The culturally wealthy city at the heart of Western civilization, Florence, is also home to several outposts of prestigious American universities. This fact is not lost on the Italian luxury retail icon LuisaViaRoma, founded there in 1930. According to CEO Andrea Panconesi, the grandson of Luisa Jaquin who opened a hat shop on via Roma 91 years ago, some of their best and first clients were well-off American students studying abroad in Florence. Since then, LuisaViaRoma has become a leader in the online luxury marketplace with Luisaviaroma.com. Now Panconesi has set his sights on recapturing that original American client with unique content, philanthropy, and innovation strategy for which the multi-brand marketplace is known. According to Panconesi, one reason for the push was the success of Luisaviaroma.com during the pandemic. “Our global market growth was 35 percent during the pandemic, with our Italian client growing to 66 percent. We want the US to grow as much as Italy did in the first four years, to repeat that experience.”
LVR Magazine Launch
To achieve these goals, Panconesi has tapped Kate Davidson Hudson, a digital content expert formerly of Editorialist.com and Elle magazine, as Editor-in-Chief for the soon to launch LVR Magazine, a quarterly digital magazine with plans for special print issues. Davidson Hudson brings with her vision and expertise for engaging sales via compelling content with a seasoned eye for the American market. “LuisaViaRoma occupies a unique space in the market, offering exclusives on emerging brands and tapping into what is relevant and compelling; I looked to them as having insider access to the newest lux fashion brands.” Despite planning to take a break after her last venture, the former editor and co-founder of Editoriliast.com was compelled by the value proposition of engaging a US audience to add to the 120M monthly unique views between the app and the website. “Their reach and conversion rate are healthy; it’s an engaged audience,” she notes, adding, “Luxury is alive and well in the States, and the opportunity is there to increase the current 12 percent marketplace penetration in the US and Canada.”
The first issue will launch digitally in September with the approach that “compelling original content drives sales.” Furthermore, to address the US-based customers’ desire for excellent customer service, expediency, and experience online. The editorial content will feature brands and products not sold on the Italian e-comm site; for instance, a Chanel bag featured can be clicked on to find out where to locate. To enhance this, Luisaviaroma.com will offer an elevated chat functionality with personal shoppers that could help the reader locate an item not sole on the platform. “Luxury clients don’t want to go to five different sites; they want one touchpoint. By ramping up customer service to personal shopping, we are delivering personalized content 2.0 because each reader can access the item.”
On both a personal and business level Panconesi, believes in doing good with his fortune. (LuisaViaRoma reportedly had a turnover of over 165M Euros in 2019.). Thus, one of the most prominent displays of this has been the LUISAVIAROMA X UNICEF fundraiser and gala launched in 2018. “My daughter was the one to say she wanted to do something to help children,” said Panconesi. He suggested they take a partner as charity fundraising wasn’t the family’s expertise. After two years in Porto Cervo, Sardinia, the event moved to Capri, Italy last year despite the pandemic, and has raised eight million euros in the first three years, a fact that Panconesi is proud of since it was primarily raised by Italians who don’t enjoy the benefit of the tax deductions for charitable donations. “Being a private brand, we can do what we want with our money; we invest our money where we think it can make a difference for a good purpose.”
This year, the event held its second Capri edition just days before this interview. It featured headliners and presenters Katy Perry, John Legend, Orlando Bloom, Heidi Klum, Vanessa Hudgens, Karolina Kurkova and more. (Perry, Bloom and Klum are all UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors.) This event offered Steve McQueen’s 1961 Cooper race car, Elvis Presley’s 1971 Harley Davidson
As impressive as the scale of the event, which draws attention to this Italian institution, Panconesi maintains its still less than what his hedge-fund-backed competitors spend on marketing efforts for Google
His steadfast belief is that to help boost the American market push, he and his team are already planning another UNICEF event in St. Barths for late December, where Dua Lipa will perform. Another cause dear to the CEO of the family-owned firm is the environment. The website stocks a significant portion of items that qualify as ‘sustainable’ under the LVRSustainable label. Additionally, this year marks their official fashion partnership with Extreme E, a new off-road electric SUV car race that takes place in five areas most affected by climate change in an attempt to highlight the issue. Panconesi’s team enlisted two award-winning photographers, Luca Locatelli and Gabriele Galimberti, and journalist Raffaele Panizza. The latter are documenting the journeys on the e-comm channels with the #MyEIB, or My Earth Is Beating campaign.
Ninety-five percent of LuisaViaRoma’s business is derived from the website, with only one physical location. Currently, there are no plans to expand to open any permanent physical stores. With one single retail location, they were early adopters of an e-comm presence and a digitized wholesale buying and inventory platform. (Panconesi recalls having colleagues desperately trying to discover his early inventory management system he would use on his laptop during market appointments as, until quite recently, much of retail still used manual methods.) “Twenty years ago, I hired two engineers from the University of Pisa to help translate the manual program I started 35 years ago to organize the buying and stock.
As they had just one flagship store, integrating both the physical location and e-comm has always been symbiotic. In contrast, other retailers are still grasping the benefit of a fully integrated physical and digital shopping experience for the consumer. Ultimately these lead to higher consumer satisfaction when the desired product can be obtained no matter where it is located
Next up comes gaming apps. With his digital marketing head Marco Ritratti and a team of LuisaViaRoma professionals, he established the company Avawear further promoting the coexistence of the real and virtual worlds via tech. Their first project is MOD4, which combines real-world shopping experiences and virtual interactive gaming, which experienced over 200,000 downloads in the first six months. Recently a partnership was announced with DRESSX, the new digital garment platform launched in July 2020 by Daria Shapovalova and Natalia Modenova, which generates zero waste, carbon footprints, or chemicals in their production.
Curiosity may be why Panconesi is drawn to innovation, but MOD4 is also strategic. “My dream was to merge the physical and visual worlds, especially as virtual represents the future. Mom has the real Gucci bag, but the daughter can play with the digital version of the bag on the avatar.” This tech allows him to engage the next generation of shoppers.
Just because Panconesi isn’t clamoring to open more outposts of the Florentine luxury shop doesn’t mean he doesn’t see the need for physical spaces. He attributes the Italian style sensibility to the multi-brand stores in the 200 more small cities in Italy. “One store would educate multiple generations on the latest styles and quality; dressing well is a part of well-being here in Italy,” he said. But a physical space can do more than offer a wardrobe. The CEO envisions a place for young generations to meet. “My dream is to create a place for the young place to gather; they can’t do this anymore. It would be a place to eat and work and maybe buy something,” he said, confirming though it wouldn’t be a place for shopping the entire LuisaViaRoma inventory but rather a curated selection. Ideally, he sees this in the suburban areas, places where” it’s as easy to be successful as it is on 5th Avenue.”
It’s those 5th Avenue shoppers who will ostensibly be the American Luisaviaroma.com client. With luxury on the rise and the market eager for innovation and personal service, it’s an excellent time to pursue those US market goals. One hitch in the want-it-now consumer culture is that their warehouses are in Florence, Italy, which means at least two days shipping time to the States. But Panconesi is hedging that with increased engagement, whether through content, experience, or engagement via the company values of giving, the wait will be worth it.