Chazen Italy Part 3

For the final part of our journey we head to Milan on 19th March. Our hotel was literally a stone’s throw away from the Duomo and the very bustling centre of Milan. The location couldn’t have been more perfect. After relaxing in our hotel for a while, we went for dinner to Trussardi which is a very posh eatery in Milan. Later we head to the Armani Prive Club to check out the local nightlife in Milan. It was quite amazing to see the club buzzing on a Wednesday night.

The next morning we head to Ermenegildo Zegna’s corporate headquarters, where we first met with Bain & Company’s retail & luxury good’s practice. We were fortunate to be joined by Claudia D’Arpizio, a partner at Bain, a stalwart in the luxury consulting and author of Bain’s annual luxury report; Fulvio Peppucci, another partner and Roberto Tribioli, a newly minted CBS MBA.  The statistics they shared about the luxury industry were eye-opening and given that we were hearing from a renowned subject matter expert, we could be sure the facts were accurate.

Next we heard from Benedetta Zegna, (Talent Manager) about the history of Zegna and  how the brand under the creative directorship of Steano Pilati had really blossomed and branched into fragrances, cufflinks and eyewear. Later Mario Marraccini (Retail, Planning and Buying & CRM director) told us about the Zegna World Pass program – an exclusive invite only loyalty program for top 200 Zegna customers. It was nice to hear how such a traditional brand steeped in heritage was adapting to the modern methods of retail nowadays. After the company visit, we spent some time sight seeing and later had dinner at La Vecchio Lira followed by another club visit to the Cavalli Club.

The following day we visited GROM Gelateria to learn more about their quality Gelato making process. Grom was founded in 2003 by two friends who wanted to produce quality gelato – without any flavorings, color, preservatives or chemicals added of any kind. Grom mixes liquid flavors in its lab at Turin and distributes them to retail stores where they get  whipped freshly each day. From now has over 50 stores in Italy and 7 around the world, 3 of which are in New York. After trying flavors like Biscotti, Pear and Pistachio – I definitely want to try the gelato in New York soon. But more than anything I promised myself that I would be back in Italy soon.

Here are the things I will miss about Italy:

1) Beauty: Every city we went to was so beautiful and had some of the most incredible art and architecture I’ve seen. From the rainbow hued houses in Burano to the brilliantly done     facade of the doom’s. Unfortunately, since we had visits during the day we were unable to go inside a lot of the museums/cathedrals because they shut by 5-6pm.

2) Coffee: Everywhere you would find these amazing coffee shops dotted all over the country. The Italian’s sure know how to make and appreciate their coffee

3) Gelato: Ditto for Gelato! There were shops everywhere and we even saw people eating gelato as early as 10:30am! We actually did too when we went to visit From 😉

4) Fashion: Milan of course is the mecca of fashion and all through out Italy, people are impeccably dressed. In fact we were given dress codes for all our company visits (by our peers, not the companies).

5) Food: The food in general was amazing. I think i’ve had a year’s worth of pasta, pizza and cheese and olive oil! In a lot of restaurants are meals went on for hours… and we always had two main courses (risotto and pasta followed by meat and veggies) which was very unusual. All in all it was a great trip and I highly recommend anyone interested in retail & luxury goods to definitely visit soon!

Chazen Italy part 2

So continuing from my last blog post I wanted to share what we did on days 3, 4 & 5 of Chazen Italy.

Outside Gucci
Outside Gucci

As I’d mentioned previously, this study tour was focused on retail & luxury goods and the next few visits were really the highlight of our trip. On March 17th we visited Gucci’s headquarters in a town close to Florence. Gucci, for those who don’t know is a luxury powerhouse, one of the world’s most valuable brands, belonging to the Kering group with about $5 billion in revenue. Upon entering the premises we were greeted with the GUCCI letters emblazoned in Gold and and everywhere in the office were huge photos of their classic handbags. Our group was split into two with one team going to see shoe production and the other going to see the leather goods factory. I was in the latter group.

Animal skins at Gucci
Animal skins at Gucci

The first thing we noticed when we entered were dozens of colored skins – ostrich, crocodile, lizard, lamb, calf – you name it. Full skins can cost upwards of $1000 depending on how exotic they are. Most skins will also come with a tag to prove authenticity and we learnt that luxury companies often own their own animals farms to procure skin. The skins are then colored in various hues – almost any conceivable color is possible. I was just speechless looking at them all. We were then taken shown how these skins are cut and then made into handbags, belts or other leather goods. Each of those products in handcrafted. Right from the bamboo handles that Gucci is so famous for. We were shown how the straight white bamboos are blow torched and then painted into becoming horse shoe shaped handles for their handbags. The paint is apparently made by crushing the shells of certain insects like cockroaches! I guess beauty comes at a price! The entire process was just fascinating.

Bamboo handles
Bamboo handles

Later we were given a presentation by Barbara Rybka, SVP of Digital and we also met with a CBS alum Giorgia Carastro ‘ 11. After a lavish lunch and quick photoshoot, we head to Ferragamo’s office in Florence. Salvatore Ferragamo started off as the shoemaker to the stars and then later expanded into belts, handbags and even clothing. It is a privately held company with sales of $1.5 billion The Ferragamo office was very different to that of Gucci’s. It was a 7 storied ancient building and underneath was a huge flagship store that broke up into multiple sections. Beneath that was the Ferragamo museum dedicated to shoes – the history, the collections, the inspiration and everything in between. Later we had some free time to ourselves so we visited Piazza Michelangelo, Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella followed by dinner at La Beppa Fioraia.

Ferragamo Museum
Ferragamo Museum
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella

The next day we made a stopover in Bologna where we met deputy mayor, Matteo Lepore, before heading to Yoox. Yoox Group is the global internet retailer for leading fashion brands and has recently merged with Net-a-porter (this had not been announced when we visited). Yoox was founded in 2000 by CBS alum Federico Marchetti. It ships to over 100 countries worldwide and has revenue of $0.5 billion. We were given a tour of the three different facilities by Davide Di Dario, operations manager for Yoox.

Matt Lepore
Matt Lepore

Chazen Italy Part 1

Ciao everyone! The 10 days in Italy were absolutely phenomenal and I can’t believe how quickly the trip went by. The study tour was so intense that it left me with no time to blog during my visit but I hope to share in detail how amazing each day was.

Rialto Bridge, Venice
Rialto Bridge, Venice

A few chazeners started off the tour with a trip to Venice. As soon as we arrived we were enamored. We walked through all the little alleyways all the way to San Marco square, crossing over bridges, stopping to soak in the beauty and capture those moment forever. We also visited Cafe Florian for some apperitivo and then an indulgent three course meal at ABC quadri where I had some of the best Tiramisu ever! The next day we saw the St. Mark’s Basilica, Dodge’s Palace, Rialto Bridge and also went up the bell tower to get a bird’s eye view of this canal city. Later we visited Murano (glass blowing) and Burano (lace factory) which were a short trip from central Venice. At night we checked out the local bars and restaurants and got a glimpse of the student nightlife there.

Dinner at ABC Quadri
Dinner at ABC Quadri

The next day we left for Rome where are official Chazen trip began. We did a 3 hour tour of Rome and saw St. Paul’s Basilica, the colosseum, the roman wall, the piramis and also learnt about Roman history. It was definitely amusing to learn what the Romans did during theirs leisure time: working out, getting a massage, sitting for a steam sauna in open air pools. As we toured the city, I noticed how the facade of houses/buildings had a characteristic Roman touch. We were told that Rome has very strict rules on houses should look from the outside, so as to maintain the Roman look. Later that we were hosted President of Rome’s Columbia Business School Alum Association, Imran Tayebali at his Villa where we nibbled on tasty petit fours.

Lavish spread at Imran's villa
Lavish spread at Imran’s villa

The next day we head to Tuscany, one of the world’s most celebrated wine regions, for our first company visit at Castello Banfi. Castello Banfi is a family-owned vineyard estate and winery located in the Montalcino region of Tuscany.  This award-winning estate was founded on the philosophy of blending tradition with innovation, and is recognized as a pioneer in elevating the standards of Italian winemaking. Its revenues for FY2013 were almost 70 million Euro, almost half of which was generated in Europe and 40% in North America. It sold 15 millions bottles worldwide last year…and we soon found out how. After a wonderful presentation by Luca Devigili (Brand Manager Banfi Piemonte and Trade Marketing Manager) and Elizabeth Koenig (Estate Hospitality Project Director) we had the opportunity to taste three fantastic wines. We had the Brunello di Montalcino (one of their most premium wines), Aska (a Cabernet Sauvignon with mild percentage of Cabernet Franc) and a recently introduced wine targeted towards first time female drinkers, La Pettegola, which was my favorite. This was followed by the most sumptuous lunch at a restaurant on their vast estate. We had asparagus and saffron risotto with fossa-aged pecorino cheese and veal fillet in aromatic herbs crust with potato mille-feuille, with wine pairings of course. A special mention for the delicious olive oil which a few students even purchased and the staff were more than willing to wrap our purchases in the most secure way. As I looked all around the estate, the beauty of untouched nature left me mesmerized and I wish we could have stayed there longer…it really was the perfect start to our trip!

Wine Tasting
Wine Tasting
Castello Banfi Estate
Castello Banfi Estate
Delicious spread at Banfi
Delicious spread at Banfi

I’m going on Chazen Italy!

Ahhh, I was ecstatic when I received the news that i’d been offered a spot for Chazen Italy! Despite having been there before, I was (and still am) so excited to be going there, given that the study tour will focus on the retail & luxury good’s industry. We have a fantastic line up of companies – Castello Banfi, Ferragamo, Gucci, Yoox, Zegna, Bain Luxury and the one I’m excited about the most – Grom (free Gelato tasting – yippee!!).  I’m also thrilled that some of my best friends are also going on this trip. It’s going to be fantastic…

Tonight I fly to Milan and then onwards to Venice – just before the actual Chazen starts…

Our lovely organizing committee has shared this fantastic video on some of the common hand gestures. Check it out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hxu50kiDVGc