I met Andrea Bucalossi in Mr&Mrs Italy’s offices on Corso Venezia, in central Milan, right in the top fashion district. A punchbag was hanging from the ceiling. “Is this about alleviating tension?” I asked, “when things are getting tough?” Not surprisingly, the answer was no. Mr&Mrs Italy is an incredible success story, the sort of business school case history that shows that the market is in no way saturated as long as you have a good idea, energy and talent. Andrea Bucalossi and his partner bought into the company in autumn 2013, because they thought that there was something promising in one of its products. The brand was called Mr&Mrs Fur at that time, and what they saw was a parka with a rabbit fur lining. That product became the starting point for their new brand concept, Mr&Mrs Italy, and it enabled them to increase sales from the 1.5 million that Mr&Mrs Fur was achieving in 2013, to the 57 million euro sales expected for 2017. “Our products are highly priced, mostly above 3,500 euro” said Andrea, “because they have an inherent high value. On average there’s more than 400 euro of fur, at cost, inside the garment. It appeals to a broad range of clientele, both the millennials and their parents. It is a very young and fashion-forward item. It represents an emerging trend, a crossover between luxury and casual, a major fashion phenomenon over the last two years. Our parka is a street look, interpreted in a luxe way.”
In addition to fur trim, Mr&Mrs Italy parkas are replete in patches and embroidery. There is a historical reference here. In the 1950s, the Mods bought army-surplus parkas and wore them to protect their Italian three-button suits while they were roaming around on their Vespas. Mr&Mrs Italy have done the same, in a vivid combination of simple, olive drab military-style fabric, brightly coloured fur, and the meticulous detailing. Though now an international brand, Mr&Mrs Italy retains a powerfully Italian identity, as Andrea said. “It tracks back to the Emilia region where we have our origins. In the 1960s, the Dolce Vita was acted out at the Grand Hotel in Rimini, a magical setting where people would dress up and change three times a day and have balls. We are linked to the love of life, the Dolce Vita with its passion for good food, good music, beautiful women and unforgettable locations.”
Mr&Mrs Italy have benefited from personality endorsement. “There a lot of celebrities who endorse our products spontaneously,” said Andrea, “and they are often from the world of music, such as Rihanna, Pia Mia and other rappers. We were lucky enough that these and other celebrities in Asia and Europe bought our products and wore them, people were photographing them, all we had to do was to post the photos on Instagram and other social media. That was hugely successful.”
There are many cities where you are not yet present. Does this mean that there is virtually unlimited potential for growth?
“Bear in mind that our parkas are very high-priced items so you are looking at the very tip of the pyramid, we are in the so-called absolute luxury segment. If you really want to go massive, you’d probably be looking at lowering the price point, which we don’t want to do at this time. Recent studies that we have conducted show that we have 30% of market share in the women’s parka, which is quite a substantial share. In men’s it’s lower, 10%, so we’ve got a nice avenue of growth there. Then there is organic growth: the parka segment is growing by 7% which is a nice figure.”
Thinking of your high price point, are online sales a significant proportion of your business?
“Online sales on our proprietary platform is 8%, which is quite good. If we include what we sell to e-tailers, normal wholesale accounts that do business online, that figure would be 30-40% of our total revenue. The parka lends itself well to online sales because there are no size problems, and the fact that the value density is so sharp, at least €3,000 per item, means that you’re not affected by transportation costs, or the cost of the odd return.”
How does the design process work?
“We have quite a sizeable team. There are now 56 people in the company, and around 8 people work in the design team. We don’t rely on just one individual talent, a superstar designer who does it all. We have at least three people currently working on our collections. Geraldina Bassani Antivari is a very young and talented designer, and she works on the women’s precollection. James Waldron has just finished designing the men’s collection, and Antonio Berardi is working on the women’s main collection. We have many other younger designers. We also run a talent pool, with young people arriving straight out of fashion design schools. And we run collaborations with other creative talents, such as French street artist Jay Ahr.”
Mr&Mrs Italy is a story of success and rapid growth. Would you say that Milan is like a well-oiled fashion machine, or has it been a struggle?
“Italy is one of the most challenging places to do business, because of the bureaucracy and loopholes and difficult situations in the labour market. But apart from that, Milan is a sweet spot, the place to be for fashion, because everyone lives and breathes fashion.”
What’s your favourite place in the world?
“That’s a hard question. On a boat, I would say.”
How do you define luxury?
“Having the time to spend it.”
Do you have time to do that?
“I’m making it. Still not enough.”
Read more on the Mr&Mrs Italy website.
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