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Luisaviaroma CEO on Florentine style and luxury

Drapers sits down with Andrea Panconesi, CEO of luxury retailer Luisaviaroma in Florence 


Andrea Panconesi with supermodel Natalia Vodianova

Luisaviaroma was founded in 1930, by Luisa Jaquin, as a small store on Via Roma in Florence. Her grandson, Andrea Panconesi, has run the business since 1969 and transformed it from a small store into a global fashion retailer. Today, 95% of sales come from online and it is one of the leading names in luxury fashion. The store, meters from the famous Duomo, remains a focal point for fashion in Italy. Drapers met Panconesi during Pitti Uomo to hear more about his life in luxury.

How did you get into the business?

I took over the business from my father in 1969. At the time, I thought buying and selling was the easiest thing in the world. The store started from zero. When it began there were none of the big Italian brands around that we have today – they didn’t exist.

I’ve always loved fashion. I used to sneak into the halls of Pitti to see the first fashion shows, where models such as Iman walked on the catwalk.

I was the first person in Europe to stock the Japanese brand Kenzo. I bought the collection because it was something special. Florence was at the beginning of pret-a-porter – with the tailoring industry – but this was different. I couldn’t sell it, though – we didn’t sell one piece in three seasons.

How has retail changed in your time leading the business?

The web has changed everything in fashion. We have had a website since 2004. Now, the biggest change is social media – it’s a fantastic tool for young people. However, I think young generations may be over-reliant on social media.

I plan to open a space Florence this year that will act as a meeting point for young people. It will sell fashion, but that will not be the focus. People won’t be able to use phones, and it will be a place for people to connect and communicate about fashion, beauty and design, and meet like-minded people.

How important is the store, now that online is so dominant?

Around 95% of our business is online now, but the store is still important. It is like a visiting card for the brands to showcase their products. It is important that we create a place where people relate to each other and the brands.

What do Florence and Pitti Uomo mean for you?

Florence will always be important, as it is where everything started. My daughter, Luisa, is in charge of all the buying now. I try to go to Pitti, but now I have a team of 30 buyers who go to the shows instead. Going to the shows is a great excitement, but I cannot do everything when I have a business of 200 people. I miss it.

What will be the next big development in retail?

Nobody knows what the future will bring. Twenty years ago we could not have predicted how the web would have affected retail now. I think virtual reality [VR] is the next big project that will change things. We are working with it now at Luisaviaroma in a project that will launch this year. VR will change the fashion panorama over the next 20 years.

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