March 26, 2014 9:05 pm

Matteo Marzotto reveals his plans to revitalise his country’s gold industry

A worker uses traditional handcrafting techniques at the Bucellatti atelier downtown in Milan February 21, 2008©Reuters

Craftsmanship: Italy specialises in small and expensive items

The quiet Milan street that is home to Matteo Marzotto, the Italian luxury and fashion tycoon, gives no indication of the visual feast awaiting the visitor inside.

Outside it may be grey, but within the walls of the apartment the mood recalls the romanticism of a Marrakesh souk. Swags of purple velvet drape the ceilings and walls, the sofas are burnt brocade red. Offsetting it all, vast paintings of modern art and impressionism cover the walls.

“I love colour, I need drama. Minimalism makes me feel ill,” says the 47-year old entrepreneur who gained international renown with his turnround of luxury brands Valentino and Vionnet.

Today, though, Mr Marzotto’s passion for colour and drama have brought a new challenge. After years in the luxury fashion business, Mr Marzotto is turning his eye to a new front for the world’s of luxury goods: high end jewellery and luxury accessories.

The entrepreneur, who is the sixth generation of an Italian textile dynasty, is the new executive chairman of Fiera di Vicenza, which stages one of the world’s leading gold and jewellery fairs.

The timing of his arrival is no coincidence. Jewellery, whether fine pieces in gold and silver or bijouterie – the word for more accessibly priced jewellery made of stones, resin or plastic – has become the hot topic of luxury goods companies seeking to expand their brands into total lifestyle emporiums for global consumers.

“When I imagine a world-class brand, I cannot see its development without jewellery in there somewhere,” Mr Marzotto says.

“Sometimes, we have precious stones on shoes and bags, or they have their own bijouterie line. These things are super pretty – they may not cost €1m but €1,000 – and that is why the fashion brands cannot but have jewellery and gold in their pipeline today,” he says.

Matteo Marzotto©Getty

Matteo Marzotto

Mr Marzotto’s idea at Fiera di Vicenza is to bridge this gap between the jewellery world and the fashion industry by bringing together Italian artisans and the fashion world.

In May, VincenzaOro, the gold fair, is adding to its remit a new event called Origin. The plan is to create a hub for the best artisans and craftsmen in Italy to promote their products worked in leather, stone, technology and textile to buyers from the global accessories business.

Alongside, Mr Marzotto has brought in Not Just a Label, the global online sales platform that represents 13,000 young designers from 106 countries.

The event taps into Italy’s growing influence as the manufacturing hub of the global fashion world. An estimated 70 per cent of French luxury goods are now made in Italy, according to Altagamma, the fashion association.

Mr Marzotto points out that while Italy’s jewellery artisans make things that are very small and very expensive and very special and involve a lot of design, they are poor at marketing them,” he says.

By contrast, “most of the better advertised products are offered for sale by fashion companies such as Chanel, or the jewellery of Louis Vuitton or those owned by Kering”.

Therefore, Mr Marzotto wants to use the platform of Fiera di Vicenza to promote what he describes as “the well done in Italy”.

“We need to build a network to promote ourselves internationally, because we are a small country and we need to face globalisation together,” he says.

He also sees his role promoting the Italian jewellery industry through Fiera Vicenza as a calling, describing himself as a “civil servant” for Italy.

He was previously a tourism ambassador for Italy for two years.

“As an entrepreneur, I’ve always been involved in textiles and fashion. And as a civil servant I realised I was attracted by promoting good Italian products and good Italian craftsmanship,” he says.

He was president of haute couture house Valentino when the fiery, high-spending designer, Valentino Garavani, after whom it was named, was at the helm.

Mr Marzotto nonetheless was among those who managed to turn round Valentino, eventually selling it to Permira, the private equity group, at what was at the time the highest premium paid for a fashion group.

The Marzotto family’s sale of Valentino came under the spotlight of the Italian tax authorities, which have targeted several Italian fashion companies that have traditionally kept their holding companies outside of Italy. The authorities claimed 13 people including Mr Marzotto evaded taxes. He has denied the charges.

He went on to the French house Vionnet, which he sold in 2012 to Kazakh businesswoman Goga Askenazi. Mr Marzotto has never revealed the price of the deal, but describes it as “super successful”.

“I realise from experience how much intangible things weigh on the valuation of a brand.

“When we see newspaper stories saying that Loro Piana has been sold to LVMH for 23 times ebitda [earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation], it looks outrageous,” he says.

“But that is the magic of luxury goods. These are the intangibles that make this business bloody difficult, but also exciting and fascinating,” he adds with another of his wide smiles.

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