LOVE, BLOOD AND RESPECT are the eternal ties that bind. These are the foundations upon which dynasties are built. Case in point: The Italian fashion houses Ferragamo and Etro, which are helmed by the founders’ descendants today.
Working together as a family has its own set of advantages, say the second-generation heirs of these hallowed brands. Decision-making processes are facilitated by trust and a near-telepathic connection between blood kin. A strong sense of unity and purpose carries the descendants forward. And for the children of these great houses, keeping the business within the family is of utmost importance.
Gerolamo “Gimmo” Etro founded his company in 1968. Now his four children — Jacopo, Kean, Ippolito, and Veronica — run the show. The eldest Etro son, Jacopo, says: “In Italy, family ties are very important.”
As the head of Etro’s textiles, home, and accessories collections, Jacopo relishes family meetings, where he and his siblings discuss business over meals.
“Every time we start a collection, we have lunch together,” he says. “We don’t want meetings that look too executive. It’s more like a family get-together — with a nice pasta dish. You are more relaxed when you are at the table.”
The Etro Narrative
The siblings are united by a singular mission — to tell the Etro story, the way their father would have wanted. To commemorate the label’s 50th anniversary in 2018, the Etros worked on a major exhibition at Mudec, Milan’s Museum of Culture. The psychedelic world of the brand was seen through 50 outfits made of exotic fabrics, replete with the signature paisley patterns.
Family history is interwoven and spun into such fabrics, if you care to look for the tales. Hunting down the world’s textiles is a tradition that began with Gimmo, and his grandmother was the inspiration behind the brand’s paisley motif.
“My great grandmother had a beautiful evening gown. My father saw it and fell in love with paisleys,” says Jacopo. “He started looking for paisley designs, collecting 19th-century shawls from France, fabric from India. From there, everyone in the family started travelling, finding new paisleys, new designs.” Jacopo himself has travelled to 130 countries, and amassed 50 boxes of fabrics.
The Ferragamo Empire Stands Tall
The Ferragamos feel their duties to their late father keenly. It’s a calling instilled in them by Salvatore’s wife, Wanda.
In 1960, Salvatore Ferragamo died of cancer. Wanda stepped in to helm what was, at the time, a shoe-making business. She was adamant that the company keep the name of the founder and patriarch, and this has translated to an undying family loyalty.
“We never want to sell our business,” says Massimo Ferragamo, the youngest son of Salvatore. The surety in his voice quells speculations that the Ferragamo heirs were to sell their stakes, after the passing of Wanda last October.
Who’s Who In The Businesses
There is a refusal in these houses to allow too many outsiders into the fold. At least, not at the very top. Salvatore and Wanda Ferragamo’s son, Ferruccio, is president and chairman; another son, Leonardo, supervises business development. Their daughter, Giovanna, is vice chairwoman.
It’s not a straight inheritance. Only three out of the 23 grandchildren have been allowed to join the company, holding director to coordinator positions in various departments.
There are constant rumours of buyouts, with investors aplenty lining up to take over. Massimo reveals why such intrusions are unwelcome: “We like being independent,” he says.
The four Etro siblings, too, hold tightly to the important roles in their empire. Gimmo’s youngest son, Ippolito, is chief executive of Etro USA. Siblings Kean and Veronica are creatives who spearhead the Men’s and Women’s collections, respectively. There are outside talents at Etro, Jacopo points out. Its CEO in Asia, luxury fashion veteran Fabio Strada, is an example.
“The family doesn’t have the talent to do everything,” says Jacopo with a smile.
Fashion’s Davids and Goliaths
Independent fashion houses like Ferragamo and Etro are fast becoming an endangered species, with Italian brands being eyes for takeovers. French luxury conglomerates LVMH and Kering (themselves owned by French family empires), have bought the lion’s share of the world’s luxe labels, including many of the big Italian names.
Gucci belongs to the Pinault family’s Kering group. In 2018, Michael Kors paid US$2.1 billion to acquire Versace. In the same year, Italian brand Missoni sold its 41.2 per cent stake to a private equity firm for €70 million.
“Standing alone to fight against these big groups is not easy…It’s like David and Goliath,” says Jacopo. He adds that keeping things in the family helps brands like his own remain undiluted. And, if there are challenges, he remains undeterred.
“My ambition is to build the company and make it into one of the most important luxury groups in Italy,” says Jacopo. “And of course I would love to beat up the… big groups.”