Elegance and luxury, it’s always a matter of balance. This rule applies both to those who adopt this lifestyle and to those who “produce” it and dictate its economic dynamics. We asked Emanuela Prandelli, Director of the MAFED - Master in Fashion, Experience & Design Management, to tell us about the complex and delicate mechanisms that regulate these markets, about their differences, and their constant need to balance brand identity and innovation.
Is management in fashion companies different from that of other industries? If so, how?
Companies that operate in this field have an undeniable peculiarity: they are highly creative. They need specific managerial skills because particular professional figures—for example designers—require a particular organizational system to facilitate their work, albeit without falling into the trap of relaxed management processes. If anything, these companies require an even more rigorous management style due to the remarkable complexity of their operations: I’m thinking about fashion, where the quantity of collections to be presented to the market requires a considerable organizational effort from the point of view of product management, supply chain, distribution and marketing.
Because of this the different functions must be able to talk among each other, combining an awareness of their role’s boundaries with being able to speak a common language that allows for understanding. If I’m a manager or a CEO of one of these companies of course I have to be data-driven as in any other company, meaning I have to be able to interpret the market figures, use an Excel spreadsheet, pinpoint key information to make strategic decisions. But I must also find a way to communicate with the creative roles efficiently, with reciprocal respect and recognizing their strategic value. Otherwise I run the risk of a “cultural” clash within the company, with all the damage this can do.
Does this also apply to innovation processes, do they follow a different track in these companies?
The topic of innovation is particularly delicate in the fashion industry. As I was saying before, we used to have a limited number of collections per year – spring-summer and fall-winter, plus a so-called “cruise collection” – but now that number has increased and innovation has become a continuum.
Alongside this complexity there is also the issue of the cultural component, which is especially relevant in the luxury world. Here the concept of innovation could almost seem to be an oxymoron, since luxury almost always has its roots in a distant heritage, in the value of traditions. The issue is more delicate as we have to project the roots of a tradition into the future, according to the codex of contemporary language, preserving it so as not to dilute the identity of the brand.
Another topic that often comes up in the world of luxury is that of authenticity: the most valuable brands are those with a product that is not only good, but also “authentic”, for example with its roots in quality craftsmanship. This is another point that could seem a contradiction to innovation, which is often looking for efficiency and improvement of the manufacturing processes. On top of that, innovation is usually associated with an idea of speed, while luxury is timeless. Thus the brand must ask itself which way it wants to go: whether to bet on the typically innovative product, but starting a process of continuous substitution, or on an archetypical product, which perpetuates the iconic value of the brand. However even in this latter situation it is necessary to have evolution, to renew its significance. It’s not by chance that a group such as LVMH has a statement that synthesizes the two concepts: “The Future of Tradition”. This is perhaps the most important challenge in the world of luxury goods: understand where the right point of equilibrium is, between the past and the future.
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SDA Bocconi School of Management