DNA, and integrity.

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On June 17, a Luisa Via Roma webpage teaser went live on Secoo, introducing the brand to the platform’s 27 million users, according to a Secoo spokesperson. On the launch date, Luisa Via Roma’s official store was featured at a prime position on the Secoo site, and during the 618 shopping festival period, Secoo provided added traffic and exposure to Luisa Via Roma with banner advertisements that introduced the company and recommended some of its fashions to Secoo VIP consumers.

A new kind of store

Known as one of the first luxury businesses to adopt e-commerce strategies (the company went online in 1999 when Google was still in its beta phase), Panconesi is nonetheless a fervent believer in experimenting with brick-and-mortar stores, stating that “98 percent of the business is online now, but this two percent is much more valuable [to me], because it represents our DNA.”

In fact, while in Florence, he introduced plans for his new type of retail store — one he said had never existed before. “I want to create a place where the young generation aggregates together with peers and also with older generations,” he explained. “I believe in the integration of different generations because I think old people can guide young people. It’s not primarily going to be a commercial place. It’s where people can work together, experience, and meet each other.”