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From fabrics that charge mobile phones to a bar central to its store concept, Corneliani is redesigning the sales process
Eduan R. Maggo
That the retail industry is in flux shouldn’t come as a surprise. The high-end, luxury fashion sector is grappling with the same conundrum facing every business: How do you align the old with the new. At its core, the question: How do you sell a product steeped in tradition in the digital age?
This was the problem Stefano Gaudioso Tramonte was tasked with solving when he was appointed style director and general merchandising manager of storied Italian label Coneliani in September 2016.
Shortly after his appointment, talking to Debonair Tramonte said this dual role was created as one aspect of bringing the creative and financial sides of the business closer together, in order to respond more efficiently to the changing face of the industry. Some 18 months later, Tramonte is excited to share his progress. “You can’t ignore the old when catering to the new,” he begins.
Alysia Thomas London
This strategy sees the brand place an emphasis on the traditional aspects of the business in a contemporary take on the brick-and-mortar store while bringing its products closer to its client base through an e-commerce platform, launched earlier this year. At the same time, technological advances are incorporated not only in the manufacturing process but also into the very fabrics that are transformed into garments.
At this month’s Pitti Uomo 94, the 60-year-old Mantua-based Corneliani known for its tailoring savoir-faire, hand stitching and finishing detail is taking a giant technological leap forward by presenting clothing that can charge mobile phones.
Developed in collaboration with an Italian tech company, the garments work through electromagnetic induction. “It wasn’t easy, but the garment is ready,” says Tramonte. “It will work. I think what we can do in the next step is to simplify it even more, because while you can charge your phone in your pocket, we now need to solve the problem of recharging that battery.
“There’s also the matter of simplifying this concept for the segment of our client base who aren’t that comfortable with technology. At the same time we need to be inviting to people consumed by technology, since this will make their lives easier.”
Corneliani will also launch a capsule collection aimed at a younger customer at Pitti.
From its archives, Tramonte is reviving the raincoat. “It’s part of our heritage and a great opportunity to explore a different category. The raincoat is a special product, but we have it in our history and we have the skill and expertise to make it credible.”
Next month, the brand brings the sweet life to its retail operations with the opening of a new flagship concept in Rome. Dark grey stone flooring, wood panelling and brass and marble details create a masculine yet inviting atmosphere. “It’s rich, but not so overwhelming that you enter and you feel like, ‘I cannot touch anything, otherwise I’ll pay too much.’”
An unusual touch, however, is the bar central to the store. “Rome is where la dolce vita was born,” Tramonte says. “It’s where Italian cinema has its roots, and it’s also a city where people enjoy life — much more than Milano, for example.
“Rome beats to a different rhythm; you enjoy life much more, and the idea of having a bar is related to this. We want you to come in not only to buy something, but to spend some quality time. Have a coffee or an aperitivo, chat with the store manager, and explore the collections.
“It’s about living a stylish life — lifestyle at its essence. This is the concept we’re promoting; we want to be closer to our clients and be a part of their everyday lives, elegantly enriching the style of their lives.
“We’re trying to redefine the store concept by including a different kind of service and a new experience. In reality we’re also redesigning the whole selling process.”
“It’s about living a stylish life... In reality we’re also redesigning the whole selling process.”
This year the company’s also been focusing on its digital transformation, which includes a new customer relationship marketing platform as part of a wider omni-channel project. Through its Sales Force tool Tramonte gets a real-time view of who is buying what and where. “This means you can start doing a lot of profiling — non-invasively, of course — and you can really understand who your customer is.
“It’s really about trying to give our customers an experience that they really enjoy, but we can’t do that unless we know who they are.”
Corneliani launched an e-commerce platform on its website in February, and although the conversion rate is still low, it is growing and is in-line with expectations. “Our core business isn’t accessories but big pieces; we didn’t expect a huge turnover immediately.”
He doesn’t rule out occasional location-specific drops online.
For now, most of its customers are based in Italy, the UK, the Netherlands and Russia. Corneliani is opening its online store to the US this month, with the whole winter collection being made available. The Middle East will have to wait while some VAT-related snags are ironed out.
Plans are afoot to introduce a component of its made-to-measure business online, although this poses its own set of challenges. “You can pick styles and fabrics and the like, but for the fitting you’ll always need a tailor. It’s a part of Italian craftsmanship, but even with clients that we have measurements for — people always find it hard to believe how four kilos either way has an effect on how your suit fits.”
One innovation that goes some way to addressing this question, is what the company calls the Magic Waist, which introduces a section of elastic into a formal trouser waist but on the inside where it’s imperceptible. This gives the wearer an extra 5cm to play around with — very useful after a big meal, for instance.
Research and development remains a key concern, and Corneliani has people dedicated to exploring technologies across the four main categories — formal wear fabrics, shirts, leather and knitwear. While many brands are focused on keeping you warm and protected from the elements, Tramonte is excited about the possibilities of what he calls “hollow fibres” that could be used in conjunction with reflective materials to regulate body temperature and keep you cool.
Even crazier, just imagine a fabric that regulates your mood. “Every season all the suppliers are talking about is a yarn that makes you feel better. They’re trying to create a fabric that balances your aura.
“This isn’t the craziest idea I can imagine, but it’s one I’d like to see realised. I can see this doing well in the market.”
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