Stefano Ricci, a leading Italian designer of men’s fashion has begun humming with Iranian artisanal expertise - master sculptor Parviz Tanavoli with his motif “Nothingness” and Master Seyyed Mohammad Ehsaei with his distinctive calligraphy and lettering designs. The end result has been new luxury products in the market, mainly cufflinks, dishes and trays, decorated finely with Iranian art. It’s a huge step for a burgeoning Iranian art to break into the world of fashion.
Sara Abou-Hossein, the managing director of Stefano Ricci’s Tehran Branch, is the brain behind this new trend and partnership. It’s the type of venture that has already helped globalize other famous artworks and artists, such as the Mona Lisa by Italian renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, Guernica, a mural-sized oil painting by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, the Starry Night, an oil on canvas by Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, the Scream by Norwegian impressionist artist Edvard Munch, and This Is Not a Pipe by Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte. Thanks to the Stefano Ricci range, including menswear, crystals, cushions and key holders, there are now fewer people in the world who are not familiar with these masters and their works.
Abou-Hossein says Stefano Ricci is a niche market, with a distinctive line of loyal customers and clientele, including presidents and ministers. She says reflection of Iranian art on a fabulous collection of luxury products will equally help spread its appeal in the global fashion market. For this, she has some fresh ideas and she is willing to share them with us in the following interview:
Tell us a bit about your background. When did you realise that fashion industry is the place you wanted to work in and how many brand names have you worked with so far?
I began working in the fashion industry seven years ago. Before that, I took some specialist training courses at the age of 18. I was in charge of several shops and boutiques, selling luxury labels and expensive brands. I kick-started my professional career goals by working for Brioni Zilli, an Italian menswear couture house owned by French holding company Kering. I also worked with other labels such as Zara and Bajirao Brioni Zilli. For the past three years or so, I’ve been working with Stefano Ricci. It’s the first Italian brand name to have entered the Iranian market - supported by the head office in Italy.
Together with three other women fashion designers, including Amiri, I debuted two fashion shows in Germany. One was in collaboration with the Iran-Germany Cultural House in Karlsruhe. The reception was huge. Visitors were fascinated to see our modern line of clothing and designs.
What are the favorite designer goods and runway looks of Stefano Ricci?
Established in 1970, Stefano Ricci is a household brand name – just like many other Italian designer brands. It’s doing quite well right now; but to stay in the game, it has to expand and become a holding company. Stefano Ricci began his work by designing and producing men’s ties and shirts. He then went for luxury shirts, suits and accessories. Over the past 15 years or so, the company has managed to thrive on competition, stand out in a competitive environment, and contribute to the fashion industry.
Owner Stefanie Ricci was a close friend of Bijan Pakzad, an Iranian-American designer of menswear and fragrance. His son is the godfather of Pakzad’s son. You can easily spot some tracks of his designs on Ricci’s designer goods. Thanks to the expatriate customers, this strong brand name knows full well the Iranian taste and market. It is meaningfully advertised and widely distinguished.
The branding secrets of Stefano Ricci are fine materials and distinctive fabrics, mixed with consistent fine works of art. In Europe many companies associate celebrities and athletes with their brands and designer goods. These people are like icons. Andrea Bocelli, the Italian classical crossover tenor, is the face of Stefano Ricci brand. Every year, Stefano Ricci organizes a music concert performed by Bocelli in the city of Florence. He recently bought the silk-doubling machine invented by Leonardo de Vinci. Besides speeding up manufacture, this machine features an automatic stop device that is triggered when one or two threads break. It is now on display at the Florence Museum.
Stefano Ricci is very careful and sensitive when it comes to selecting raw materials, fabrics and fibers for its luxury goods. It never uses polyester. It goes for wool, cashmere and silk instead, which are finer and softer.
Why did the company decide to open a branch in Tehran?
Marco Bergman brought it here. His father was a carpet trader in Tehran, so he knows the country and the market. He has studied in California and had many Iranian friends there. Together they travelled to Tehran extensively and it was after this that he decided to open a Stefano Ricci branch.
This is a menswear world. As a woman, didn't you take a risk by working in this market?
International brands know full well about womenswear in Iran – and ladies fashion for every occasion. Perhaps, they are not interested, or cannot manufacture such styles. They have, however, concentrated their efforts on the menswear market. Many international brands sell menswear, makeup and cosmetics here and in the Middle East, because all they see is makeup and cosmetics. Besides, they might have no business ideas for womenswear. I was a bit hesitant first. But I can now say with confidence that market conditions for menswear are far more promising than those for womenswear.
Stefano Ricci is a legitimate household brand name over here. This is while 95 percent of all foreign brands and luxury products are smuggled into the country. Their business practices are not legal. How can an ordinary buyer tell the difference between a fake and an original product?
To open a branch in Iran, a business company has to assess the market first. It can then sign a contract with a local partner to open its branch or retail shop. Those that have several retail shops with different management practices and styles are neither legitimate nor original. It is important for famous brands to work with just one partner, one representative. They all have a showroom in Milan and Paris. You can only buy wholesale from these showrooms. They all follow standard procedures and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to tell the difference between an original and a fake designer product.
How many Stefano Ricci branches are there in the world?
The company has many branches, including in the United States, Britain, France, The Netherlands, Germany, China, Russia, Azerbaijan Republic and Turkey. It opened its branch in Tehran over three years ago.
Why did you decide to tie the knots between this particular Italian company and the Iranian artists. For instance, why did you encourage them to use the designs and artworks of Tanavoli and Ehsaei on their cufflinks and home appliances?
It was a personal decision and it paid off. If you want to maximise your success here, especially with a luxury brand such as Stefano Ricci, you better go for Iranian art. I first opted for a business sponsor for my fifth seasonal sales just to get the attention of Iranian artists. Things didn’t work that way and we were behind the schedule. Then I came up with the idea to transfer Iranian artworks and designs to the Ricci products. I knew Tanavoli and Ehsaei in person. I proposed the idea and they loved it.
Stefano Ricci liked the idea too. In the past, the biggest luxury market for the company was Russia. That market has now been taken by Chinese brands. Western companies are not that much familiar with Iranian fashion taste or sense. They think it’s similar to those in the Arab world. It is not. This new venture between the Iranian artists and the company will change all that perception.
We initially began the work with the “Nothingness” motif by Tanavoli. When we sent his design works to Stefano Ricci, they had no idea how to cut the lettering and were worried it might change the meaning of the words. We told them not to worry, as the handwriting or handwritten lettering was for designing and decorative purposes. In the end, Tanavoli came up with different models for cufflinks, in white gold, yellow gold and rose gold colors.
The same way, Ehsaei sent the company his designs. They were fascinated as they were distinctive. Ehsaei went to Italy to oversee the production line in person. They transferred his designs and drawings to four high-end, custom look ceramic plates and trays. It is important to note that based on the agreement, only 20 luxury products were manufactured for each and every design.
Why did you choose the design works by Tanavoli and Ehsaei?
Many factors were key, including the high-end, decorative nature of their works that always radiate distinctive Iranian elements and characteristics. We also took note of the fact that these artists were world famous and behind so many masterpieces.
How many other world famous artists are working with the head office in Italy?
Not many. The company works with a number of Chinese artists to produce luxury goods for the Chinese market. In other parts of the world this is yet to be the case. Just recently, the company started manufacturing decorative Chinese dishes and plates. It promotes itself as a household brand name there with an artistic touch. It also promotes the idea that its loyal customers are unique, different, chic and tidy individuals.
Do you have any future plans for other Iranian emerging talents?
Of course we do. Here, we have an international brand name that’s willing to work with us extensively and let us use its products. Why not. We might also go for other emerging artists, but for now we prefer to work with our initial choices.
You have already organised an event to showcase their works in Iran. Will you also organise similar exhibitions in other parts of the world?
We have plans for an international exhibition. Bergman, Tanavoli and Ehsaei live in Vancouver, Canada. It is possible to organise an exhibition there. Dubai is another great location. We have received invitations and requests to hold an exhibition there. We have also received an invitation from London and we still working on it.
How has the reception been so far?
It’s been huge. Many artists have admired our efforts, which is important for Iranian art and market. Stefano Ricci is an exceptional brand, a niche market. There are other luxury brand names like Louis Vuitton. You can spot their shops everywhere in the world. But you can only find Stefano Ricci in up-scale districts and locations. They never want to be on every street. Traditionally, niche markets aim to satisfy specific market needs. They are household brand names and they intend to impact that way.
Q-Does all this cufflink and home appliance business make any economic sense?
It helps us cover the costs. The point is, we love what we are doing. We have managed to introduce the Iranian art and its distinctive characteristics to the fashion world. It is yet another symbol of the burgeoning self-confidence of the country’s art scene.
It seems this kind of work anywhere else has its own economic-artistic merits, more so when it comes to cultural aspects which are far more important than financial gains.
Precisely. I focus more on the cultural merits. In the world of paintings we know the Mona Lisa by Leonardo de Vinci because it is everywhere; from mugs and glasses to pillows and plates. True, we must not overlook the importance of publishing scientific; research works on the Internet and websites. But we must also get into people’s homes and everyday activities. It makes practical sense to do this with a helping hand from a household brand name like Stefano Ricci.
It’s also important to note that practical art has been an integral part of Iranian art and culture all throughout history. Iranian and Italian households have always wanted to see the reflection of their artworks on home appliances like clothing, dishes, locks and so on. In the 21st century the use of practical art in fashion design has become more than ever trendy. Its absence will be disastrous for the Iranian art and international prospects. I’m delighted to see that Stefano Ricci has opened the door to spread and promote Iranian art throughout the world.
Any upcoming event for this particular brand?
We hope to showcase the new cufflinks and home appliances in a number of exhibitions and galleries. I would love to see this happen early, but that's for Bergman to decide. Ehsaei’s designs are so beautiful and distinctive. They sit well on a wide range of designer products. We will need several exhibitions to showcase them all. The problem is, we also want to offer them in limited editions. I can’t wait to showcase all these exciting luxury goods by Stefano Ricci in a number of prestigious galleries and as early as possible.
Translation by Bobby Naderi