25 maggio 2022
by Ilaria Conti

The Ambassador of Fizz


“Less ostentatious and more inclusive” luxury, involving more and more young people seeking shared values in the top of the range. Here to explain the 'mutation' of the sector is Matteo Lunelli, Chairman of Altagamma, who cites, as examples, two tailoring companies in Naples, Isaia and Kiton, which have “sustainability in their DNA” and have launched projects to promote talent and the cultural heritage of the Campania region. Lunelli says he is optimistic about the 2022 trend, despite the various risks: from the increase in the cost of energy and prices in general, to the problem of supply for some raw materials. There are many challenges, including moving exports from Russia to America and China. But the important thing is to seek to keep “the roots in the territory” in order not to lose that which is the “heart of ‘Made in Italy’.” Also CEO of Cantine Ferrari — “we are global ambassadors of fine quality Italian sparkling wines”— his company never stops innovating and looking for new combinations, such as pairing Ferrari DOC fizz with pizza, specifically the 100% Italian excellence made by the Salvo brothers in Naples.

The luxury sector was hit first by the pandemic and now by the war. How is it going, can you give us some figures?

After years of constant growth in 2020, the sector had lost more than 20% of turnover leading to what was one of the very rare steps backwards in a path of growth that had begun in the 1990s. In 2021, the recovery was very strong, almost a rebound beyond all expectations, with growth that, however, had not yet got us back up to the levels of 2019. According to the Altagamma Bain luxury goods monitor, in 2021, the sector recovered between 13% and 15% compared to 2020, after having lost between 20 and 25%. At the end of 2021, we were still around 10 percentage points below.

Which sectors are doing best?

Some sectors such as design or yachting have had a much more immediate recovery. There has been a huge demand for furniture and design goods because we have been spending much more time at home. Other sectors, such as fashion, have seen a rebound but not enough to reach the levels of 2019 and still others, such as hospitality, which have suffered very strongly from the block in tourist flows, have suffered greatly from the crisis in 2020 and even in 2021, they recovered, but very far from 2019.

In 2022, we are witnessing a trend of recovery. The speed of this recovery was very strong, but what happened with the war in Ukraine and other elements pose a number of risks and a series of questions.

The economic implications of this war can certainly be quite broad. There is a first effect on consumers, starting with Russian spending in the luxury goods market. The Russian market accounts for about 2-3% of the total.

Then there are some much broader impacts: the increase in the cost of energy, the problem of supplying certain raw materials. For example, in the design sector, some wood materials, such as birch, are almost impossible to find. As well as aluminum or nickel used in window frames, urea, which is used for adhesives. There is a theme linked to gold, which is increasing and paper, used in packaging but also in wine, which is hard to find and costs a lot.

These are risks that we are monitoring: we think that this growth rate will partly slow down but we are confident that this sector, which has a long-term positive secular trend, will tend to recover and be able to hold up.

With the new international scenarios, do you think there will be a repositioning of exports to new countries?

Certainly, at the moment, the Russian market, on which the Italian and international top of the range and various brands had wagered in the past, is essentially closed. We are witnessing a growing importance of the American market, which confirms itself as the most reliable and most evident long-term strategic partner for Europe. China is another area that continues to be a focus, because all our research says that Chinese consumers will still account for nearly half of all luxury goods purchases globally.

What has happened is that, whilst the Chinese used to buy by traveling around the world, now they buy exclusively in their own territory.

Has the target for your products changed as well?

The target has changed in various ways: certainly, young people, the new generations, are increasingly center stage in the luxury goods market. In 2025, 70% of the luxury goods market is projected to be generation Y and Z. In some areas, such as China, in particular, we see how generation Z is becoming one of the drivers especially of the growth in consumption.

Furthermore, there is greater focus on sustainability, manufacturing quality, luxury is less ostentatious and more inclusive: whilst once people chose a brand because it represented a status symbol, today consumers instead increasingly choose a high-end brand because it somehow represents shared values.

How important has sustainability become in your industry?

As far as sustainability is concerned, there is absolutely growing attention on the part of investors, buyers and the customers of our consumers. I would say that all our stakeholders are focusing increasingly on the issue of sustainability, from an environmental, economic and social point of view. As the Altagamma Foundation, we are pursuing various initiatives, but we like to say that our companies have sustainability in their DNA, because we believe that sustainability is in some ways part of the Italian high-end culture. 

Some brands in Southern Italy, for example, pursue sustainability initiatives relating to the promotion of local talent and their relationship with their territories. For example, thinking of tailoring in Naples, I would cite Isaia and Kiton. In the case of Isaia, in 2018, it created the Isaia Foundation, which first of all promotes cultural projects for the recovery and promotion of Campania's monumental heritage and organizes events and conferences to promote the region. Then, in the educational field, it got involved in the project Adotta una scuola (Adopt a School). It has partnered with a school in Naples and also works with the Vanvitelli University to foster know-how of Neapolitan tailoring.

Kiton, on the other hand, has created an in-house fine tailoring school: a three-year program launched in 2000 that teaches the art of Neapolitan tailoring updated with modern skills. This school guarantees its students great job opportunities. Kiton is also doing a lot of work with its more casual clothing brand, which was created by the third generation of the De Matteis family. The brand reuses composite fiberglass and carbon materials to create a new furnishing concept in their showrooms and in general, so they are doing a lot of work with innovative materials related to the circular economy.

The last example, again from the South, is a young Orange Fiber company, recently awarded by Altagamma in its support program for young companies in the creative industry; it is a very interesting company from Catania that already works with several other high-end brands and has developed a technology for producing fabrics from the industrial waste of citrus-based products.

Altagamma launched the Adopt a School project to create even closer links between education and industry. How can the new generations contribute to the excellence of Italian-made products? 

For us, Adopt a School is an amazing and very important project: our young people are the future. High-end products for the next few years could be a vehicle for new youth employment. The problem is that we have realized that there is the risk of misalignment between supply and demand of work.

On the one hand, there is the need to encourage vocations, for example towards manual work; on the other, there is the need to adapt the training courses. The Adopts a School project travels in this direction because it improves the dialog between school and business.

There is a mutual adoption between brand and school, building personalized courses that bring the company's expertise into the school and sometimes there is the possibility of internships for the students. Manufacturing know-how is the heart of Italian-made excellence. And this is an absolutely fundamental heritage that must be preserved, protected and handed down to future generations precisely through adequate training courses.

Could the fact that many luxury brands are now owned by foreigners affect the Italian character of products?

Fortunately, we have had virtuous examples of international groups, especially large French groups, which have acquired Italian brands but maintained their Italian identity and kept them strongly rooted in our territory. The important thing is that anyone who purchases an Italian brand is aware of the fact that the origin of a brand is precisely due to its roots in the territory: depriving it of this means emptying it of values. The excellence of our brands is also based on the relationship that often exists with territorial supply chains: ecosystems that are made up of small local suppliers, who have that know-how essential to the manufacturing quality of the 'Made in Italy’ label.

You are also CEO of Cantine Ferrari. What are the export figures like and in which countries is it most popular? 

As the Lunelli Group, the Italian market still remains our primary market, but we are growing well on international markets. We are the leading exporter, for example, of the Italian metodo classico (traditional method) and this year we will sell over one million bottles of the Italian metodo classico abroad. We are global ambassadors of fine quality Italian sparkling wine. The main markets for us are first America, followed by Japan and then, in Europe, Germany and Switzerland.

The complexity of Trento DOC sparkling wine can accompany many typical Italian dishes, including Neapolitan pizza. Italian food knows no regional borders, is it the same at an international level?

The fortune of metodo classico and Ferrari sparkling wine is that it is a very versatile accompaniment, and therefore we have always enjoyed working on new combinations between our Ferrari Trento DOC and food. The various innovative and very successful combinations include, for example, pizza: a fine quality pizza can be combined with a fine sparkling wine. So, we created this slogan pizza e bollicine (pizza and fizz) with various pizza chefs in Naples and beyond. With the Salvo brothers in Naples, who make some of the best Neapolitan pizza, we have forged a very close partnership and we have combined many of our labels with several of their pizzas. The freshness and acidity of our sparkling wines helps to offset the sweetness of the pizza dough or mozzarella. With pizzas with tomato, we like to accompany it with a rosé. In any case, there are really so many combinations in terms of regional cuisine and we love making them, also because, whilst it is true that each region has its own still wines, sparkling wines are less common and often you start with a flute of Ferrari and then continue with it to the end.

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