September 9, 2011 5:17 pm

Luxury: the next generation

As New York fashion week begins, the spotlight is on the family members poised to take the reins at the world’s biggest brands

One of the more astonishing success stories of the past century has been the evolution of luxury retailing, from small-scale family firms to an international, multi-billion dollar industry. In the process, the family names of the men and women responsible for this transformation – among them Armani, Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Lauren and Missoni – have become more familiar as brands than as individuals. Yet, as the modern industry struggles to reconcile its artisanal heritage with today’s public offerings and quarterly reports, it is the personal, family connection that bridges the gap.

For, as brand founders age – Giorgio Armani is 77; Ralph Lauren, 71 – a new generation of sons, daughters, nieces and nephews is being wooed into the family business. Whether they ultimately take the place of their elders or not, they will unquestionably play a big role in these businesses in years to come, not to mention influencing what the rest of us see trickling down into stores. For, whatever the official title, unofficially they are the thread of continuity between past and future.

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Vanessa Friedman

Of course, this not a new phenomenon. In 1992, after the death of Emilio Pucci, his daughter Laudomia took over the house he founded and, despite selling the brand to LVMH eight years later, has remained with Pucci as deputy chairman and image director. Ermenegildo Zegna founded his eponymous men’s wear brand in 1910; today the company is run by his grandson Gildo. Veronica Etro designs women’s wear at Etro, the firm her parents founded in 1968; Carolina Herrera’s younger daughters Carolina Jr and Patricia play advisory roles in their mother’s eponymous company. Eliza Bolen, Oscar de la Renta’s step-daughter, is ODLR’s head of licensing and her husband Alex is chief executive; and François-Henri Pinault took over Artemis, the holding company that owns LVMH rival PPR after his father, François, retired in 2003.

Carolina Herrera Jr and sister Patricia

Carolina Herrera Jr and sister Patricia

What is interesting about the new crop of heirs, however, is that in the face of industrialisation, instead of becoming less important, these family ties, the belief that there is equity in what you learn growing up at the dinner table, are becoming ever more crucial. Now, even children who once stated they had no interest in following in their parents’ footsteps have become part of the trend. Indeed, it is telling that, no matter what their generation or marital status, most of the family members now in the family business are using the name of the brand to brand themselves.

Who are they? As the month-long round of fashion shows begins, we spotlight a group of the names to know in luxury’s next generation. Though not comprehensive, it includes those we think will play real decision-making roles in years to come, including some previous unknowns. They may never take a step at the end of the runway but, somewhere behind the curtain, they will be pulling the strings.

ROBERTA ARMANI

Age: 41

Title: Worldwide Director of Public Relations and Entertainment

Giorgio and Roberta Armani

Giorgio and Roberta Armani

Roberta is Armani’s niece, the daughter of his older brother Sergio. Though she has worked for her uncle for more than 20 years, she only became a public figure about five years ago. Since then, she has played an increasingly visible role in the company, whether sitting among the celebrities in the front row of every fashion show, travelling with her uncle, or accepting an award on his behalf. She was responsible for engineering the house’s most recent coup: dressing Lady Gaga for last year’s Grammys – in a sparkly space-age number that looked as though a diamond comet was orbiting the singer’s body – as well as her 2011 tour, a masterstroke in making the classic Italian label look hip and modern. More relaxed and outgoing than her uncle, she is clearly becoming a new version of Armani – less grey, more glitzy – and is likely to be responsible for shepherding the Armani image into the 21st century without relinquishing its iron ties to Hollywood: it was Roberta, for example, who helped organise Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ 2006 wedding, and now there’s nary a fashion show Mrs Cruise does not attend.

. . .

SILVANA ARMANI

Age: 55

Title: creative director, Emporio Armani; member of the board, Giorgio Armani

Roberta’s older sister Silvana has worked behind the scenes in a design capacity for years, training alongside her uncle. She is the only family member currently involved in the creative side (a cousin, Andrea Camerana, is a non-executive director). Silvana has been creative director of women’s wear for Armani’s younger, less expensive but profit-spinning Emporio Armani line since its launch in 2001. Her responsibilities now encompass women’s design at all the Armani brands, including Privé and Mainline, positioning her to take the creative helm should the maestro retire – though he has shown no sign of it so far and has yet to name an official successor. Still, insiders tip her as the eventual aesthetic heir.

. . .

ANTOINE ARNAULT

Age: 34

Title: chief executive, Berluti; member of the LVMH executive board

Delphine and Antoine Arnault with Alexa Chung

Delphine and Antoine Arnault with Alexa Chung

The second of Bernard Arnault’s children with his first wife Ann Dewavrin (Arnault Sr also has three younger boys with his current wife, Helene Mercier), Antoine attended the French graduate business school Insead and founded Domainoo.com, a web registration company, before joining Louis Vuitton in 2002. He spent eight years at the brand, the heart of the LVMH empire, most recently as head of communications, where he was responsible for the “core values” advertising campaign, a much-lauded affirmation of the classic LV line that lured names such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Bono into posing for the brand. Bernard Arnault, who began his professional life in his father’s construction business, is famously dynastic and known for moving executives from brand to brand: Antoine’s move late last year to become chief executive at the luxury shoe brand Berluti is a significant step in his education. Berluti, said to be one of Bernard’s pet brands, has been regarded as a “hidden jewel” within the company and Antoine is charged with making it shine brightly in the public sphere. If he succeeds, it will clearly position him for a top role in the group, especially as he is one of the few insiders comfortable with the internet, an area his father knows will become increasingly important in the future.

. . .

DELPHINE ARNAULT

Age: 36

Title: deputy general manager, Dior Couture; member of executive committee; member of the board of Emilio Pucci and Loewe

Regarded as “the more serious” of Bernard Arnault’s eldest children, Delphine spent two years as a consultant at McKinsey before joining her father’s company in 2000, where she worked with John Galliano on his eponymous brand. The designer made the gown she wore to marry Italian wine heir Alessandro Vallarino Gancia in 2005. Though she has taken a public back seat to her younger brother Antoine, Delphine is playing an increasingly large role at Dior, the brand closest to her father’s heart: it was his first luxury purchase, forming the cornerstone of the LVMH empire. She has also been instrumental in many of the decisions regarding which designer should be at which brand – helping, for example, to woo Stuart Vevers to Loewe, and Peter Dundas to Emilio Pucci – and will play a key role in deciding who should replace Galliano at Dior. Billions of dollars and many jobs ride on the choice.

. . .

KRISTINA BLAHNIK

Age: 37

Title: deputy managing director, Manolo Blahnik

Manolo and Kristina Blahnik

Manolo and Kristina Blahnik

Manolo’s niece Kristina has been one of the movers behind the recent international expansion of her uncle’s business and its transformation from a London-based destination to a global footwear powerhouse able to compete with other international accessory labels. Originally trained as an architect (she had her own practice, Data Nature Associates, with her former husband Nick Leith-Smith and helped design the Manolo Blahnik stores), she was lured into the family business two years ago. This year she took over as managing director from her mother, Evangelina, challenging the conventional wisdom that Manolo Blahnik would end with Manolo. Though not a shoe designer, she has been charged with overseeing the creation of her uncle’s prototypes in Italy and has been responsible for collaborating on runway shoes for Antonio Berardi, Richard Nicoll and Louise Goldin. She was also the driving force behind the Manolo for Liberty special collection.

. . .

CAROLINA CASTIGLIONI

Age: 30

Title: director of special projects, Marni.com

Carolina was previously kept in the background of Marni, the publicity-shy Italian fashion house founded by her parents Consuelo and Gianni in 1994 (her mother’s family ran a fur house that formed the basis of the brand). She has only been introduced to the world at large this season as head of internet strategy, six years after launching the brand’s e-store, now the largest Marni retail outlet in the world. As a result, Carolina’s responsibilities have grown and she has been named a brand “ambassador”, travelling to Sydney this year to represent Marni. Also involved in the design of the company’s successful costume jewellery line, she’s a prime example of the growing trend among luxury brands of using the younger generation to pioneer their forays into the world of new technology, new brand extensions and new markets.

. . .

JAMES FERRAGAMO

Age: 40

Title: director of women’s leather goods, Salvatore Ferragamo

James and Ferruccio Ferragamo

James and Ferruccio Ferragamo

One of the twin sons of Ferruccio Ferragamo (chairman of the Ferragamo Group), James is currently the only third-generation family member involved in the design side of the house his grandfather, Salvatore, built. One of the driving forces behind the house’s renewed push in women’s accessories, he helped spearhead recent re-issues of classic flats favoured by Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo and other legendary stars, reinforcing the brand’s Hollywood heritage. Known for his matinee-star looks and cultural dexterity (educated in England and a graduate of New York University’s Stern School of Business), James joined the family company in 1998. With glossy magazines leaping on his story, leveraging his appeal has been part of his role ever since. He is often seated amid celebrities at fashion shows and is used as the face of the brand. Now Ferragamo is publicly listed (it held its long-anticipated public offering in June), his status as a symbol of continuity should rise.

. . .

DAVID LAUREN

Age: 40

Title: senior vice-president of advertising, marketing and corporate communications, Polo Ralph Lauren

The second of Ralph Lauren’s three children, David is the one who physically most resembles his father. He tried not to go into the family business – launching a Gen-X magazine called Swing when at Duke University in the US – but joined to spearhead Polo’s move online in 2000. He was responsible for the touch-screen windows at the company’s British stores during Wimbledon in 2007, as well as last November’s “4D” extravaganza, which celebrated a decade online with a 3D film projected on to the stores in New York and London, accompanied by gusts of perfume. The event shut down swathes of Madison Avenue and Bond Street. David is widely seen not as taking the patriarch’s place – he has no design background and may never want to step on a runway – but as embodying the brand’s reach into the 21st century.

. . .

LOLA RYKIEL

Age: 25

Title: head of public relations in America, Sonia Rykiel

Lola, Nathalie and Sonia Rykiel

Lola, Nathalie and Sonia Rykiel

Granddaughter of Sonia, Lola is the middle daughter of Nathalie Rykiel, artistic director of Sonia Rykiel the brand, and Simon Burstein (son of British retailer Joan Burstein and chief executive of their family fashion buisness Brown’s). Lola trained as a modern dancer but found her way into the family company about a year ago. Her move to the US, where Rykiel has nowhere near the same profile it does in Europe, signals both a concerted push for the brand in America and for Lola’s own status within the company; part of her remit is to represent the brand in America to a new generation. Though she has yet to try her hand at design, Lola says she has “an inner sense of what is right for our brand”. For years, Sonia has called out Nathalie to accompany her at the end-of-show bow. The odds are that, in a decade or two, the pair at the end of the runway will be Nathalie and Lola.

. . .

MARGHERITA MACCAPANI MISSONI

Age: 28

Title: accessories designer, Missoni

Margherita, Angela and Rosita Missoni

Margherita, Angela and Rosita Missoni

Margherita, the third generation to be involved in the business started by her grandparents Ottavio and Rosita, tried, like her mother Angela before her, to do something else with her life – in Margherita’s case by studying acting at Lee Strasberg in New York (Angela ran her own clothing line for a few years). However, just over a year ago, she returned home and joined the business. Charged with both representing the brand as an “ambassadoress” – she is the face of the current Missoni for Target campaign – and designing accessories, Margherita has proven adept at understanding the contemporary business reality of a personal connection between a family member and consumers, and the way accessories can power a business. Frequently photographed and featured in the pages of magazines wearing Missoni and accompanied by friends such as Bianca Brandolini and Lauren Santo Domingo, she is perhaps the best advertisement the family could have created for the lifestyle on offer. The kind, you might even say, that has to be born, not made.

Additional research, Hardeep Chohan

On Monday, FT.com is launching Luxury 360, a one-stop shop for the FT’s luxury coverage, www.ft.com/luxury360

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