Italy knows how to renew tradition. And who better to dissolve this oxymoron and make it understandable to anyone than a world famous brand like Dolce&Gabbana, which uses St. Mark’s Square or the waters of the Arsenal in Venice as a catwalk? The power of this idea is clear to those who have the privilege of watching the continuous “re-creation” process taking place within the maison, almost live. That is what happened to the MAFED - Master in Fashion, Experience & Design Management students, who had the opportunity to meet Dolce&Gabbana Beauty’s CEO Gianluca Toniolo on campus. In conversation with Program Director Emanuela Prandelli, the top manager opened up on how he is integrating the Beauty category within the company.
On the strength of his 26-year managerial career in the sector (with L’Oréal, Chanel, YSL, and LVMH), Toniolo is leading a major brand image elevation initiative in cosmetics: “We aim at raising this category’s reputation to the same level as the one that the brand has earned in fashion”. To explain the group’s philosophy he recalled the bold decision taken in 2012. Dolce and Gabbana chose to focus on the brand and its growth potential rather than on the high revenues that were generated by the casual line D&G. An economic sacrifice in the short term, but a winning investment in the long run. “They have thus been able to preserve the identity heritage that we can now build upon,” he said.
“The business that I manage is about 30 years old and generates 1 billion in retail-value sales, mostly from fragrances. To redefine our unique selling proposition, it is important to make who we are very clear, also by differentiating ourselves from everyone else,” he continued. “To do so, we first and foremost root ourselves in the company’s values (which the professional couple Dolce and Gabbana embodies): Italian-ness, harmony that comes from contrasts and brings the unexpected to life, irony. In addition to that, real people – with a connection to everyday life that has been reinforced, for example, by taking up the food & wine category – and craftsmanship.”
To be consistent with these values, as well as for its high intrinsic value, production must be made in Italy by Italian partners. “We are the first fashion brand in the country to bring beauty in-house. It’s a matter of authenticity.” Licensees, the CEO stressed, often have no interest in developing the brand as much as in exploiting its economic potential in the short term. Instead, we want to strengthen the connection with local artisan communities, which also represent the great resource of tailoring for fashion.
The second axis of Toniolo’s brand expansion strategy is consistency with the Dolce&Gabbana world. The different product categories synergistically mingle to form a multisensory universe – the Dolce&Gabbana lifestyle. “Which has recently been added to with a home line as well. The Beauty category wants to grow and diversify more so as to fully express its contribution to the Dolce & Gabbana lifestyle. We should not forget that cosmetics are the access point par excellence, the door through which everyone can enter and feel part of our world.”
This clarified the vision that allows the company to reinvent tradition and bring a touch of Italy to beauty lovers around the world. For Dolce&Gabbana, beauty is eternal because one is beautiful at all ages. “It is joyful,” Toniolo continued, “because Italians smile. And it is instinctive, like the character of our people.” Storytelling is also key and must capture the atmosphere and also the needs of the time.
Toniolo left us curious about the nature of the new beauty lines that will be launched in about a year’s time, and pointed out that Dolce&Gabbana is a rare example of a brand that is as much feminine as it is masculine, not only in fragrances but across the entire product range.
Finally, a strategic note for future managers in the industry: “We have a huge capital to draw on for competing in a crowded market: the strong contents, legitimacy and visibility of our core business, fashion. But we also need to ensure the current business’ financial sustainability. We want to add, certainly not disrupt. For example, we want to reach new consumers, the younger ones, with a social media strategy that needs to be developed for beauty. We are in a brand building stage, extremely challenging from all points of view.” And being perfectly consistent with the brand’s philosophy, he concluded – “Exciting!”
SDA Bocconi School of Management
CEO Dolce&Gabbana Beauty