INTERVIEW | CEO of Mr&Mrs Italy Shares The Brand’s View in The China Market After Receiving Investment From Hony Capital

November 20,2019

Italian luxury parka label Mr & Mrs Italy, founded in 2007 and taken over by private equity honcho Andrea Bucalossi in 2013, received an investment from the Chinese private equity firm Hony Capital ( 弘毅投资) in 2017 to boost its development in the Asian market.

Luxe.Co conducted an exclusive interview with Frediano Sebastiani, CEO of Mr&Mrs Italy, for an in-depth discussion on brand development strategies and his views of the China market, as well as the opportunities and challenges he has encountered.

Luxe.Co: What’s your experience with Chinese investment? What does Hony Capital (弘毅投资) bring to the brand? 

Frediano Sebastiani: We are very happy to work with Hony Capital, and we share many of the same opinions and views. Though Mr&Mrs Italy has already opened 11 stores in China, there are still a lot of space to grow. With Hony Capital’s support, we are able to expand in a faster way. And our partner knows the China market well, and also respect and support us -- it is good to get the views from the China side to help us better understand the China market.

Luxe.Co: What’s Mr&Mrs Italy’s future plans for store openings? 

Frediano Sebastiani: Actually back in 2013, when our brand was still very young, we didn't even have one store. I joined the company in 2017, because I have more retail background -- the first thing I decided to do is to accelerate and open several stores in Greater China. 

Now we have 7 stores in mainland China, 3 stores in Hong Kong, and 1 store in Macau -- it was considered to be a huge amount of stores for our brand, representing great effort and investment in the Great China region, as we believe physical stores are the way to expose the brand image and communicate with customers. We plan to open more stores in China, (but we can’t reveal which cities) -- there are a lot of cities in China that have great potential. 

Luxe.Co: What do you think of the Chinese market and Chinese consumers?

Frediano Sebastiani: Firstly, Chinese customers are not only in China, but this category includes all the Chinese tourists and overseas Chinese people -- they are also very important. 

Secondly, when we talk about Chinese customers, it may sound like they are one kind of consumer. But actually, consumers from Beijing are very different from consumers from Shanghai, Chengdu or Dalian as their tastes, lifestyles, and weather are all different. And of course, this in turn will affect the brand -- we provide more winter clothes for northern cities, versus more lightweight clothes for Southern cities. And based on our observation, Chengdu consumers are extremely fashion forward, who like to experiment with all types of colors, with a very free and open mentality. So our stores in different cities in China will select the different styles that match the city and consumers the most. 

Luxe.Co: In terms of retail, what is the difference between the China market and the European and US markets? 

Frediano Sebastiani: The way Western customers shop is quite different from Chinese customers. I think Western customers are more used to shopping on the street -- you can find all the luxury brand stores on the 5th Avenue, SoHo in New York, Oxford Street in London. But in China, most luxury brand stores are inside the shopping malls. Of course, this will change the way we operate the store. Because on the street, you can decide what time you want to open, what time you want to close, for how many days, and to organize which events. But being in the shopping mall, while it is very convenient and you get the foot traffic and marketing from the mall, you also need to follow their rules and policies. 

Luxe.Co: What’s your opinion of the combination of luxury brands and e-commerce?

Frediano Sebastiani: I think nowadays many people buy luxury products online. Some people come to physical stores to learn about the brand from sales assistants, and they develop a more inclusive feeling of the brand. If they like the products and see them online, they will buy online. In the other way, you search for the brand online, you get curious, you might go to the store to do the transaction, so it works both ways. E-commerce can either serve as an information resource for our brand, or can be a convenient way to execute on things they already knew. 

Luxe.Co: What is Mr&Mrs Italy’s plan for e-commerce?

Frediano Sebastiani: We just launched our official store on T-MALL. We are also on Secoo (寺库) and Farfetch. Physical stores are still important for brand building, but the digital channel is becoming more and more important -- not only to build the brand, but also to increase sales. Before you open many physical stores, you may choose to open digital stores first to reach out to different people. 

We also opened our WeChat official account. For Chinese customers, they are very used to learning about a brand through its WeChat official account. For many Chinese customers, they also like to do online research before they go to the physical store. 

But no matter what channels you choose, you have to provide as much experience and information to your customers as possible. First, you need to get people to get interested in the brand and know the brand, and secondly they will get to know the products.

Luxe.CO:  Nowadays, many luxury brands are trying to attract young consumers. How does Mr&Mrs Italy plan to reach young consumers in the future? 

Frediano Sebastiani: Mr&Mrs Italy is a young brand, so we don’t really have this problem, our brand image is young, and we have many young customers attracted and interested in our brand. Our main customer group is between 25 and 35 years old, but really this depends on region and gender. In Europe, we try to attract more fashion forward customers. In China, it’s much more complex and we also have some mature customers. Of the overseas Chinese markets, Toronto has the most young Chinese consumers. 

At the same time, we are also working on several ways to attract them. First of all, we communicate with our young customers through digital platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, and Tmall. We are also working through collaborations with young talented designers, where the price is much more affordable for young consumers. We are also looking for cooperating with KOLs, designers and Chinese celebrities. Many celebrities bought our products by themselves, which is a good signal.

Luxe.CO: Will Mr&Mrs Italy expand its category? 

Frediano Sebastiani: We already partially have, but since we are outerwear brand, we want to stay focused on what we do best. This also creates differentiation with other brands. We don’t want to be a brand that produces million products, but instead only one iconic product. It is very industrial. Our item is unique -- each one takes more than 40 hours to make by hand, each piece is unique, and it has the real quality and luxury. And we are the first brand to create luxury parkas and put parka into the fashion category.  

Luxe.CO: What are the suggestions for overseas brands looking to enter the Chinese market?

Frediano Sebastiani: As a brand you have to be respectful of who you are, and always keep your identity clear. At the same time you need to respect Chinese consumers, who are more and more refined and sophisticated. It’s really matters how you introduce yourself and focusing on ways to communicate with customers in a proper way.

As we all know, due to the extremely developed social media and e-commerce In China, brands need to put effort to understand the internet ecosystem in China, and understand how to use different channels to reach out to your customers -- no matter if you are a luxury brand or a niche brand. 

One more challenge, that I also see as an opportunity, is that Mr&Mrs Italy, as an outerwear brand are also repurposing some functional items into more new luxurious ways. For example the traditional army green cotton parkas which were used for US military, you can now find in the flea market in London or New York, Mr&Mrs Italy was the first brand to be able to elevate the parka to make it more fun, fashionable and luxurious with colorful fur accents and embroideries, 100% made in Italy by the finest artisans. We also try to do it with other items, like bombers, french coats and down jackets and so on.There is a unique opportunity for us to show customers that the parkas and other items can be beautiful and iconic too.


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