Down business

Updated: 2013-03-29 07:49

By Mark Graham (China Daily)

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 Down business

Remo Ruffini says he wants his customers to have a luxury product that will last. Provided to China Daily

The Italian boss of a luxury fashionwear company that has its origins in a french ski town more than half a century ago is now a regular visitor to beijing

Remo Ruffini is a hands-on executive who spends more time creating products, visiting stores and meeting customers than looking at spread sheets; he was recently in Beijing and made a point of spending time observing customers at his company's four boutiques.

"I don't want to betray my customer, I want them to have a luxury product that will last," says Ruffini, chairman of the luxury fashion company Moncler. "We work a lot to get the very best materials. You have to be consistent and to make the best strategy because customers are smart; it is important not to have too many products. We do not have a collection for a particular country, whether it is the US or China."

Moncler jackets were originally designed to keep people warm on the ski slopes of the European alps but, in more recent years, they have become popular among the fashion set. In the north of China, where temperatures stay below zero for almost all the winter months, affluent and style conscious individuals have been snapping up the goose-down coats and jackets, which cost $1,000 and up.

The cold-weather coats and jackets are lined with down sourced from aquatic geese in the French regions of Brittany and Perigord; once collected, it goes through a rigorous process that involves washing, disinfecting and drying.

It ensures that Moncler garments are ultra-light and capable of insulating wearers against the most extreme outside temperatures. Although originally intended to keep skiers warm as they hurtled down the steep Alpine slopes of France, Switzerland and Italy, fashionistas in northern China are now among the company's most avid buyers.

Moncler clothing is increasingly being marketed as a brand that can be worn on any social occasion, just as likely to be spotted on people waiting to enter a trendy city club as they are by skiers, snowboarders and mountaineers.

Over the years, Moncler garments have been worn by many celebrities including Jackie Kennedy, Madonna, Julianne Moore, Rihanna and Pharrell Williams. And, of course, Ruffini wears them himself, whether he is at work, or on the snow; the Italian first put on skis at the age of four, and has been active in the sport at a high level for most of his life.

But for long spells his career has taken him away from his beloved northern Italian mountain ranges. After studying at the university of Boston he worked for his father's company, Gianfrano Ruffini, before heading back to Italy where he founded the New England clothing company and became creative director of Henry Cotton, Marina Yachting and Moncler.

The latter company, which has its beginnings in France, has Ruffini as its creative director and chairman. Under his stewardship, new directions were explored, including ranges that were more design-oriented.

Partnerships with Balenciaga and Watanabe were introduced, along with a high-end range for women, Gamme Rouge, overseen by the renowned Giambattista Valli.

That was followed by the Moncler Gamme Bleu project, a high-end collection for men created by stylist Thom Browne. The Moncler Grenoble range came later, and offers a range of jackets, trousers and sweaters.

The clothes are considered so trendy that they are shown on the runways at the twice-yearly Paris Fashion weeks. There are plans to extend Moncler's product range with more accessories, but the main focus of the business will remain its jackets.

"Retail is fairly new for us as a company and we try always to be unique," he says. "We did not want filters between us and the customers so step by step we decided to have our own stores starting with the best ski resorts in Europe appealing to people who love the mountains.

"Now we have stores in the major cities in China, Japan and the United States.

"I need to understand my customer and get the product right; my dream is always to make a global strategy and adapt it to every country and understand what they expect from our company.

"It is very cold in the north of China during winter and we have been very successful. We opened six stores this year, bringing the total to nine. They have some of the best turnover of all our stores. Our typical customers are people who love to go snowboarding and skiing and ladies and men who like to wear the jackets at night. We have a jacket for every kind of taste."

The company, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, was founded in the French ski town of Grenoble, initially selling its jackets to keen outdoorsmen and, later, the French national ski team. In the 1980s young city dwellers began to favor wearing the garments for work, on top of business attire, a trend that has continued.

Manufacturers in China, of course, produce goose and duck-down jackets at rather cheaper prices than Moncler. But the company argues that no other manufacturer, wherever they are, takes as much trouble to source top-quality goose feathers, or place such emphasis on premium quality fabrics, finishing and design.

That attention to detail reflects the approach of the boss. Ruffini's personal style is low key, unlike his Italian clothing-tycoon peers; instead of owning Ferraris he drives a Mercedes-Benz; rather than sailing in a motor-yacht, he prefers to potter around on a slow sailboat.

Increasingly, business is taking him to China from his Milan home. "I love the energy of China and I want to try and understand what is going on here," he says.

China Daily

(China Daily 03/29/2013 page21)