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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Stefano Ricci

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-09-23

On any given day, Stefano Ricci's attire is worth at least $30,000.

Everything is handmade, from his tie down to the last stitch on his crocodile-leather shoes, the diamond-crusted cufflinks, and the buttonholes on his Egyptian cotton shirt.

"One must never compromise quality for quantity" Mr. Ricci said. "And quality should never be connected with the season. Luxury is a personal thing. You've got to be able to feel it. I do not compromise on the cost."

He can afford not to compromise on the cost because Mr. Ricci designs and makes his own clothes. He has been one of the world's leading purveyors of luxury attire for men for 30 years. In the process, the Italian-born Mr. Ricci has made a fortune for himself through his eponymous privately held company.

The company's stores occupy prime real estate in Shanghai - which he opened in 1993 - Beijing, Monte Carlo, Beverly Hills, Moscow, Costa Smeralda, Xian, and Hanghzou. In a few days, he will open a store on the Champ Elysees in Paris.

Yesterday Mr. Ricci inaugurated a store on 407 Park Avenue, with his longtime friend Sirio Maccioni. Every bit of material was imported from his native Florence. The granite exterior is in typical Renaissance style, like the facade of a villa in Florence. The interiors are mahogany paneled. Even the skylight of the store's interior is Italian, bedecked with the fleur-de-lis symbol of Florence.

"I have always wanted to open in New York, where I first started meeting international clients and I have been working with a show room since 1994" he said. "Why New York? What do you want me to say? New York is New York. I am absolutely optimistic about New York, and expressly about New Yorkers - my boutique is a tribute to the greatness of New York. When I selected the location no one believed in me. But then Ferrari opened and someone asked, 'What's going on in Park Avenue? Why real luxury is investing in this street?' When a person selects a brand name, he usually stays a loyal customer. So many of my customers are already here."

Those customers include several CEO's, movie stars (such as Robert De Niro and Tom Cruise), and names that Mr. Ricci preferred not to name but who could be seen lunching at nearby tables. His customers also include political figures such as former President Mandela of South Africa, President Mubarak of Egypt, and some of Russia's top leaders.

They pay anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 for a suit. Mr. Ricci's cotton shirts go for around $700. Silk shirts cost more than $1,000 each. Cufflinks can easily cost twice that. Crocodile shoes and belts? If you need to ask, then you probably can't afford them.

"I also never compromise on prices," Mr. Ricci said. "I've never had a sale. Never ever."

"I always had a global vision from the very start," Mr. Ricci said. "In my mind's eye, I could see the Ricci name all over the world."

But before he could implement that vision, he needed to obtain a university education. It wasn't fashion that Mr. Ricci studied but law.

Why law?

"Because that was a family tradition," he said.

He can trace that tradition back 600 years. He possesses documents that trace his genealogy. The Ricci family is a rich part of Florentine history.

So Florence is where Mr. Ricci decided to set up his operations. His interest in men's clothing was sparked by his fascination with Hermes ties, of which he'd collected more than 150 by the time he was 20. Those French-made ties, and the indigenous Florentine art ethos, convinced him that there was a market for handcrafted, high-end men's wear that, in his words, "radiated positive energy through colors."

Mr. Ricci now employs more than 100 skilled artisans and tailors. The production is done entirely in Italy. He designs every item himself, usually with piano music in the background as he works. Along with his wife Claudia, and two sons Niccolo and Filippo, he keeps a close eye on his worldwide sales.

However, there's no Stefano Ricci shop in Florence.

Why?

"Why would I want to sell Florentine designs in Florence?" Mr. Ricci said. 'There's a bigger world out there - New York, for instance."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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