Renzo Rosso, Federico Marchetti on Courage, AI, Success, Mistakes and King Charles
by Luisa Zargani
Photography by OTB
During a fireside chat at the OTB headquarters with Rosso, Federico Marchetti presented his autobiography, prefaced by Giorgio Armani.
It’s not every day that an autobiography can boast a preface written by Giorgio Armani.
The designer, though, explains that he “had no hesitation,” when Federico Marchetti asked him to introduce his “book of memories to the use of young dreamers and innovators.”
Armani writes in the “Le Avventure di un Innovatore [The adventures of an innovator]” by Marchetti with Daniela Hamaui that he accepted for the “consideration” and “personal affinity and vision” he shares with the founder of Yoox.
“In Federico I see something of me: of my ideals and of my way of acting and thinking. I credit him with loyalty, entrepreneurship, quality as a leader. He is a person whose opinions carry weight with me, so much such that I have wanted him to be a part of the board of my group [in July 2020, the first non-family member].”
High praise indeed and one shared by Renzo Rosso on Wednesday during a fireside chat held at his OTB headquarters in Breganz, a half-hour drive from Vicenza.
Rosso praised Marchetti’s “courage and passion” as a pioneer in the digital world, strong drivers in his own life, placed even before business, which comes as a consequence. Rosso also highlighted Marchetti’s creativity. This has allowed both men to succeed in an industry “where the big groups buy everything, from stores to celebrities, making it harder for us, so the only way to fight is with creativity, and we have some rock stars [designers] on board,” said Rosso.
OTB controls Diesel, designed by Glenn Martens; Maison Margiela, designed by John Galliano; Marni, designed by Francesco Risso; Jil Sander, designed by Luke and Lucie Meier, and Viktor & Rolf, by Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren. The group also has a minority stake in Amiri, designed by Mike Amiri.
Indeed, Marchetti said he has often been considered “a man of numbers,” while he believes he is actually more of a creative mind and described his “technological project, the Italian way,” based on creativity, culture and humanism. Noting that he considered both Armani and Rosso as inspirations and mentors, he chuckled saying that he was wearing Diesel jeans under a Giorgio Armani blue jacket, with sneakers made with ocean debris — sustainability being a key focus for Marchetti (but more on this later).
Rosso admitted he himself was obsessed with technology, proudly noting that Diesel introduced its e-commerce platform in 1996, and recalled how he wanted to invest in Yoox, founded by Marchetti in 2000, but that his financial director at the time vetoed the investment. He finally succeeded by taking a stake in the e-tailer through his personal Red Circle Investments. “I was there when you rang the bell [in 2009], and I hope to do that too, one day,” said Rosso, who is eyeing an initial public offering for OTB.
Marchetti is in a new phase of his life, after leaving his role as chairman of the Yoox Net-a-porter Group in July 2021, becoming chair of the fashion task force as part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative launched by then HRH the Prince of Wales and now King Charles III. Marchetti spearheaded the merger of Yoox and Net-a-porter in 2015. Compagnie Financière Richemont bought YNAP in 2018 and last year the group led by chairman and founder Johann Rupert said it was selling a majority stake in YNAP to Farfetch and Symphony Global, one of the investment vehicles of Mohamed Alabbar. Marchetti in the book recalls how he met Alabbar through the late Vogue Italia editor in chief Franca Sozzani, “a very important figure for me,” he writes, defining her “curious, brilliant, intelligent and with a contagious energy. She was fascinated by the internet and I represented newness for her.”
Marchetti said he had planned his exit from YNAP for three years as he felt more of a “man of development than one of management,” and that he thought “the next big thing” was “to accelerate and ensure a circular future to fashion through innovation.”
Rosso shares with Marchetti a drive to make OTB more sustainable and the group is a founding member in the Web3-centric Aura Blockchain Consortium, alongside LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Prada and Cartier, and the Re.Crea Consortium focused on end-of-life management alongside Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana. It has a signatory status in the Fashion Pact and ZDHC Foundation’s Roadmap to Zero Programme, among others.
The mood was relaxed and there were some moments of easy banter between the two, as when Marchetti said he spent around 50 percent of his time with King Charles — meeting the then-Prince of Wales in London to show him the YNAP hub in London in 2018 — and Rosso deadpanning that he had never met the king.
In the book, Marchetti speaks about gearing up to attend the coronation and how, “wanting to avoid being the nonconformist nerd,” he sought to “try the real British and formal elegance.” Before leaving for London, “I turned to my friend Brunello Cucinelli, who sent his tailor from Solomeo for a first and second fitting in Milan and London. The result is sublime.”
Marchetti admitted he “never had a suit like that in his life. And thanks to Brunello I also felt a bit like a king.”
While admitting his pride in being the only Italian at the coronation, apart from Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella and his daughter, he also reveals how he almost missed getting to Westminster Abbey in time due to the strict road blocks and security checks, sweating yet feeling chilly in the abbey and dreaming of a hot bath and ginger tea.
Success does not rule out making mistakes, and Marchetti admitted, for example, that at one point he hired “all of the wrong C-suite” members. What is key, he continued, “is the ability to react and make things right, so I called back all of my former executives,” he said with a small laugh.
Marchetti in the book also recalls the difficulties connected to the merger with Net-a-porter, and the abrupt departure of founder Natalie Massenet. “If anyone asked for my advice on a similar situation, I would tell them to do it differently. My advice would be to make a clean break with the past and with those that do not embrace the project if they are hostile. I chose a more accommodating path,” he writes.
During the chat, change was described as “fundamental” to success, and Rosso, who has increasingly been taking on institutional roles in the country, lamented that Italian “politicians fear change, they are not proactive, they don’t propose anything new, and only worry about snatching more votes. If we all worked together listening to different opinions, it would be so much better.”
“Innovators are not always understood,” noted Marchetti. “Early on, I was seen as a half-wit, crazy,” agreed Rosso, laughing.
They both gave a shout-out to the younger generations, who “will save the world,” and the conversation segued into artificial intelligence. “You can’t stop technology, it’s a utopia, but it has to be managed. We will find ourselves in a very technological world but the desire to survive will move the needle midway and we will rediscover the human factor,” said Marchetti, citing how there is a return to physical experiences, for example. “We even see a return of music on vinyl.”
“I believe in AI as a driver of change, it will help us have more time to ourselves and to do different things and create new jobs,” said Rosso.
While writing that he is a “rebel” but also suffers from the “imposter syndrome,” since he was a student, feeling “more like Johnny English, played by the brilliant Rowan Atkinson, than the super-determined Mark Zuckerberg,” and that he never thought of writing a book, Marchetti said he hopes it will help “many young men and women in Italy to have confidence, to believe in themselves.[…] Sometimes stories take over, impose themselves and are impatient to be told.”
Originally published in WWD