Alessandro Maria Ferreri
Written by Saul Taylor
With a CV that runs like a Who’s Who of fashion, Alessandro Maria Ferreri knows a thing or two about the industry. After working at the UN during university he joined Alberta Ferretti and Aeffe. Ferreri now runs a powerhouse consultancy in Milan where we caught up with him over tuna carpaccio at the Palazzo Parigi.
How did you start in fashion?
At the end of my engineering studies, I had to decide what thesis to write. Usually, engineers go into automotive or computing, but I had a big passion for fashion. I wrote a letter to Massimo Ferretti, Alberta Ferretti’s brother, who ran Aeffe. They used to have Narciso Rodrigruez, Rifat Özbek, Alberta Ferretti, Jean Paul Gaultier, Moschino. I wrote to Massimo and said, “Look, is there a project for a young engineer that loves your brand and could use the work for his final thesis at university?” He answered and we met. I joined Aeffe as an employee even before graduating because they hired me to implement the project. I wrote the software that pattern designers use to make the pattern on details. That was 20 years ago, so it was a pioneering project. My first four years were in production — I was head of designers, product offices and brand merchandising.
After four years I moved into commercial as managing director of Middle East, Far East and Japan for all the Aeffe brands. When the Dumas family — of Hermès fame — bought Jean Paul Gaultier, Jean Louis, the grandfather, hired me. He called me to Paris to be the head of the worldwide Gaultier business. That’s when my career picked up at a senior level. Then, I joined the Etro family for their big expansion. I opened more than 120 standalone stores as head of product and merchandising. Only The Brave Group called, which is owned by Renzo Rosso. The main brand is Diesel, but I was in charge of Staff International, the luxury arm that owns brands like Viktor and Rolf, Margiela and produces for Marc Jacobs Men, Vivienne Westwood, Marni
After three years there, I built my own consultancy, a luxury advisory company. I have big brands, medium brands and start-ups that run from retail to cosmetics, from fashion to accessories and shoes. It’s a management services company, which means that the brand chooses what they need, and I act like a doctor in an emergency room. I join the team and consult on strategy, product development, competitor profiling, branding, market positioning, pricing and sourcing of suppliers. Or distribution — so retail, franchising, e-commerce.
I am also on the board of a couple of big retailers where I consult on
product mix, buying supervision, budgeting and also on circulation and shopping experience.
Do you get a lot of pushback?
It’s true, sometimes what they hear is not what they want. For example, it has happened to me that the problem has been the entrepreneur putting his son as CEO of the company. When you have to tell this to a father who was looking at his son as a new generation, it’s not nice to criticize. I had to develop a big diplomatic approach — a way of saying things that was both clear and transparent. Because it’s also true that if the answer is unpleasant, you still can’t put sugar on it, you have to be straight to the point.
You talk of diplomacy, is that something you learnt at the UN?
The UN period was during university. Everything started as a six-month internship. I was lucky enough to have Kofi Annan as my first boss because at that time he was head of the Peacekeeping Operations Department before becoming Secretary General. It was a very interesting period because I could renew the internship four times, which meant I spent two years in total. I was 22, and at that age this kind of experience shapes our personality. Every day I was exposed to different cultures, mentalities, religions. Nowadays, we talk about inclusivity, acceptance and this was 20 years ago. And having to work, because at the UN you have to seriously work, I would say that you are really saving the world every day you go there.
How important are events for brands?
They are changing shape and face. Brands used to invest in events for brand building. Whoever spent the most was the one who apparently got the best return. Now, it’s way more focused on experience. We are invited to many different events during fashion week or throughout the year. The events we remember are not the ones with the best music or food or the best crowd, but when we had a very specific experience that made the event unique. This is why when Chanel does an event related to a fashion show, after a season you can’t remember one of the dresses on the catwalk. But you can remember the couture because it was the experience that gave brand awareness.
And social media spreads the word.
Exactly. This is a way to do brand building or raise awareness, no matter which product you will sell or whether it corresponds to that specific brand activation. After a Chanel fashion show, you can go and buy a lipstick or a pair of shoes and even if the show was about ready-to-wear, who cares? They gave you a brand experience in order for them to sell whatever the maison has to offer.
What are your thoughts on social media?
Sighs I am a social media guy; I am always connected. I was one of the first users of Instagram. We are slaves to social media, we cannot live without it. It has become an avatar for all of us. It’s like we have a second life. This is the way that the world works. Since I started my company, I never had to look for a customer. They all came, either because they were talking to one another or because they were looking at my performance on social media. So, I decided this was crucial. But I have to be credible in what I do every day. I cannot be one person on social media and another in reality, because a client will immediately see when they meet me. I also have a responsibility to keep my social media presence and identity honest because it’s my advertising.
Is this something you advise your clients as well?
Absolutely. Especially when social media is linked to e-commerce. If you fake, let’s say, the idea of a product and then you try to sell it, you might succeed the first time but you won’t have any returning customers if the experience was just about making you believe something that in reality it is not.
Which used to be fashion.