On one of the many Sunday morning walks with my parents in my little hometown, two family friends who owned a decorative objects shop waved at us and called us in for a quick chat. I knew that shop very well from the outside: it was on the main road and its windows were full of figures in porcelain and crystal, which always fascinated me so much. Little I knew that what they kept inside, safe from the outer world, would fascinate me even more.
That morning, the first memory I have of ever entering that shop, was the first time I saw a Lladro porcelain statuette. It was a dancer gently posing with such grace, and so perfect with its unrealistically shiny and pearly skin-tone.
I was flabbergasted. How could something so hard as porcelain look so delicate and alive? Even if I knew this could never happen, I started waiting for the little figure to become alive and start dancing, like a real ballerina. I guess I was so absorbed in going through all the details of this little figure that the shop owners saw me and, like a granddad does with his little granddaughter, started telling me the story of how someone in Spain handmade this little beauty.
The Lladro Story
Lladro started off as a family business when two Valencian brothers began experimenting with porcelain in the 50s, hand-making sculptures under the influence of a major trendsetter from Meissen, Sèvres and Capodimonte. Since then the business has become known worldwide thanks to their innovative production processes, their commitment to fighting inequality on the workplace. And of course, above all, for the beauty of their sculptures, inspired by timeless classics, exquisite floral details and even contemporary fairytales.
I cannot help feeling lighter, more content and in a way inspired whenever I lay my eyes on these figures. Now as when I first saw that ballerina, this shiny porcelain takes my daydreaming to a whole new level of grace and aesthetic perfection. And while I am waiting to have a house of my own to decorate with at least one of these sculptures, as I promised myself to do when I was young enough to make these sort of life goals, I pick my favourite subjects. Like this couple here: how could you not think that a soft spring breeze is actually making her wedding dress gently flutter away?
One of the perks of studying Business in Milan is the different types of people you get to know. And it gets more and more interesting if you actually cultivate your interests through associations, museum exhibitions and cultural events. Few months ago, for example, I got to know Beatrice de Grandi of VIBE through one of the meetings of the Bocconi Students for Fashion Association.
Beatrice de Grandi is the founder of VIBE, an e-commerce website specialising in selling Made-in-Italy luxury accessories internationally. Nothing special, you may say. But then, let me add one little detail: she launched her business while at university and, mostly importantly, when she was just 20. Have I sparked you interest now?
As a young woman who relentlessly worked towards the realisation of her business idea no matter how many hurdles she had to overcome, Beatrice taught us that even luxury can be rethought to be closer to younger generations, to be agile in this fast changing and technologically endowed world.
As I have been trying to show with these little compositions of mine, luxury is not just about expensive prices and affluent consumers. It is a way to enjoy beauty, design, craftsmanship, uniqueness, creativity, giving full credit to the makers of the experience or object we are benefiting on.
VIBE makes artisans and handmade accessory enthusiasts feel closer, even if they may be geographically very far away. And Beatrice adds her marketing skills to this recipe, finding the right compromise between the artisans creativity and customer needs. So next time you read another article about how the fashion and luxury businesses are doomed to failure because of their inability to innovate, maybe remember that fashion and luxury are not a dictatorship of few big brands. Supporting niche players and artisans, like VIBE does, is the way to keep making the most beautiful and innovative creations to the enjoyment of others.
You may think that I am exaggerating, and to some extent it is true. I did not dine privately with la Rinascente CEO Mr. Baldan, but this is how the evening felt to me. When I saw the event promoting a tasty aperitivo with the CEO of the most famous department store in Italy, I thought of one of those networking events where the guest awkwardly speaks for 5 minutes and then has to rush away. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Organised by Hub Giovani, a group of inspired young students and professionals who get together to discuss about work, culture, innovation and much more, the aperitivo with Baldan was so enjoyable and relaxed that you almost forgot to whom you were talking.
Meeting Mr Baldan
As soon as he arrived, Baldan started mingling with the audience, being very welcoming and kindly replying to all the sorts of curiosity anyone could think of. When he started addressing everyone, the real “talk” of the evening, he narrated the story and later develpoments of “La Rinascente” with such pride that you may think he actually funded it.
The History of la Rinascente
Interesting to know (and maybe not everyone actually knows it) is that la Rinascente was funded by those Bocconi brothers who, after having established and run a very successful department store in the heart of Milan, decided to go and fund Italy’s first Business School to pass on their knowledge. And Baldan actually confessed that this part of the department store heritage, together with its name (actually proposed by one of the major Italian writers and artists of the twentieth century, Gabriele D’Annunzio) is what makes him so honoured to work in such a well known establishment.
In a very sunny and warm afternoon in Milan, Brunello Cucinelli spent few good hours inspiring young students and luxury enthusiasts telling his story, his ideals, and of course giving some advice. The event had been titled “La bellezza salverà il mondo” (“Beauty will save the world”) and nobody more than Cucinelli could be a better ambassador for what he believes is the only way of doing business.
“La Bellezza Salverà il Mondo”
What is so special about his business model? The pursuit of uniquely high quality in all garments he designs and produces, the respect for the human being and his employees above all, the support for the local community and the love for everything that is beautiful (let it be a theater to be restored or even the new factory to build) are the pillars of his vision.
Profits are Not Everything
Mister Brunelli Cucinelli does not run his luxury business in a silo: he experienced first hand the depletion of the surrounding natural resources and how bad brutal work conditions may affect a person. And this is the reason why he feels responsible to be the change, if you allow me, to lead the change with other fashion brands in the name of “sustainability”. During the conference he could not stress enough that profits are not everything. He stands by this belief so much that before someone becomes shareholder of his company, he invites them to the factory in a small town in central Italy because they are not simply investing money in a business, but in a philosophy.