August 2014

I had the honour and the pleasure of sitting down, one on one, with president, chairman and chief executive of Gucci Worldwide, Patrizio di Marco. Not one to give many interviews, I was fortunate to get some time with him, and we talked about a number of key issues for Gucci and watches.

Patrizio di Marco, president, chairman and chief executive of Gucci Worldwide
Patrizio di Marco, president, chairman and chief executive of Gucci Worldwide

Europa Star: How important are watches to Gucci?
Patrizio di Marco: Gucci Watches and Jewellery is a division of the overall company that is selling to third parties and our own stores. The company has a turnover of 150 million euros, which is bigger than a number of brands, and it is quite profitable.
We could actually push, in terms of opening up more points of sale, but we are not - we want controlled and balanced distribution. We have a healthy combination of wholesale and retail business. Watches and jewellery are two product categories that are extremely important to us. It wasn’t that easy to get back into the saddle and we are very confident of the future.
The competition is really fierce, and we are in a way a sole player, because we are not part of a big watch group, and that says a lot about the power of Gucci. Now, we have the prominence and the commercial strength. Aside from my personal affection for watches, it is a very important component for Gucci.

How do you make sure that watches have the DNA of Gucci?
PdM: It’s definitely challenging, made more so because it was not done properly in the past. I say all the time that we are about being modern, about innovation, fashion, but then behind all this there is craftsmanship.
This craftsmanship side was never communicated before. In whatever we do, we have to maintain this Gucci-ness and emphasize that it is not mass produced, it is created with passion and dedication. We do that with every product we make and the way we communicate happens in a number of ways – the stores, the advertising, PR - and it takes time.
Frida Giannini, Gucci’s creative director, does the vetting of all the products. When you are a designer, it’s difficult to handle a brand that has a long history, and Gucci is truly a legendary brand. It takes a lot of intelligence to approach a brand like Gucci, put yourself in that brand and still be very much respectful of it, the brand’s codes and icons.

Frida Giannini, Gucci's creative director
Frida Giannini, Gucci’s creative director

She has been with Gucci more than 10 years now, she joined as accessories director and she has been the sole creative director for more than 10 years. She grew up with the brand. She has gone through the archives and she has not been afraid to look into the future. Some people think that using the archives as inspiration is a lack of creativity, but I think it’s the most creative way. I am very serene when I see the products coming to the market and in the pipeline all the products are consistent with the history of the brand.
In the past, the brand pushed towards the most conservative part of our offering, and consumers thought this was Gucci, like our original GG. Logos are not bad but the way you use them has to be right. If you go to extremes and use them in a disrespectful manner, it can be detrimental to the brand and the brand’s position. At the same time, in the watch industry, there was a strange wishful thinking where everyone wanted to go high-end.
The product wasn’t that great, and you can’t go in one direction with some products and in the other direction with watches. You have to go back to who you are and build upon this.

“As Gucci, responsibility is part of our core values. We are about fashion, cool, then craftsmanship and responsibility.”

Handmaster by Gucci
Handmaster by Gucci

Gucci focuses quite a bit on giving back. Why is this important?
PdM: To me personally, if you are lucky and privileged in your life, it’s simply the right thing to do, to think about whoever is not as fortunate as you are. I have tried to explain that there isn’t any marketing goal in Gucci giving back, there is no strategy toincrease sales through our social responsibility approach. We don’t do this because of marketing and sales, but because it’s the right thing to do. As Gucci, responsibility is part of our core values. We are about fashion, cool, then craftsmanship and responsibility.
Responsibility starts with our people and our products. Customers may not care about where or how products are made, but for us every single product we make is done in a responsible manner so that every law is respected (labour, safety, environment, etc.). Then there is the environmental commitment we have - for a company this size to reduce our footprint is a major challenge.
We are the first brand to research and use a chrome- and metal-free tanning process. There is no rational motivation to do this because it is additional cost - it doesn’t come cheap and it doesn’t increase sales - we do it because it is the right thing to do. What we have done over the years with UNICEF, education, the Grammies, Li Bingbing and others is that we wanted to do something meaningful.

Horsebit by Gucci
Horsebit by Gucci

A big push for Gucci is to talk about the ‘Swissness’ and the artisanal nature of the production. Can you explain?
PdM: We have started to tell the world about the artisanal nature of the products. Sometimes you think that because you are a fashion brand you are a volume, mass brand, so it’s difficult to communicate, and it’s more difficult since we didn’t talk about it before.
Now, we are correcting the mistakes that were made in the past. If we stay the course I am sure that this will be understood and appreciated. The world is much more crowded now, so it’s more difficult to be heard.
Of course, we can’t define ourselves as the highest example of watchmaking - we are a fashion brand, and we are proud of being a fashion brand and inventing this type of segment in the industry, many years ago when Gucci was a license under Severin Wunderman.
The watch as a fashion accessory today was because of Gucci. At a certain point over the last forty years, the brand has had different lives, some highs and some lows, and at one point we lost our direction in watches as well, and we restarted five years ago. We have done well with modern, cool, but at the same time stressing the fact that this is a Swiss Made watch.
The majority of our collection has quartz movements, but there is still that craftsmanship behind all our watches.

Sync Extensions by Gucci
Sync Extensions by Gucci

What do you like about watches?
PdM: Watches are no longer a tool, they are accessories. I am an old fashioned guy, so I still check my watch. It makes perfect sense to me, since we are a lifestyle brand, to have watches.
I travel too much, but when I am home in Rome, I have all my watches, and when I wake up, I choose my clothes, then I choose the watch I want to wear that day.
I like watches because they are a way to express yourself. For men, we don’t have a purse or the accessories that women have, for us the watch is our own personal way of telling people about ourselves.

Source: Europa Star August - September 2014 Magazine Issue