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During an Oct. 30 visit to the Kellogg School, luxury goods CEO Patrizio di Marco shared the story of how he helped Bottega Veneta recapture its brand luster.

Patrizio di Marco

In ‘a world of selling dreams,’ Bottega Veneta CEO revives luxury

Patrizio di Marco brings back the ‘extraordinary’ by resisting trends and returning to company’s original values

By Amy Trang

11/4/2008 - Bottega Veneta CEO and President Patrizio di Marco rattled off the numbers – $45 million to $500 million in sales in six years, 21 to 127 locations worldwide, third in earnings (before interest and taxes) behind major fashion houses Gucci and Hermes.

But it wasn’t the numbers that di Marco wanted Kellogg students to know when he spoke to them at the school on Oct. 30.

“I’m not there to talk about figures,” di Marco said. “I’m here to tell you a story about how a small company became one of success. It’s ultimately a story of people and values.”
In January, di Marco will become CEO of the Gucci brand, under the Gucci Group.

With images of rich, hand-woven Bottega Veneta leather goods flashing on the screen behind him, di Marco told Kellogg students there was a time when the term luxury was precisely defined — it meant “extraordinary” — and Bottega captured luxury’s essence with its classic handbags and accessories.

But as luxury labels, such as Hermes and Coach, became more mainstream and attainable by more people, the definition of luxury became blurred.

“The extraordinary became ordinary,” di Marco said.

As a consequence, Bottega fell into the “ordinary” category, alongside other fashion houses. The company tried to revitalize its brand by bringing on new designers in the 1990s, people who splashed the company’s logo all over its merchandise and made Bottega Veneta items “flashy” with a “lack of class,” a far remove from the elegance that made the company so successful in the 1960s and 1970s, di Marco said.

“It started to lose value, there was no design innovation, it became a grandma brand,” di Marco said. “True luxury cannot be old things to old people. Luxury is timeless, rare.”

On the verge of bankruptcy, Gucci Group bought Bottega Veneta and appointed di Marco to overhaul the company in 2001. Under his helm, di Marco revived Bottega’s original values of “functionally, innovative design and craftsmanship.” He also made a point to invest in and ask the opinions of the firm’s 300 employees, instilling a creative environment for the artisans and designers who handcrafted every item in the company’s portfolio.

“Leadership to me is execution with people and through people,” di Marco said. “It took vision to seek clarity on who you are as a brand and being brave enough to stick to the long-term view and go against the trends despite the economic environment.”

Bottega Veneta did return to its luxury roots, producing clean lines and classic designs with no logo, he said. The company’s tagline became “when your initials are enough.” Di Marco said that Bottega customers are people who overcome the desire to own something that others own and that they choose to set their own trend.

“It’s not a bag that makes you look better but it’s the presence of you that makes the bag look better,” di Marco said.

When di Marco takes over the Gucci brand next year, he intends to stick to company values in a tough economic market.

“It is certain the future will be tough and imposing on us difficult challenges,” di Marco said. “In these difficult times, you go back to the basics to who you are and that’s the key to success. Luxury will remain a world of selling dreams.”

Di Marco’s presentation was part of the Fashion, Lifestyle & Design Series and was sponsored by the Segal Design Institute, Kellogg Form + Function Club and the Business Institutions Program.