About two weeks before their December 29th gala, the Italian retailer LuisaViaRoma descended upon the French-governed West Indie island of St. Barth to begin production on their latest UNICEF benefit. As an inaugural event, the patriarch of the family-run business Andrea Panconesi hopes the benefit, headlined this time by English pop star Dua Lipa, will become an annual event tailor-made to court American clients with deep philanthropical pockets.
IPO IN THE MAKING
Panconesi sat with me the morning of the event to outline what the next year will look like for the Florentine-retailer who pioneered e-commerce in Italy over 21 years ago to become a leading global luxury website. He recently became president of LuisaViaRoma by handing the reigns over to former YOOX managing director Alessandra Rossi, the new CEO.
“I’ve reached a point where I’ve done what I wanted to do so now I was ready to give it to another person to do the next steps and see what they could do,” Panconesi explains, “In terms of the company, I set it up in a good economic position.” That position includes rapid growth in the four years for the 92-year-old retail enterprise.
The new CEO, Alessandra Rossi, has a long luxury retail CV, having worked for a competitor for 12 years as the right hand of YOOX’s Federico Marchetti. She departed the Italian e-commerce platform in 2015 but returned in 2017 as the YOOX and Net-A-Porter merger had taken place, leading its off-season discounted division.
“She was instrumental in helping merge Net-A-Porter and Yoox and to take the company public. This is what we want to do in the next three years,” says Panconesi adding, “For me, it’s totally new, but she went through it, so she will lead it in the right direction.”
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Helping to fuel this goal is an outside investor. For the first time in the retailer’s history, they took on a minority stake investor, Style Capital, in October 2021, a firm specializing in fashion company investments, that retains 40 percent of LuisaViaRoma. The Australian brand Zimmerman is another investment by Style Capital, for instance.
Rossi is tasked with helping prep the IPO starting with growth. “In 2020, we increased 30 percent; in 2021, it was 15 percent. I told her we want to do 20 percent for 2022 because we can do 15 without your help.” He also cites updating their trimestral reporting to get financial results delivered quicker.
The rapid growth, according to Panconesi, is partially due to their philanthropic efforts in the past four years, which include the UNICEF gala that, until this edition, took place in Europe, specifically Porto Cervo, Sardinia, and Capri, Italy. The president sees St. Barth as the place to engage American philanthropy.
“Our focus for 2022 is the US market. We came to St. Barth because we wanted to replicate the success of the previous events. This helped us position ourselves on the right perspective and right clientele,” he explains. He firmly believes in the ROI of giving, which he compares to the love you give your children that comes back in double return. “We want to be a good company to do good for others. If you do good for others, you do good for yourself.”
UNICEF, for which the gala benefit is also exploring the ways to develop the private wealth philanthropy. Kiernan O’Brien, Chief of Global Philanthropy at UNICEF, explained why it has been an area of growth for the 75-year-old international children’s AID fund. “We create bespoke approaches to private grant making, establishing a shared mission and aligning on values and purpose,” he explained of his division. “Many of the families and individuals we work with describe their philanthropy as life-defining journey. The journey we have been on with the Panconesi family is an example of trust and action. Together, we ensure impact for children in an effective, sustainable way whilst also providing an opportunity to write the story of your life.”
The event took place at Eden Rock, the island’s most prestigious and well-known resorts. Guests included VIPs such as Leonardo Di Caprio, Kygo, Danielle Bernstein of WeWoreWhat and Cuba Gooding Jr., who stormed the stage during the sale of a set of guitars and drums autographed by famous musicians, urging people to ‘show me the money’ for the children. The night ended with Grammy-award winner Dua Lipa belting out five of her most popular songs. Approximately 400 guests—mainly Americans with homes on the exclusive island—were in attendance, and the event raised about 4.4 million euros. The goal is to make the event biannual with the summer edition in Capri and the winter edition in St. Barth.
According to Kate Davidson Hudson, who was appointed Editor-in-Chief of LVR Magazine, a stand-alone publication produced by the retailer to gain awareness in the US market, the media return has paid off thus far. “The event has done well for our positioning as a brand; we had 7.5 billion media impressions in the US press from the event in Capri last summer.” The event, which Katy Perry and John Legend headlined, marked the first time that significant US press covered the event.
While Panconesi feels there is ‘everything to be done in the US market because we aren’t known there and it’s the number one market,’ Davidson-Hudson confirms the brand is making strides. “The numbers substantiate the penetration in the US is quickly growing. The website’s digital stats show our presence has increased and the healthiest metric is conversion rate, which grew with a 40 percent increase YOY.” In Q4 of 2021, the US app reached a peak conversion from active users increased 30.1 percent.”
“The magazine is a good example of how the company is developing in terms of marketing,” Panconesi states. More so, the numbers back it up as a good business practice. Google Analytics also shows a 120 percent increase in average weekly page views on the website for the US market since launching the magazine, and the US has the highest average value per order.
LVR magazine was launched as an autonomous editorial platform entity not reliant on or subsidized by advertising sales. However, recently, for the second issue, brands are expressing an interest in partnering.
“We’ve seen an influx of advertising requests currently beyond our bandwidth,” explained Davidson Hudson, adding, “That may be a potential new revenue stream.”She noted customized programs that activated in St Barth. “It has to make sense for the brand.” For instance, Brazilian dressmaker Pat Bo is investing in advertising in the magazine and, as an added value dressing prominent influencers and VIPs for the event who then be photographed and tagged on social media. “LuisaViaRoma has growth potential and a healthy conversion rate. The branding exercise is turning in a potential revenue stream.”
Another philanthropic endeavor is LuisaViaRoma’s partnership with Extreme E racing which just wrapped the first of its three-year partnership. A traveling exhibit of more than 40 photographs taken by photographers Luca Locatelli and Gabriele Galimberti, with words by journalist Raffaele Panizza who were tasked with recording the race, is planned to start from Florence, Italy. Tentative 2022 locations include Chile, Uruguay, Senegal, among others. “We are working with sustainable sweatsuit company Pangaia for the event, and we would like to partner with a different designer for each leg of the race,” Paconesi added.