Valentino CEO Jacopo Venturini on Growing, Repositioning Couture House

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ROME “I work before I talk, I keep a low profile, it’s my personality.”

With this statement, Jacopo Venturini, chief executive officer of Valentino, laid out his plans for the storied brand for the first time, a year and three months into his job.

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The first step after arriving at the company was “to make a strong statement. Valentino is the most established Italian maison de couture, with the strongest heritage,” he said.

This is a pillar for Venturini, which was reflected in his decision to stage Wednesday’s meeting at Valentino’s storied headquarters in Piazza Mignanelli in Rome, a few steps away from the Spanish Steps, followed by a tour of the brand’s couture ateliers. Seamstresses carefully stitched away on dreamy wedding dresses and exquisitely crafted gowns, preserving a tradition that is the jewel in the crown of the brand.

“Two words — maison and couture — open a series of values that create and permeate the culture of the company,” said Venturini in his soft-spoken and affable way. “Returning to Valentino for the third time is a gift life gave me. I felt the brand needed to be repositioned and I needed to make a choice.”

This included the closure of sister brand Red Valentino, which should be completed in two years. “It’s very important to have Valentino under one single label, it’s a strategy that I’ve always had in mind,” he explained.

Venturini was previously executive vice president, merchandising and global markets at Gucci, a role he left in October 2019. After starting his career in fashion at Rinascente as a buyer from 1995 to 1999, he joined Valentino in 2000 as women’s wear and men’s wear brand manager until 2004.

He moved to Prada in 2005 as merchandising coordinator of the women’s wear collection until 2008. That year he returned to Valentino as ready-to-wear collection director and retail image director, staying on until 2015, when he joined Gucci.

He touted “a very strong alchemy from the beginning” with creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, whom he’s known for 20 years.

A key element is that Valentino “belongs to this [luxury and couture] world, but we are smaller, and this is the advantage,” which allows the brand to grow in a solid way according to its values and culture — one that is becoming increasingly customer-centric, he underscored.

Venturini joined Valentino in June 2020, a few months after the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread globally. The company was not immune to the impact of the health emergency, reporting a net loss of 127 million euros in 2020, compared with a profit of 33 million euros in 2019, on revenues that were down 28 percent to 882 million euros.

However, things are turning around and Venturini said on Wednesday that revenues increased 64 percent in the first half of 2021 to 574 million euros, compared with 362 million euros in the same period last year, and almost flat compared with 2019.

Asked if he expected the company to return to the black in 2021, Venturini said his outlook was positive but that he wanted to wait until the end of the year before providing a definite answer.

The growth in the first half was driven by online sales, the Middle East, U.S. and Greater China regions.

“We are underexposed and have a strong potential to grow in Mainland China,” said Venturini. “In the last year, we started exploring new locations like Shenzhen and we are looking into requalifying locations for Shenyang and Hangzhou where we are already present.”

In Mainland China there are 27 Valentino directly operated stores and five franchised units.

For example, Valentino selected Greater China to launch its international project called Re-Signify in 2020, presenting the first leg in Shanghai last December. The second part of the brand experience will open in October at SKP in Beijing. The ambition is to reinforce the Valentino codes for the future. “Our approach is humble, we want to tell more about ourselves to the market so that it can get to know us.”

The executive underscored that the goal of the company is to open stores “in a granular way,” reaching customers wherever they are, also through pop-up installations such as the one set up in a partnership with the Phillips Auction House in Southampton, N.Y., to showcase its Valentino Escape 2021 collection in June and July.

The company sees opportunities in Miami and in New Jersey next year. It plans to open a Sydney flagship, whose opening was delayed by the pandemic, and is now expected in 2022. A new mall franchised door is slated to open in Doha next year and Venturini sees new opportunities in Korea, in Lotte Seoul; in Saudi Arabia; in Geneva, Venice, and in Mainland China in new cities such as Shenzhen in 2022; in Guangzhou, and in Wuhan in 2023.

Valentino has a total of 225 stores, of which 196 are directly operated.

Retail and wholesale sales account for 55 and 45 percent of total revenues, respectively, but Venturini’s goal is to have retail reach 70 percent of revenues in the next five years. “Wholesale can give visibility and create stimulating partnerships, but we believe we have to be more selective and choose the right partners for more visibility,” he contended.

The company is also working on a new store concept, he added.

E-commerce has been growing at a triple-digit pace and Venturini said that the combination of a more engaging e-commerce and an omnichannel strategy allowed the company to see an increase in online penetration from 5 percent in 2019 to 15 percent in 2020, and “it is still growing at the moment.”

Venturini was also asked about the rumors that repeatedly surround Valentino, such as a possible sale by owner Mayhoola, potential acquisitions or an initial public offering. He deferred the answer to the owners of the brand. In March, a Mayhoola spokesperson said “there is no desire to take into consideration selling Valentino , we are fully committed to the brand and the company’s success. Also, there is no intention of launching an IPO in the near future.“

Venturini reiterated that all production is made in Italy and that Valentino has through the years set up joint ventures for the manufacture of shoes and bags. “We have a good structure,” he said.

Valentino has two licenses, for eyewear with Luxottica and for beauty and fragrances with L’Oréal. Venturini said that the launch of the Voce Viva fragrance fronted by Lady Gaga last September and of its makeup in June “overachieved expectations.”

He admitted there were plans to expand the product portfolio but said it needed to be done “step by step” and consistently with the brand’s “genuine and spontaneous path. I like its authenticity, we are not merely following opportunities.”

Accessories helped drive business in the first half, but the company is expanding its ready-to-wear in daywear, he said, with more separates, “while protecting the business of eveningwear.” Men’s wear, which Piccioli unveiled also for couture for spring 2021, is also growing, now accounting for 20 percent of sales.

Venturini emphasized that creativity, human capital and team work were at the center of his attention and main drivers of the company’s evolution. He underscored the value of relationships between the brand, its sales force and the customers, with Valentino’s couture values and attention to details trickling down to the whole company. “We are also creating a colleague-centric company, where everyone is a customer.”

He has been busy building a new C-suite, ranging from chief client and digital acquisition officer Enzo Quarenghi, who joined in January, to new chief human resources officer Rosa Santamaria Maurizio, for example.

He cited Alessio Vannetti, chief brand officer, who with his team has been creating strong bonds with customers through music, cinema and other activities outside fashion, “assimilated to the entertainment world.” He cited the Chez Maison Valentino immersive digital experience in the historical headquarters that illustrates a 2D facade of Palazzo Mignanelli, designed by illustrator Joana Avillez, where clients can click on each window to discover content about the brand’s heritage, for example.

“We filled the lack of physical relationships that resulted in a general increase of time spent, up 55 percent and engagement compared to the average of the site,” he observed.

With Marco Giacometti, chief commercial officer, Venturini is “re-energizing the store network changing the role of our client advisers who are becoming real brand ambassadors capable in creating unique and deep connections with our clients.”

Venturini also approached the subject of sustainability, which “is not a marketing tool, but a reality,” he said.

Valentino back in 2013 joined the Greenpeace Detox Solution Commitment in a mission to eliminate all dangerous chemicals from its supply chain and signed onto Zero Deforestation Commitment projects to help protect life-giving waterways and rainforests. “As a result of our commitment with Greenpeace we have reduced by approximately 63 percent the chemical substances in our production,” the CEO said.

As reported, Valentino has committed to going fur-free starting from 2022 and alpaca-free starting with the spring 2022 season. It is also working with environmentally friendly viscose suppliers for 70 percent of its production.

A new shoe made with recycled elements, the Open for a Change sneaker for men and women, will be available starting from December. “Lastly, we are ready to deliver a new product packaging set to launch this fall which will be sustainable for at least 55 percent,” he said.