Remo Ruffini, chairman & creative director of The Moncler Group, explains why Moncler doesn’t want to be in the fashion business and how private equity has impacted the brand’s journey
“I always say we have to survive fashion,” explains Remo Ruffini, chairman & creative director of The Moncler Group and the executive widely credited with elevating the down jacket brand to the global luxury player it is today. “We don’t want to be in the fashion business, we want to be consistent,” he continues. “When I start to think about product, distribution, advertising, campaigns, I really think about the roots, the DNA. When we launch a product people need to understand that it is Moncler.”
To Mr. Ruffini, “Moncler is 1952, Moncler is mountains, Moncler means something sport and active.” The brand originated in Grenoble, producing padded sleeping bags and camping tents with external covering. The first down jackets were designed in 1954 to shield workers from the cold, who wore them on top of overalls in the small mountain factory.
In 2003, Remo Ruffini purchased the Moncler Group from a small Italian company, purchasing its entire operations in 2005 with the assistance of private equity. His vision for the quilted jacket was global, his strategy guided by Moncler’s DNA and rich heritage. With a focus on expanding the jacket category horizontally, he brought on designers like Thom Brown and Giambattista Valli to cater to a world of consumers outside Moncler’s Main line.
After a short relationship with Carlyle Group, Moncler S.p.A. was set to go public in June 2011. Instead the private equity group elected to partner with Eurazeo, a French listed investment company, who received a 45% stake. The transaction valued the Group in excess of €1.2 billion enterprise value, a multiple of over 12 times EBITDA in 2010.
We recently spoke with Remo Ruffini about taking the brand from the mountains of Grenoble, to the streets of London, Paris, Tokyo and Milan. Below we share some of his key insights, when reflecting on his journey with Moncler.
“ When have your own stores, you can test your products, you have fast feedback from the market ”
“When I took over Moncler, managing various licensees and distributors was a problem in that we had a totally different mentality and totally different views. I had the same issues with production, no matter how good the companies were that we worked with, I had a different idea, a different philosophy. So I eventually brought all control back in-house, which means now, it’s our own people working for us.
“What is good about all this is simple, it gives you control from the beginning. You control everything from where you buy the feathers through to the end when you are talking to your customer, and to me, these days the customer means everything.
“You have to talk to them, you have to have a special relationship, you have to understand what they are thinking, what they need. And when you talk directly with them, when have your own stores, you can test your products, you have fast feedback from the market. And only when you control the total package can this be facilitated.”
Moncler’s Beijing flagship store
“When I brought the Moncler brand in 2003 I did it on my own, but in 2005 when I wanted to buy all the operation operations I needed some help, and that is when I started to talk with private equity.
“The life of these contracts are very short, they are always looking for an exit and eventually in 2008 our original investor sold a large stake to Carlyle Group, one of the biggest private equity companies in the world. At the end of the day I had a good life with them, Carlyle was the opportunity for Moncler to go public.
“But in private equity, numbers are numbers. They only think about numbers, they don’t always think about what is best for the company, because they go into companies to exit and to invest in another company. Obviously they have to work like that.
“For me it is different, I am the company, Moncler is my company and I am always thinking in terms of ten years, twenty years, thirty years. I don’t think about three months or six months or three years.”
“ In private equity, numbers are numbers. They don’t always think about what is best for the company ”
“We were supposed to go public in June 2011, however – I cannot say fortunately or unfortunately – in the end Carlyle decided to sell 45% to Eurazeo, because the French bid was bigger than market potential.
“For me, the best thing really would have been to go public. I think for the company, we really missed an opportunity. Going public gives you great visibility in the market, especially in emerging markets, there is a good possibility to attract people. It was definitely a missed opportunity.
“Having said that I have a good relationship also with Eurazeo, but I hope to go to public as soon as the market is open to Moncler. I think I want to try again in 2013.”
Moncler’s e-Commerce site, launched in September 2011 with Wednesday London
“When I started in 1995, to manage my company I needed to design my own products. So for me it’s quite a natural philosophy to be both CEO and creative director. For me numbers are very important, margin is very important, I want to create value, but on the other hand I think product is very important. So I have always worked towards having a balanced philosophy and strategy.
“And with Moncler it is a little bit different because you have to follow your DNA, there is a strong story to follow, you don’t have to so much ‘design’ a collection, you really have to design the story of the brand, alongside what they market wants. I always say we have to survive fashion. We don’t want to be in the fashion business, we want to be consistent.
“For me this means good product, good margin, consistent, good quality, technology for me is everything – its not only creativity in its literal sense. It is creativity with a really consistent strategy.”
“ I only want to go into new territories directly, with my people, which is why we only open one store at a time ”
“Managing many designers is not difficult for me as this is the essence of my job – to give a briefing to everybody, to paint a picture of ‘one room’ every season, and then give different messages to each of the designers depending on their task.
“Everybody works with one central idea in mind, where their role is to give me energy, to give me products, to respond to the market. They understand that they need to design in one language, which is that of the Moncler world. I always say ‘product across’. For me this is a jacket for a skateboarder, for a snowboarder, for ladies who want to wear jackets over evening gowns or businessmen on top of their suit.
“So quickly I realised I need some people outside the company to give me energy because we don’t have a target – we have a philosophy to make jackets for everybody, hence ‘product across’. And what that strategy really needed is people to help me give Moncler some new attitude.”
Moncler Grenoble’s FW 2011 presentation in New York, involving a flash-mob at Grand Central Station
“Since the beginning I have said that I don’t want to concentrate on any one specific market. I think this is why we perform well in terms of numbers around the world. We don’t push any area but we say Moncler must be global. We are a small company, therefore we must be global.
“We have to have a foot in the emerging markets but we also have to work hard to be consistent in mature markets like Japan and Europe. I think Brazil is very important but not necessarily in Brazil alone, for example recently we opened a store in Miami, a known destination for Brazilian shoppers. I also want to continue to concentrate on China where we have twelve stores, I want to grow there but slowly, I want to be in the best locations because location is everything when it comes to stores.
“And when it comes to entering new territories, I only want to go in directly, with my people, which is why we only open one store at a time. I want to first dip my toes in the market, to first understand the product, get feedback from the market. To do things slowly is very important for us, we are not a part of a big group, we need to work within our own possibilities. I don’t want to make any mistakes.”
“ I never think about lifestyle, I always try to think about what it means to be Moncler ”
“I have never pushed to grow in the double digits; I have always pushed to have a good idea for the market, to have good store locations, to have great people in my stores, to have a good product, to not lose face, to not lose my roots. And in summer to still have something good, something really Moncler.
“That said double-digit growth is important because it means we are not tiring our customer. I want to be consistent, I want to stay close to our customer and I think if you work with them in the right way, you can grow. But category extension for me, I think you need to be very careful. You need to build up your brand perception otherwise you become something from the 70’s, 80’s when the big brands mixed everything and the market was confused.
“For that reason, I never think about lifestyle, I always try to think about what it means to be Moncler. I think about whether or not a product is linked to our story; is there the Moncler DNA inside the product, does it reflect the roots of the brand? To make something correctly it needs to come from somewhere, then we can move forward and make something unique. I think about this more than I think about growth.”
Moncler’s New York City flagship
“I think now, if you are not on the web, it is a problem for your brand. We launched our e-Commerce because obviously, you can talk to the market without the need for stores. You can talk directly to your client and the web is very fast, when you launch a newsletter within eight hours you have a response to featured products, this is an opportunity. But I don’t think we will ever focus exclusively on e-Commerce.
“I think we have to work in a very balanced way, which is why we keep opening stores because we really want to balance our distribution, but at the same time we must focus on being everywhere. Like I explained earlier with ‘product across’, we must also be distribution across.
“So being available on e-commerce, available in our boutique in Shanghai and being available at a shop-in-shop at a good department store. At the end of the day you want your jacket on the best people on the street, that is why any good channel for us is interesting.”
For more in our series of conversations with Luxury Leaders, please see our most recent editions as follows: