Salvatore Ferragamo brings its beautiful Tuscan bistro to Dubai
It isn’t easy to build a successful fashion brand. It takes years to establish the sort of loyalty that guarantees your collections will sell out season after season and ensures customers repeatedly turn to you for their wardrobe needs. But here’s the irony: in an ever-changing industry, more and more fashion brands are venturing out of their protective bubble and into harsh new terrains, including automobile, food and beverage, grooming and travel, which risks undoing all that hard-won credibility.
Esquire Middle East sat down with Ferrucio Ferragamo, president of Salvatore Ferragamo and his son Salvatore Ferragamo, CEO of Il Borro, to discuss the trials and tribulations of doing business outside of fashion, and what it’s really like to work with your family.
ESQ: Being such a family-orientated business do you find it difficult letting new people come in and give their opinion?
SF: No, I think that it’s positive to have external people coming in with fresh ideas and different directions that help you evaluate what you are doing. Of course, we have to be careful to make sure we maintain our core philosophy. If you evolve too fast then your clients might not understand, so you have to find the right balance.
FF: I believe in family business, but I also know statistically they represent a risk. But if you keep the focus of the brand strong as it grows then it can be great. We had to make a decision to maintain the brand strength, and we did this by not allowing all of the children to have a voice in the Ferragamo brand. There were 23 potential grandchildren and siblings so we sat down with them, we brought in an expert and we made an agreement that only three would join the business, which I think is the best decision we ever made. It means we diversified the business and also means we have to let external experts come in and do their job. We need that diversity and their expertise.
SF: Yes, in terms of internal talent, I think’s it’s important that they’re qualified talents. We are a very large family; there are cousins and then
you have the children of the cousins and then there’s the father’s generation, so if we all pile in it’s a recipe for disaster. So you make sure you find the right balance between family members, and people who are qualified because they have external experience in the line of work.
Salvatore Ferragamo (left) and Ferrucio Ferragamo (right)
ESQ: Is there rivalry between the siblings when you onlypick three?
FF: No, they have to be qualified to enter. You all want the best person in the family doing that role, and you want the strongest in the company because you want to protect it. We also work really hard to distinguish the two brands. They are two very separate entities, so you will not find the Ferragamo name anywhere inside Il Borro.
ESQ: Do you ever wonder what Salvatore [1898-1960] himself would have thought about certain decisions you have made for his brand?
SF: I do wonder, and I think he’d be happy. The whole family is incredibly close. My grandmother has been the glue for the family; she’s been fantastic and always had a way of getting the family together.
FF: Many times when we have family meetings with my mother, who is 95, I always think of this. We often think about how my father left home at 16 as an immigrant with a dream to make shoes, which his parents hated. Thankfully his persistence made his dreams come true and he became a respectable ladies’ shoemaker, and look now what has been accomplished. I would love to see [my father's] face. Though I’m sure he would find something wrong! [Laughs]
ESQ: He would moan about something?
FF: Yes. He was a creative genius who patented technicalities and designs not only in shoes but in cars and cooking techniques. I’m sure he would find some defect, but I’m sure he would be pleased.
ESQ: I bet he would!
FF: A public company – that’s not too bad.
ESQ: Yeah, you’ve done alright
ESQ: Salvatore, your role within the company with Il Borro is very different to your father’s. Talk us through a typical day?
SF: I have two main responsibilities. One is the drinks side and the other is the hotel side. And of course I sit on the board with my father and my sister, Lucia. I am very fortunate because I have a job that is very diverse. I go through different seasons and activities, so right now we are in an easier times for the vineyards. It’s difficult to generalise for a single day but I live in Florence, I travel out to the Borro, which is about a 45 minute drive away, and there are lots of meetings of course.
ESQ: Salvatore, did you know early on that you wouldn’t want to enter the fashion side, and instead enter the food and beverage, hospitality side? Was this always your biggest passion?
SF: I carried my grandfather’s name so I wondered whether I should join the fashion side. But then I realised I could contribute to my family by developing a new project. My father had just bought the Borro estate, and he needed a family member behind it. Five years later I arrived at the property and I said, “Okay, now let’s make some products, and let’s develop this restaurant business, and grow it as a destination”. And now we are exporting that destination, that experience, through our Tuscan Bistro. In this case, to Dubai.
ESQ: Ferrucio, are you still heavily involved in the fashion side of the business? Are you involved in specifics with design or marketing?
FF: I was very much involved with the appointment of the new CEO. I’m very pleased with this change, I love the strategy, and I think it’s very important. I’ve been CEO of Ferragamo for 24 years now, and I think we have all the ingredients to be in the top five-to-ten companies in the world. We must get there and I think we have the right people now to do this.
ESQ: Is the Middle East an important market for you?
FF: Yes, very. Salvatore Ferragamo is one of the few companies where the ladieswear and menswear focus is very similar. Ladies are 60 percent and men are 40 percent, so it’s a real focus for us to continue to grow our customer base here.
ESQ: Did you find any challenges moving from the heritage of a fashion brand and branching out into restaurants and hotels?
SF: Yes, it’s a completely different business, you have to get your name established.Because of my name, two things often happen. Firstly, I generate some interest; secondly, I generate some doubts, and people wonder, what do you know about this kind of business?
ESQ: Do you take notice of the fashion side of the business?
SF: I wear the products all the time, I sometimes go to the shows, but I have an identical twin brother and he’s in charge of all the Ferragamo side; I leave that to him. [Laughs]
ESQ: The organic produce is a massive part of the Borro story. Was it a conscious decision to make this a key selling point when you first launched?
SF: I realised that with a nice warm summer it’s quite doable. At the same time, we use solar energy and have a negative carbon footprint. We’ve been able to do this and it’s something we are very proud of. It’s a question of responsibility for us, for the generations to come, and to see how we must look after the planet and see that it is doable.
ESQ: You try and keep the two brands separate. Would you ever mix them?
FF: The consumer is not stupid. They are sharper than we are because we have our head in the business all day, every day. The customer is exposed to the best among all of our competitors. Ferragamo is good at making suits and bags, but how can you communicate that it’s good at growing grapes? I would rather have two successful brands in their own right than one brand that does everything and creates confusion.
ESQ: But do loyal Salvatore Ferragamo customers come to the restaurant?
FF: Not really. They are pleased when they find out, and some of them come because they have seen online that Borro belongs to us. Of course I’m very pleased whenever anyone comes and enjoys it, Ferragamo customer or not.
ESQ: You obviously love food?
FF: Yes, I do very much like quality food.
ESQ: What’s your favourite dish?
FF: I like simple food, I don’t like things complicated with too many ingredients and busy flavours. I love spaghetti with a good tomato sauce. I love chicken, and our chickens live in a place where I would like to call home, and their taste is different, it’s very good.
SF: I love our Florentine steak, with virgin olive oil and some sautéed vegetables. Beautiful!
ESQ: Can you cook?
FF: I’m a disaster, I know how to make shoes but I do not know how to make good food. I can just about manage to make scrambled eggs, and not much else.
SF: I can cook a little, but the truth is that my wife is a fantastic cook and so I am very spoiled.
ESQ: Is she involved with the menu? Does she ever say, “Try this” or “Don’t do that”?
SF: All the time. She gets involved but she has her own things going on. She has a food blog, called the Chef on High Heels. It’s her passion and she does fantastic dishes.
ESQ: Why open this outside of Italy? And why Dubai? Why did you think it would work?
FF: I wanted to open this restaurant that we have worked so hard on, and show this slice of Italy to other parts of the world. I think that Dubai is a window into the world so it’s a perfect first choice. I hope to continue this growth in other markets.
SF: This location is very interesting. It was a key point and the right partner. A brand new beautiful new hotel, the amazing turtle sanctuary.
I think we have the right conditions for success, and until we find those I don’t think it makes sense to expand because the restaurant business is very tough, it’s a competitive market.
ESQ: Has it been hard to recreate a slice of kind of Italian culture here in Dubai?
FF: No, it’s been a really pleasant year. It’s a project we loved getting our teeth into and working with our architects to recreate this.
ESQ: Doe s it feel like you could you be in Italy?
SF: In Italy it is easier, as all the produce is at your fingertips. But here you have to be a little inventive. Having said that, I’m very impressed with the final result and I think we did very well.
FF: It’s like the one in Florence, it really is. I am amazed.
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Il Borro Tuscan Bistro, Jumeirah Al Naseem, Dubai. +9714 275 2555. ilborrotuscanbistro.ae