Article : TIME N STYLE, Times of India May-Jun 2006

The Italian connection

The famous Salvatore Ferragamo label has made its official stop in India with a store in Mumbai. There are plans to open 10 more stores in this country in the next five years says Fulvia Visconti Ferragamo. The Vice-President of Salvatore Ferragamo, Italia SpA, spoke to Martin D’Souza

Matching up to the brilliance of your late father is obviously an arduous task. Are you always measuring your success wondering how your father would have expected you to perform?
Not everyday. But yes, all of us have grown up to complete what his dream was. He founded the company in 1927, and he spent all his life with the company. His dream was to dress the woman, head to toe, and have a complete range for her. Unfortunately, he passed away too early to accomplish his project. All of us got together to realise his dream and decided to do it his way with what we thought was right for the moment, with certain principles that he had instilled in the company.

What are the finer business aspects you learnt from your father?
You have to fight for quality all the time. You also have to be innovative and creative and then do things with passion and dedication. This is how my father did it and this is what we have imbibed from him.

Was it a conscious decision on your part to join the family business or were there other areas you were interested in?
It wasn’t like ‘you have to’. When my father passed away, my mother was just 30 years old and she was left alone with six children! Only my elder sister worked with my father for two years and it was a great help for mother, as my sister knew a little bit about the functioning. It wasn’t that we were forced to help; it was our desire and then we started to enjoy the work. I’m not saying that I really loved my work and it was exactly what I wanted.

Did you, at any time, have to prove a point to your subordinates?
Not really, because there were no ego clashes. I’m a quiet person. I like to first deeply understand things and then find out the right solutions. It’s not mine or yours; the important thing is to do the right thing for the company. We are deeply involved with the working of the company.

And what about design sense? Did you have to hone your skills in a design institute?
No. There was no design institute. Maybe I inherited whatever design skills I have. But I have to admit that wherever I go, I’m very fascinated about whatever craftsmanship and beautiful objects I see. This has probably helped me. I imbibe from whatever design that catches my eye.

How involved are you in the famous Ferragamo shoe set up?
I’m not involved directly with shoes. The company is very big and we have very capable managers.

As you were growing up, obviously your father had a huge following, did it ever get to your head, or were you the quiet type?
Not at all. I was a very quiet child and also my parents were keeping us very quiet because they believed that to develop your own personality you don’t need to have too much pressure on yourself. I actually remember my teacher once asking me for a discount and I said, ‘Ok I will ask my mother’. I narrated the request to my mother. When I went to school the next day with the letter, which would give her that discount, the lady was ‘thank you, thank you, thank you…’ And I said to myself what the hell is she so excited about.

From shoes, the famous Ferragamo label has established itself in other accessories as well like handbags, scarves, ties fragrances… How has the response been these products internationally?
Yes, we have many products. Some were straight away successful, some we had to work towards building up. However, overall, we have a very, very strong acceptance in the international market.

There are a lot of luxury brands internationally, how different is your brand positioned and what has been the success ratio as opposed to other brands?
We are very strict with our brand personality. We have also tried to make the best quality product for the less possible price. So this equilibrium works very well for us.

What prompted you to bring your brand to India?
I would say a very good response of Indian customers abroad. In Europe and US we have a strong Indian customer base. They keep on coming. They want new collections. They are very fond of us. Plus, we do believe in this country.

How do you plan to woo the Indian buyer?
I hope we do it the same way we do it with the rest of the world. We have a very lovely story about Ferragamo in India. In 1938, my father designed beautiful platform shoes with precious stones for the Maharani of Cooch Behar (the mother of the Maharani of Jaipur). In 1985, when we opened our Museum in Florence, the Maharani of Jaipur came to the opening!

How many stores are you planning in India in the next five years?
In the next five years we plan to open 10 more stores. One more in a year’s time in Delhi, then a second one in Mumbai, Bangalore and probably a few in the other cities.

How would you describe India as a destination for selling luxury brands?
This is a growing country and has a growing market. I see a lot of opportunities in India, but not too much too soon. Gradually, there will be huge returns for our investments.

Five years from now where do you see Ferragamo in India?
Everywhere. [Laughs].

Earliest memories of her father…
Going hunting with his big dog. He also taught me how to swim and I’m very fond of the sea. So whenever I’m on the beach, I think about that and it’s as if he was there just yesterday. The memories are so strong…

Bossy nature…
I’m not a tough taskmaster. I’m too sweet. I know, being too sweet should be bad but my experience of being sweet has only been good.

To be a woman on top…
I never felt like that. I didn’t want to feel like that. I don’t want to feel like that. So I don’t know how it feels. I don’t like that attitude.

Dealing with employees…
I try to be real. I’m like that for everybody. When I see people who move to the top who don’t deserve it then I get deeply hurt. Yes, a lot of backstabbing goes on. You can’t trap them straight away. You have to try and let them get trapped by their own mischief.

Normal day…
Non-stop. From 7am to midnight.

Managing business and family…
At my age it’s not difficult anymore because my children are all grown up. It was quiet tough when they were small. I have four children. They already suffered because I was away a lot working hard. I always kind of rushed and dedicated every minute of my freedom for them. Now, I’m trying to recover whatever time I took away from them.

Defining joy of marriage…
Great respect for each other, trustfulness and understanding and enjoying each other

Success mantra…
Be optimistic.

Husband speak…
He is a lawyer. He wears Ferragamo shoes and ties.





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Copyright 2006 Martin D'Souza. All rights reserved.