I remember being 14 and washing dirty dishes for two months at my first job to save up enough money to buy an on-sale Moncler T-shirt, because my best friend owned a few of the brand’s puffers and I saw how people approved of him. My first luxury purchase was a size too small, had an Olympic rings symbol embroidered on its front and a branded red-white-and-blue tag (Thom Browne x Moncler era?) sticking out of my neck that small-town Dutch folk just couldn’t comprehend.
Growing up in a closed-minded small town where every guy dressed the same, wearing anything different was a risk that only paid off once a month when arriving in the city. Put on that ill-fitted Moncler tee, take an hour-long bus trip out of town, and I’ve come home. For me, that was the thing with fashion — it pulled you into a space where you could be the only one in a room standing out and still would give you the confidence to know that somewhere they would understand and appreciate the self-expression.
Since then, I’ve seen luxury lose its allure as the market has gotten so saturated with players whose lack of originality in business and creativity and fear of risk-taking has resulted in a homogenized industry that’s forgotten how to be multiple things to multiple people; from big VIP customers to mere observers of the brand on social media who dream of saving up money to buy just one piece.
I remember Moncler launching its Moncler Genius strategy in 2018, then the first giant fashion brand to hand over the keys to its castle to a number of culturally relevant designers. That move was so well implemented globally across design, marketing, and distribution that it changed the way the entire luxury fashion industry approached collaborations, content, and its frequency of product drops.
Three years on and that strategy isn’t enough for Remo Ruffini, CEO and Chairman of Moncler. With the brand’s latest Moncler Genius format of presenting new products, Ruffini aims to evolve the strategy to engage with a more varied group of people around the world.
“It’s about the experience, that if you go into our store and don’t buy anything, honestly, I don’t care. It's much more important to me that people feel they’re in a place where there’s a good sensation and [experiencing] our vision,” he tells me over a Zoom call two days before the unveiling of Moncler Genius: MONDOGENIUS, a “digitally led experience that will take place across five cities and through the vision of 11 designers spanning a variety of fields including art, film, music, and extreme sports. All under one show.”
Hosted by Alicia Keys and with acts from past Genius collaborators like JW Anderson, Craig Green, and Hiroshi Fujiwara (and new ones including Dingyun Zhang, Hyke, and Gentle Monster), MONDOGENIUS aims to “go beyond product, embrace culture, explore creativity, and nurture experiences while crossing different worlds and bringing communities together without leaving anyone out.”
By broadcasting the show on its dedicated microsite, across multiple social media channels including Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Youtube, LinkedIn, Twitter, WeChat, Weibo, and Douyin, and by broadcasting via a network of media partners and ecommerce players, Moncler will go where different consumer groups already are.
A move driven by revenue growth? Well, yes — Moncler is a multi-billion dollar business, after all. But it’s also a move that may very well create the future blueprint for how luxury brands combine content and commerce, deliver entertainment, and evolve the scope of what fields a luxury brand can exist in outside of fashion. But I’ll let Ruffini tell you for himself how he plans to pull it off.
Christopher Morency: Mr. Ruffini, good to see you again. I remember covering Moncler Genius from the very first moment when it was launched. Talk to me a bit about how this one's different, and also how it's evolved over the years. Remo Ruffini: It’s totally different than five years ago. Since the beginning, if you remember, I said that [Moncler] Genius would never be the same, and this year is really, really different. We went from showing in person to a few thousand people, to now broadcasting to millions. We’ll involve all generations. We’re going from an aspirational brand to an inspirational one. That’s our dream.
Fashion weeks are happening again and some things have changed for the positive, but at large I feel that things have gone straight back to the old, which is frustrating to see. When you look at our industry today, what is the reason you don’t want to go that traditional route? I had a strategy in mind even before Covid hit; however, Covid accelerated everything. I don’t think we’re going to go back to normal. We’ll go back with another approach, another way to talk to the customer and another way to approach our community. For instance, I don’t see many Chinese coming to Europe. That’s an opportunity to [find] a new way to talk with that customer. In the next two years, I don’t think traditional fashion shows will be appealing for especially the younger generation. Again, we care about all generations, so that means we’re trying to approach them through different platforms. So when you see the new MONDOGENIUS [roll out], you’ll see this contamination. That’s something super important because, sure, people care about the collection, but they also care about [how you make them] feel, the sensation, the experience and this overall world around our brand. They want to be part of it. That feeling is a big difference from what it was 18 months ago.
In what way? Before you would push [the brand], now you have to pull them in. It’s a totally different approach. That means you must be more widespread. I don’t think there’s [just] one way, and you have to be very flexible and you have to attract communities. That’s honestly everything in my point of view.
It’s what you said earlier around speaking to multiple communities through different channels. Present yourself in the place where each of them are. Exactly, this is really key. We try to have everything in our project. We have one runway show in Japan with Hyke, then we have an artist installation in Milan, etc. It’s a new world, where all cultural industries [cross over]; we’re very concentrated on that. The relationship between the young generation and luxury must be reinvented. I remember it being only five years or so ago when this new world of luxury was revolutionized with Gucci and Balenciaga before that which had a different approach. Before that, the luxury world didn’t have energy. I think, thanks to a few brands, this new luxury order, there’s more energy for young kids. And this is what I have in mind as the rules change.
I’ve lately been fascinated by brands like The North Face, Nike, and Moncler being able to speak to multiple micro brand communities, each with their own marketing targeting, product offerings, retail positioning etc, all at once with the brand still staying consistent as a whole instead of feeling like seven different brands in one. How do you do that? I remember buying Moncler in 2003 and everybody said to me if I chose [this strategy I wouldn't] even make it till summer. But for a company like ours that isn’t, let’s say, a fashion company, it’s very important to mix the generations you sell to. I will always remember going to my store in London and seeing a grandmother and a nephew, who both bought a jacket. That energy [exists] with Moncler, exactly like you said with The North Face, where you go to the park and you’ll see older men wearing it, [but also] 15 year olds wearing the vests. For a company like ours, that’s key, and I will always push for that.
So how do you accomplish speaking to both groups and everyone in between? Moncler basically stands on three pillars. One is the Moncler Collection, where most of our business is. The second is Moncler Genius, and the third is Moncler Grenoble, which is more of our sports and ski collection. All three pillars have a different approach but share the same DNA; they’re not a segmentation of the brand. Genius is the dream, where Collection has the consistency, and Grenoble the DNA. That’s what our strategy is based on now and also in the future, all under the Moncler umbrella. If we’re able to attract different communities, different generations through this, that’s a turning point.
How do you identify those different communities when segmentation, the classic way, is getting harder? The world now is divided by what you call micro [brand] communities and tribes. You need one strategy, one vision in order to talk to them, whether it’s sports communities in the US or those in Shanghai. They’re totally different cultures, so you need a different approach, a different mood, but we need to attract both of them and talk with everybody. We can’t be like 10 years ago, as the world is different, so you have to build projects for specific communities and hopefully everybody then comes into your world. Now, of course you can’t create a strategy for the whole world, so again, you have to approach the young community in the US differently than those in Tokyo [but] it’s small things that build the brand perception for [each] of them. I think that possession is important, but not as important as when I was a kid. Now it’s about convincing [the consumer] that the Moncler world is something they can participate in.
So what binds it all together? What pulls it together is this Moncler umbrella. We want to control our distribution, [for instance]. It’s about our dot com, the people who sell in our stores, the display of the product, the music, the fragrance. We also have to rethink where we open new stores. I don’t know if we need to continue opening physical stores on luxury streets. We have to do something new with our community.
Looking back at how Moncler Genius has evolved and where it’s going — what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far, that you attribute its success to? I think for Moncler, Genius was a turning point. What I realized, especially in the last 18 months with Covid, was that people want more information. My dream is to build something like a festival of different industries. That [cross-over] could be very important in terms of energy for the brand. Let’s see, we’ll start with this [MONDOGENIUS] approach. It’s honestly not 100 percent under control as it’s about broadcasting across every continent and [with activations] across five cities around the world, but I think this could be the next step for the future of Genius.