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Fashion heirs who inherit family businesses have big shoes to fill

Generations who inherit the family business have to keep the brand legacy alive while bringing additional strengths, writes Kavita Daswani

 

A couple of years ago, luxury fashion tycoon Bernard Arnault installed his son Antoine as CEO of menswear brand Berluti, and his daughter Delphine as executive vice-president at Louis Vuitton - both brands, among a prestigious plethora of others, that make up Arnault's LVMH empire.

Fashion watchers interpreted the move as significant: could Arnault, now 65, be pitting his son and daughter against one another to potentially fill his own shoes once he steps down?

Arnault's perceived quandary, such that it might be, is one that could be understood by a number of high-powered luxury brands that continue to be controlled - whether creatively, financially or both - by families. Ferragamo, Missoni, Fendi, Zegna, Bulgari, Swarovski, Hermès - some of the most stellar labels in the style universe are now in the hands of descendants of the founder, and these young people are being entrusted with maintaining the aesthetic and legacy of an ancestor's vision.

In a 2011 edition of Universia Business Review, the European business publication, Italian management academics posed the question: "Why are luxury firms often family firms?" The article surmises that succession from one family member to another works when there is a successful family strategy in business, which researchers describe as "the four Cs": continuity, community, connections and command. "It has been proved that family businesses tend to exist longer than their counterparts, which are more subject to [mergers and acquisitions]."

Certainly, there are storied family firms that have had to become part of a larger machine: Gucci, which was founded in 1921 by Guccio Gucci, fell prey to infighting, and family members ended up selling off their shares. It is now a subsidiary of French conglomerate Kering, helmed by François-Henri Pinault. On the other hand, Pucci, run by the founder Emilio's daughter Laudomia, sold 67 per cent of its brand to LVMH in 2000 - but she retains creative and image control.

For families who have been successful at keeping their luxury brands not just alive but thriving, the term "inherited legacy" means everything.

James Ferragamo is the group women's leather director of Salvatore Ferragamo, the Florentine fashion and accessory brand; he is also the grandson of Salvatore and the son of Ferruccio, the company's CEO. He represents a new breed of fashion heirs - smart, accomplished, refreshingly lacking in any air of entitlement - and seems to know what it takes to make stepping into a family business work. "I would say, stay true to the values of your family, and work hard to bring your own original contribution, because you're not there to reproduce what others did before you, nor to subvert it, but to develop and enhance it," he says.

Indeed, various family members still sit on the board, including Salvatore's other children, Leonardo, Fulvia and Giovanna. And a recent handbag launch was inspired by James' late aunt Fiamma, who died in 1998 and who designed the footwear and leather accessories for the brand for 40 years.

"[It] is dedicated to all the women of our family who have always played central roles in the development of our business," Ferragamo says. "Fiamma embodied our brand at its best."

Family businesses that have successfully passed the baton from one generation to another need to be savvy enough to choose the best candidate for the job, same last name notwithstanding. Margherita Missoni is known widely as a model, actress and heiress to the brand founded by her grandparents, Ottavio and Rosita Missoni, in 1953.

But the 31-year-old graduate of Columbia University is far more than that: she is in charge of the accessories, beachwear and children's lines while retaining her position as "brand ambassador" - a role she stepped into seamlessly when she was 18 and wearing the Missoni label at all the hot spots. "I began hitting the party scene, and people were seeing this fresh, reborn brand on me," she says. "The clothing and me were well-suited for each other."

Still, Missoni says she struggled somewhat with her heritage in her early years, and decamped to New York for a while to get into acting and modelling.

"Clothing and design have been part of my life since I was born, and I kind of wanted to get away from it to understand who I was," she says. "Now with my responsibilities, I've found that I have more drive than ever before. I respect the family I come from and my job. I know I wouldn't be in the place I am if I hadn't grown up in this family, but this is also the reason why I can be good at this job - I was born into and grew up surrounded by the Missoni vision. So I don't need to adapt my taste to its aesthetic, because I have integrated it into my own self since I was a child."

The greater challenge would appear to be for a family member to maintain an entrenched aesthetic when new owners take over. Last year, brothers Sergio and Pier Luigi Loro Piana, descendants of Pietro Loro Piana, who established the brand in 1924, sold a majority stake in their company to LVMH while staying on in advisory roles. Pier Luigi says the decision to sell off most of his family's business to the LVMH empire was based on it being "for the best of the company".

"Considering the family story was to secure the company's success ... LVMH was the group that has more vision and capacity to develop Loro Piana into the future ... not always [can] the story of the future of the family be exactly the same as [what] is best for the company."

In the meantime, members of families involved in the business are resigned to the fact that their personal, family and business lives are intertwined - and they do feel the weight of responsibility of maintaining a generations-old reputation.

"On a personal level," Ferragamo says, "it means having the courage and capacity to act with self-assurance and coherence, a passion for my work, pride in belonging to the world of Ferragamo, and a sensibility towards individuals and respect for their needs."

 

SALVATORE FERRAGAMO
Founded by: Salvatore Ferragamo, 1927, Florence
Family now involved:
Wanda Ferragamo, widow, honorary chairwoman
Ferruccio Ferragamo, son, chairman
Massimo Feragamo, son, chairman of Ferragamo USA
Leonardo Ferragamo, son, director
Giovanna, daughter, vice-chairwoman
Fulvia, daughter, director
James, grandson, group women’s leather director
Succession: Three generations

MISSONI
Founded by: Ottavio (Tai) and Rosita Missoni, 1953, Varese
Family members involved:
Rosita Missoni, founder
Angela Missoni, daughter, creative director
Luca Missoni, son, head of archives
Margherita Missoni, granddaughter, brand ambassador and
director of accessories, beachwear and children’s lines
Succession: Three generations

ERMENEGILDO ZEGNA
Founded by: Ermenegildo Zegna, 1910, Trivero
Family members involved:
Gildo Zegna, grandson, CEO
Anna Zegna, granddaughter, image director
Paolo Zegna, grandson, chairman
Succession: Three generations

FENDI
Founded by: Edoardo and Adele Fendi, 1925, Rome
Family members involved:
Silvia Venturini Fendi, granddaughter, head of accessories and
creative director of menswear and childrenswear
Delfina Delettrez Fendi, great granddaughter, head of jewellery
Succession: Four generations

 

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