In an era when fashion titans leapfrog from one exotic runway locale to the next, it’s a Florentine-born, family-operated luxury menswear label that’s sprinted to the front.
An audacious exploit in Iceland’s fjords for FW2023 has given way to an exclusive expedition to the Galapagos Islands, the scene for its SS2024 campaign, shot by an esteemed National Geographic photographer. T.S. Eliot once mused that one could only find their limits by daring to go too far. It seems the Ricci family have taken note.
Origin of this species
“We come from a family of explorers,” says Stefano Ricci’s Creative Director, Filippo Ricci, son of the label’s founder. His brother Niccolo helms the brand’s business side as CEO. “So, it’s basically in our DNA.”
And after a grand 50th anniversary celebration held among Luxor’s ancient temples and sites, culminating in a monumental runway show at Hatshepsut’s Tomb in Egypt, the Riccis have been imploring clients to see the world through a different lens.
“The whole Luxor event was a total game changer for us in terms of our mentality,” says Filippo Ricci.
“Our clients are generally very dynamic, independent, powerful men who love to experience the world and love to conquer the world,” Filippo says. “He is challenging himself to projects dedicated to nature, exploration and luxury. And these days the real luxury is being able to have remarkable experiences.”
Indeed, the brothers’ father Stefano broke barriers even in the early days of the brand. In 1993, he established the business’ first store not in his native Italy, but in Shanghai, where the Italian menswear label witnessed China and Asia’s economic transformation first hand.
Today, the region is key to the company’s growth. The brand will open its first-ever duty free store in Singapore’s Changi Airport. A Beijing store will open soon in China Central Mall, becoming one of Stefano Ricci’s largest boutiques in the world. Its Hong Kong boutique is showing signs of life after four difficult years, and Macau is starting to snap back.
“Business is going up in China, people are starting to travel again, and … the Chinese clientele has always been a great support,” adds Filippo.
Back to nature
Far away from Asia’s heaving cities, the pristine wilderness of the Galapagos serves as the backdrop for Stefano Ricci’s latest menswear collection, providing a rare and differentiated pleasure, the whole operation no small logistical feat.
Filippo sought to illustrate a symbiotic relationship between “man, nature, and wildlife, to create a different language to talk about our collection to our customers.”
Enter Terry Garcia, Founder of Exploration Ventures and former Chief Science and Exploration Officer at the National Geographic Society, and acclaimed Swedish photographer, filmmaker and artist Mattias Klum, known for his arresting work for National Geographic, who for this project pivots his focus to fashion.
Klum’s depictions of menswear and models amid exotic Galapagos wildlife and nature offer a fresh perspective on a SS2024 campaign that will impress even the Riccis’ most jet-setting, high-flying, deep-diving clientele.
“To have the underwater perspective also adds dimensions to the story in general,” Klum says. “A lot of people talk about the Galapagos Islands, about the lizards, the Scalesia forest, the bird life, the ruggedness and ongoing evolution. But sometimes, we don’t really acknowledge that the underwater realms are absolutely staggering.”
“This project bridges the gap between humans and nature,” says Klum. “That’s the main goal – to look at exploration, sustainability, and have humans and nature juxtaposed, or merged into frames. I felt it would be exciting to do … To me, it’s really just about transparency and about who I’m working for, and if I’m working in the right way because I only take on assignments that I like.”
Klum’s perspective aligns with the ‘Stefano Ricci Explorer’ concept introduced post-pandemic. Championing the spirit of adventure, it serves as a reminder of the importance of seeking curiosity and conquering fear of the unknown.
“All over the world, the new generations are approaching luxury differently,” Filippo says. “Going beyond owning certain beautiful products, towards experiences. To be able to travel the world, to drink a glass of water in the desert, or a glass of champagne on an island in the middle of nowhere and, here,” he laughs, “to swim with the sea lions.”
The islands’ unique, endemic wildlife — including the Galapagos giant tortoise, marine iguanas, and Darwin’s finches – are found nowhere else on Earth. Unique actors that make their way into a Stefano Ricci campaign.
Skyrocketing post-pandemic revenue
Although unorthodox, the brand is doing something right. The family-run menswear business saw its sales boom all around the world in the first four months of this year, with the Singapore store topping the revenue league tables. CEO Niccolo says that business has more than doubled since Covid-19, and that’s despite the Russia-Ukraine war, which resulted in big setbacks for the brand – the two countries had been the label’s top-five performing markets.
“Last year, we finished at €150 million ($160 million) total revenue, up from €86 million in 2020, and €130m in 2021. I feel we’re going to pass the €200 million ($214 million) mark this year,” he says. “The top market is the US at the moment, but the US, Middle East and China are kind of competing for the first-place ranking.”
This rate of growth is aggressive and not reflective of the rest of the luxury fashion industry. It may be because of the brand’s investment in developing countries like Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, the Philippines and Cambodia, as well as solidifying its presence in established wealth centers like Dallas, New York, Singapore and Beijing.
Over Covid-19, the brand restructured the company and refined production, enhanced quality, and expedited market delivery with targeted collections for specific markets around the world, Niccolo explains.
The strategic shift increased efficiency, and the company is now reaping the rewards from the groundwork laid in 2020 and 2021.
“The positive results we’re achieving now are an affirmation of decisions made in the tough times we endured,” he adds.
Personalization, ‘guanxi’ and serving the ultra-wealthy well
But why go to such lengths to impress the client, especially while sales are already so buoyant?
The Ricci brothers insist that part of their success has been hinged on personal relationships, what the Chinese call “guanxi,” while pushing the boundaries of men’s luxury.
“I believe that while most of the conglomerate luxury brands are going into very big things, our strength is to go more personal,” says Filippo. “That’s why we are in the frontline interacting with clients directly. We created the SR Club (for high-spending VIPs), and, for instance, on their birthday, we send them a personal video message from the family and their responses have been amazing.”
Ricci’s clientele is usually no ordinary luxury clientele. Many are HNWI or UHNWIs, for whom private jets, yachts and supercars are just day-to-day accouterments. Entry to the Stefano Ricci Members Club requires a minimum spend of €50,000 ($54,000) annually at the brand, with some top clients spending as much as €2 million, explains Niccolo.
This kind of man requires a different approach to engagement, aesthetics and marketing. The brand doesn’t engage influencers, KOLs or even celebrities in the way that most do. The Riccis often socialize and dine with their clients, creating personal relationships. The few famous faces who’ve been house guests include Nelson Mandela (a friend of founder Stefano, the brand made many of his famous shirts), and singer Andrea Botticelli. They’ve found fans among Middle Eastern royalty and the political elite: powerful men in powerful places.
But how does the company serve this demographic? With privacy, intimacy and personalization.
Receiving weekly feedback about these clients from store managers is fundamental to the business, adds Niccolo. Most clients are self-made, successful businessmen “who have an empire and we try to understand their needs,” he says.
Sometimes, that might be a uniquely detailed briefcase, or a leather jacket, ideas for their homes, a custom wardrobe, bespoke furniture; perhaps a cigar case. These UHNWIs are collectors, and the Riccis want to cater to their whole lifestyle.
The artisanal nature of production is a cornerstone of the brand’s reputation. From the hand-stitched shirts, meticulously tailored suits to the intricately designed accessories, each piece is an expression of the brand’s craftsmanship. In the Galápagos Islands, Niccolo is personally beta-testing a piece of hard case carry-on luggage, eventually finding the softening of the leather unacceptable – the product is going back to headquarters to be reworked before it’s tested again.
“I think we’ve been able to achieve a thing that is very difficult today,” Niccolo adds. “Creating a 360-degree luxury brand for men … At the end of the day, you can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t travel, you don’t explore, you don’t understand, and you don’t do things for others. I think exploring the world, and this new communication concept that we have is giving a strong message.”