The Fendi baguette is one of the world’s most coveted bags. Fashion journalist and author Plum Sykes calls it “the It bag that begat the entire It-bag industry”. Its fame peaked when it starred in an episode of the Sex and the City where a fashion-conscious street thug mugged Carrie Bradshaw and made off with her purple sequined Baguette.
The iconic bag may be more than 15 years old, but its allure has not diminished one single bit. And neither has Fendi’s.
An August 2014 study by the Credit Suisse Group reveals that the most sought-after bag is not manufactured by Hermès or Marc Jacobs but by Fendi, which rubs shoulders with Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors. According to the report, the Italian luxury fashion house saw the highest accelerated growth, up 117 percent between January and June 2014.
One of the reasons for Fendi’s success is its ability to expand to different countries and embrace social media without compromising on its exclusivity. It has 197 stores worldwide, including a flagship store in New Delhi.
The luxury brand is a relatively new player in India, having entered the market only in 2006. Given that fur and leather products occupy pride of place on its shelves, analysts had predicted that it would be hard to sell a Fendi in the country. But the company was undeterred and for good reason. Its Chief Executive Officer Pietro Beccari says India’s elite have not only accepted the brand, but embraced it.
The 89-year-old fashion house, which has been part of the luxury goods behemoth LVMH Group since 2001, has a history of creating iconic bags and reinventing itself to keep up with the young elite. It has been targeting its younger buyers through social media, apps and a funky range. Proof: Its 2014 limited edition Bag Bugs collection—which includes furry key chains and bag accessories that look like a cross between Angry Birds and Cousin Itt (from the Adams Family series)—was a hit. But for all its experimentation, Fendi relies on its superior craftsmanship to attract consumers, Beccari tells Forbes India. Edited excerpts from the interview:
Q. Fendi’s classic Italian designs are different from the traditional Indian sensibility. How do you reconcile the two?
Since the beginning, we have focussed on our expertise, high quality of materials, daring creativity and elegance. And India is a market that shares our love for heritage, craftsmanship and luxury. As consumers become more and more sophisticated, they want not just a product but a luxury product with a beautiful story [behind it]. An engagement with the brand and a sharing of a set of values—our passion for savoir-faire, design, art and beautiful things—are all very important. Through educating and story-telling, we form emotional ties with our existing and potential customers. At Fendi, we are constantly trying to strengthen our ties with the audience by selling a dream, selling a lifestyle, and offering our customers a luxurious taste of our products. In India, we stress heavily on our iconic bags, shoes and accessories.
Q. You have been in India since 2006. How do you view the country as a luxury destination?
India is a developing market with an interesting mix of high net worth individuals and the aspirational class, which is increasingly becoming the gamechanger by becoming consumers of luxury goods. An Indian customer is well-travelled and well-exposed. What really catches their attention is the detailing and craftsmanship.
Q. Has your foray into India panned out the way you expected it to?
India has worked out very well for us. Our iconic bag collections, our leather goods, especially our Selleria line, are doing quite well. The made-to-order service has captured a sophisticated and extremely refined Indian audience. The young elite are far more in tune with international brands and trends. Q. Do you have a new brand positioning strategy for India?
Globally, we are strengthening our Roman roots and broadening our customer base. We feel the need to reach out to a younger audience and capture the young, cool and fresh, while maintaining exclusivity and desirability.Q. How do you intend to refine this approach in terms of products and new concept stores?
We decided to renovate [our stores] to look better, more spacious, and, of course, more luxurious. Our clientele is very demanding and sophisticated, and we wanted to create an environment where clients could feel at home. I think the store is a window to the brand. You are not building a store, but creating an image. It’s a place where customers spend time with the brand.
These are investments not only for retail, but also for the image of the brand. The new concept stores pay homage to our Roman roots: This can be seen through the use of travertine (a form of limestone), which recalls the monuments and architecture native to the Roman landscape. It is a journey of emotion, between contrast and ambiguity, a dialogue of the extreme, the union of delicate elements and monolithic composition.
Q. Fendi is a brand that is founded on the basis of specialised skills, and that can make scalability difficult. Does it pose a challenge to your expansion plans?
Our technique is what sets us apart. Many of our artisans have been with Fendi for over 30 years. Our fur atelier in Rome has a combined work experience of over 540 years, which really speaks for the expertise that is required to produce our fur designs. I believe that investing in artisans, and transmitting and passing on the savoir-faire is crucial for the luxury world.Q. Can you talk a bit about how you maintain iconic bags as part of your collection, while still keeping them fresh?
Our 3Baguette (launched this month) is an evolution of the iconic Baguette bag, which has already seen more than 1,000 versions since its creation in 1997. Fur is constantly being reinvented through innovation of different materials. We are the only brand to have a fur collection each season. Experimentation and preparing for the future are a part of our values.
Q. The brand has now started tapping digital and social networking with the launch of the myBaguette app for the iPad and Android tablets early this year. What led you down this path? Will we see more innovations?
Fendi’s digital strategy resolves to continuously raise the profile of the brand. It was a step to allow an incredible digital experience through personalisation of the Fendi Baguette. The app allows our fans to design their own vertical styles bringing them closer to the brand.
The internet has brought complete transparency to the product, price points, availability, and so on. It is a healthy trend, one that has resulted in fierce competition. We are also enthusiastic about being the first to have used the drone technology. (In February, Fendi used high-definition drone cameras to stream its catwalk live to viewers all over the world.)
Q. You created a lot of buzz on social media at the time of launching the popular Bag Bugs collection. How crucial is digital marketing for Fendi?
With the existing and new social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, not to mention fashion websites and a new wave of bloggers, we are ambitious about our online communications. The digital world brings the audience closer by creating a revolutionary, captivating, immersive and unprecedented experience. We are constantly creating teasers and full-fledged videos to drive traffic to Fendi Live. It increases the visibility of the brand and amplifies our presence.
(This story appears in the 14 November, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)