Mimma Viglezio is known for her frank and honest opinions. Watch any of the panels she’s moderated at BOF or ShowStudio and you’ll see what we mean; this woman tolerates no bullshit. With two decades worth of experience in the luxury industry, she’s definitely entitled to her views (previous roles have included Louis Vuitton’s Communications Director and the Executive Vice President of Global Communications for the Gucci Group). Her advice has become a trusted source for many young designers. So what does Mimma think it takes to become a successful modern luxury brand today?
Before we start, we should make it clear, Mimma hates the word luxury.
In fact, when asked what the word luxury means today, she shudders. “For me, the word luxury has been so overused and abused,” Mimma explains. “It makes me cringe. People talk about luxury as the ultimate thing to be and reach. Luxury is not something you decide to be, it’s like class. You either have it or you don’t. There are some things you can do to become luxury, but at the moment there’s been too much fake stuff. This is changing and people are cleaning up their games. Maybe soon real luxury will become real luxury again.”
So, sidestepping the L-word, what does a new designer need to do to create a successful brand today? “Firstly, don’t say you want to create a luxury brand,” Mimma stresses again, “an idea can develop into anything. You have to be flexible and adaptable. You can’t wake up one day and say: ‘I want to be the next Louis Vuitton.’ That’s not the way Louis Vuitton started.”
“I think honesty and originality are essential. By honesty, I mean sticking to what you have in mind. Do what you know and then get advice on the things you need to be advised on. Also don’t fool people. Your product has to be perfection. If it’s not right or not the right price you will be derived online immediately. And finally, if you really want to be luxury, you have to be sustainable in some way. You cannot be luxury today if you don’t care about the planet or human beings.”
For Mimma, this move towards sustainability is being driven by the young people of this world. “I salute them,” Mimma says. “The young are changing the world by demanding this from brands, and luxury brands are waking up, which is thanks to the next generation.”
What’s clear to Mimma is that young designers shouldn’t be waiting for changes to take place, but should be driving the innovation. “Brands are not really hiring or when they are, they’re hiring you for free, after going through five interviews for an unpaid job. This is creating a rebellion of young smart people who are saying f*** you I’m going to do it myself. I think that the Airbnbs, Twitters and Ubers of this world were born because of that – and thank god, because it’s meant great ideas can find a place in the world.”
But young designers shouldn’t just be looking to the fashion industry for inspiration. Collaboration with industries outside fashion will be essential to the success of new brands. Mimma explains: “just think the biggest taxi company in the world [Uber] doesn’t own a car or employ a driver. That wouldn’t happen if they were looking at their industry and hiring a taxi expert. They went against all the regulations to do this. They were born because they looked beyond. Similarly, look at Farfetch: if it had more experts in fashion than data analysts and engineers, it wouldn’t be where it is today. Collaboration is essential.”
When it comes to more traditional skills such as drawing, Mimma is less fussed. “ I don’t think it matters if you can’t draw your idea. But I do think design schools have a duty to teach their students about all the aspects of the industry. If they have no idea about the industrial process or pricing or how to set up a company, they either need to be very lucky or they need to be helped and mentored. My advice is to spend a year at least, looking at different companies and learning how it works.”
Mimma suggests the ideal is to team up with someone who can be your business mind if you’re the visionary creative, and vice versa. “Take Vetements for example,” she tells us, “Or look at Christopher Bailey and Andrea Ahrendts.” It doesn’t have to be an industry expert either, when Hannah Weiland from Shrimps set up her company, she did it with her Dad who had business experience that could help. “Now she’s grown, she’s looking to bring in someone who is a specialist and can help her take it to the next level,” Mimma explains.
When it comes to making mistakes, there are a few common pitfalls young designers tend to slip into, mainly not having a good enough idea in the first place, or not having the right execution for it. But what frustrates Mimma the most is arrogance. “If you’re not able to get criticism, you don’t grow. You have to listen. People succeed if they’re aware of what they can and can’t do. A great orchestra conductor cannot play violin, but they can hear the right sound of a violin. If you’re not prepared to let go of your baby and allow people to advise you, it won’t go anywhere in the world,” she tell us.
Another big challenge facing young designers is making themselves visible to the editors, buyers and decision makers. Mimma admits, there’s not an easy solution. “I don’t really know how to answer that,” she tells us. “I think it’s a little bit outrageous the amount of money and time that goes into creating a fashion show. The brands with money are paying for hundreds of journalists and buyers to fly out to see their show - business class, and I think that’s unfair for two reasons. One, not everyone can afford it. And two, they pay you to be there, so how can you come back and say it was shit?!”
However, there can be too much of a good thing, and people are getting bored. Mimma, points out that top editors at magazines know they need to feature small, emerging designers, even if they can’t pay for advertising. Ultimately, she believes it’s down to the younger generation to rebel against this: “It’s up to you guys to invent something new. Make it happen. Don’t try to compete with brands like Gucci, you will never have the means.”
So who are the new brands exciting Mimma the most at the moment? “I like the Bruta’s and the Shrimps’ of this world. I believe in the mono product, and I think we’re going back to this. I remember a talk I did in the 90’s; I was complaining that there were no longer any specialists in this world, apart from Rolex. Everyone had become multi-category brands. Now we’re slowly going back to a mono product world, as people are beginning to realise the alternative is expensive, it needs licensing, it takes more time.”
“My advice to new brands who want to break into the luxury market, would be to continue doing what you do to perfection. You’ll then start being copied, and then people will want you even more. Do it perfectly before doing something else. In the UK, I salute the courage of Molly Goddard who does what she likes – that type of dress is not easy but that’s who she is and she does it her way, she does presentations her way, she’s got her mum, boyfriend and dad involved and she moves slowly. But she’s stays honest to who she is. And that’s what works.”