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Close up: Giulio Cinque, owner of indie Giulio

While many in the luxury market remain wary of selling online, the owner of upscale indie Giulio is no longer one of them. He tells us why…

Nestled in the heart of Cambridge’s shopping district, menswear and womenswear indie Giulio has been serving up the best in designer fashion for 31 years.

It’s easy to see the store’s appeal as owner Giulio Cinque - who is dressed in a sharp black suit - walks the shopfloor with Drapers, explaining that the store is merchandised as a lifestyle offer, with suiting and more tailored pieces mixed in with casual styles to reflect the modern wardrobe.

In fact, the way the store is merchandised is reflective of a wider change in direction with regards to its buying strategy, which began to come into fruition for autumn 12 and more fully for spring and autumn 13. As we take a seat in the store’s offices, Cinque is keen to talk about that aforementioned change in direction.

Giulio had long been known as a hub of luxury and designer brands, and Cinque explains his store was one of a handful of UK stockists to begin working with Prada, which was a “big decision” around 15 years ago due to the Italian label’s high price point, and says he was “instrumental” in helping to position the likes of Jil Sander, Hugo Boss and Paul Smith in the UK in terms of being one of their first key indie accounts.

Then, from autumn 12, Giulio took on brands such as DSquared, Dolce & Gabbana and Moncler. “I started to feel the need to look at my brand mix because the market was becoming saturated with product. So that led me to look for more design-led and individual product,” says Cinque.

“I think the internet gave me a little bit of a nudge, and the recession as well. But also I felt the need to look more deeply into what I was doing. And I felt I was starting to become predictable.

“It made me realise that’s not what I do.

And with the recession you do start to dig a lot deeper into what you’re doing, and I decided I wanted to go onto the internet in 2010.”

Trading in store has been tough, with the recession and customers’ continued move towards digital shopping leading to a drop in bricks-and-mortar sales of as much as 25% over the past couple of years. But while the business’s overall sales are currently down by 6% or 7%, launching online has largely made up for the shortfall. The retailer signed up to online indie portal Farfetch two years ago, and now takes 30% of its sales through the site. Visitors to Giulio’s own non-transactional website, Giuliofashion.com, are redirected to Farfetch to complete their purchase.

Speaking at Drapers’ Next Generation Academy in March, Simon Burstein, chief executive of luxury London indie Browns, said luxury brands have been slow to adopt online as a sales channel, a reluctance he said was fuelled by a perception that they would lack control. And Cinque’s own experience of asking the brands whether he could sell them online mirrors this: “I started to get some resistance and it took me a considerable amount of time to make up my mind to come to the decision to work with the brands or not,” he says.

Cinque is full of praise for Prada, which he had stocked for around 15 years, but says the brand wasn’t keen on the new digital direction. “Prada was very insistent that I didn’t go online. And with the fact that Farfetch was trying to build its brand, it wasn’t correct to put a brand online that doesn’t want to be online, doesn’t want you to be online, and where the brand you’re working with [Farfetch] has only just started. So I had a big decision to make.”

Cinque parted ways with Prada on good terms, though he hopes that situation will change as the lure of online becomes greater. The reluctance among luxury brands to be sold online was the pivotal factor in Cinque’s adoption of a new buying strategy.

“That gave me the thought that maybe things are changing, in terms of what’s happening to luxury brands and how they position themselves in the market. These guys are starting to open up their own stores, and they are starting to want more control over their distribution and over their product. And I think this goes back to what’s happening in the marketplace with discounting, Sales and things like that. These guys can’t keep the control, so slowly they are building their retail.”

Today, Cinque is focused on working with suppliers who appreciate his digital strategy, and quotes Farfetch chief executive José Neves, who has said: “A confused mind will always say no.”

“That’s what’s happening within the industry. People are saying no instead of saying how can we work together,” he says.

“Now for an indie, what’s his job? He is a trend driver. Today’s trend is digital.” Leaning forward in his chair and pointing a finger to his chest, he adds: “I want that association.”

Giulio began looking at other brands and was asked to stock Dolce & Gabbana, which was introduced in store for autumn 12, and then debuted DSquared for spring 13, attracted by the brand’s increased emphasis on tailoring.

Initial results from the refreshed offer have been positive, he says.

Keen to search out new brands, Cinque attends the fashion weeks in Paris and Milan, and says he loves going to London Fashion Week; he is “getting into” London Collections: Men (LCM), but thinks there is an issue that needs to be addressed: “I think [British Fashion Council chairman] Natalie Massenet is great. I like the ideas and what they want to do, but the difficulty with emerging brands, new brands and English brands, is they don’t have the capital. And they are asking for a commitment of capital from their buyer.”

It’s common, he says, for British brands to ask for a hefty 30% deposit up front and then the remaining 70% on delivery. He concedes that this is the system and doesn’t blame the brands, but says it makes it difficult for independents like his to buy into them under current market conditions.

He says the lack of financial backing, and the likes of British designer Christopher Kane being snapped up by French luxury group Kering, means that money isn’t being ploughed back into the British fashion industry, and particularly UK manufacturing: “That’s what I don’t like, the fact that we’ve got a great face, but we haven’t got a lot behind us. Now I want to buy [British], but I think it’s very difficult.

“How can an indie commit to that when you have got other people out there dying to do business with you who are going to give you better terms? And that’s the difficulty they are going to have.”

As a result, he says he has to be far more selective about which brands to buy into.

Cinque is enthusiastic about the future, and with Giulio selling into as many as 30 different countries nationally via Farfetch, he expects growth to come from online. “We send out Giulio bags with our product and to think that someone in Australia is walking around with a Giulio bag is a bit of a buzz. And then someone is like ‘Hey mate, where did you get that from?’ ‘Giulio, check it out’. Do you know what I mean?

“Come on,” he says, before leaning forward in his chair and punching the air: “Seven billion people. Thank you. I’ll have just a little bit of that - that’ll do me.”

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