Camicissima CEO Fabio Candido says that “tradition, quality, curiosity and the Italian spirit” are the values that drive the Italian fashion brand’s ethos

At its core, Camicissima is all about family; a business built around a passion for shirting that has been passed down from one generation to the next. The Fenicia-owned menswear brand was launched by brothers Fabio and Sergio Candido in 2004 with the aim of opening 40 boutiques in Italy. Today it has 400 points of sale worldwide.

What is the key to its impressive growth over the years? According to Camicissima CEO Fabio Candido — a third-generation leader in the family business — tradition, quality, curiosity and the Italian spirit are the values that drive the business today.

“We cannot be anything but pioneers in today’s age,” he says. Despite the clear importance placed on tradition, Camicissima has equally embraced a pioneering attitude when it comes to expansion, particularly in travel retail.

Camicissima has benefitted from an aggressive expansion strategy in China and a close relationship with Lagardère Travel Retail. Displaying a rare optimism in the industry today, Camicissima has even opened new travel retail and domestic stores during the COVID-19 crisis. It is also exhibiting at the upcoming Moodie Davitt Virtual Travel Retail Expo in #VirtualStand FA-G3. 

Armed with the same pioneering spirit that inspired his grandfather, Giovanni, to start the parent company 90 years ago, Candido says: “We’re ready to face any difficult and demanding challenges that come our way.” In this compelling interview, he discusses how the company is building on Italian family values and finding new ways to drive a sustained recovery and continual growth long after COVID-19.

Martin Moodie: Camicissima was founded as a retail brand 2004, so it is simultaneously a young concept, but one born out of a third-generation company Fenicia. How important have those family roots been to driving Camicissima’s success and its philosophy?

Fabio Candido: Camicissima’s story is that of an Italian family – my family – who, in 1931, armed with a significant tailoring tradition and a culture of taste that has its roots in history, started to produce men’s shirts. It’s a nearly 90-year long history that, more than anything, tells the tale of a burning passion for the art of shirting. This is an unavoidable ingredient that we pass down from generation to generation, which has allowed us to strengthen the Camicissima project.

How would you sum up the family philosophy – towards production, business and people?

Paying attention to consumers, satisfying their needs and finding the perfect combination of style and function is the formula behind Camicissima’s philosophy. The values that form the brand’s foundations have gradually been defined as tradition, quality, curiosity and Italian spirit. These are still the ingredients which nourish our strategies and operations as a company to this day, as well as the work of each individual employee.

A family affair: Camicissima was founded by Fabio and Sergio Candido (pictured above) in 2004

Your grandfather was a pioneer – does that spirit still run in the family DNA?

We cannot be anything but pioneers in today’s age. Especially if we want to steer an organisation like Camicissima towards continual growth in an era where having the bravery to experiment and innovate is a prerequisite for keeping the bonds with our clients alive.  We must also embrace new trends and technology as soon as possible.

Internationally your expansion strategy has been very impressive, partly underpinned by a strong presence in China. Tell us about your entry into that key market in 2014, about the journey to date and where you think it will lead? You talked in 2015 of opening 440 stores there. Where are you at today?

In 2014, after nearly two years of detailed negotiations with our Chinese partner, we reached an agreement that allowed us to enter the market, and we opened our first store in Shanghai.

From there, our Chinese expansion was rapid and widespread. Today, we have more than 180 stores, both outlets and stand-alone boutiques, located in China’s biggest main shopping malls and departments stores in all the biggest cities.

The experience we gained in those first few years and the arrival of new opportunities made us re-evaluate our initial retail strategy in the Chinese market. We learned that the right path was to invest in sales points with greater square footage, which would allow us to cover the same sales area but with half the number of shops.

As predicted, we achieved our first initial objective in China. However, the road ahead is still long and very challenging. Because of this, I predict great developments for our Chinese business in the future.

On track in China: Pictured above is the Camicissima boutique at Hongqiao Railway Station

Fenicia — Camicissima’s parent company — was founded by Giovanni Candido almost 90 years ago

You and your brother Sergio wanted Camicissima to be a global brand. I believe you have around 150 offshore locations (franchises and flagships) today? That is a long way from a single store in Milan in 2004. What is the mid-term (say five years) target and where do emerging markets (for example Latin America) fit into the plan?

The Camicissima project originated in 2004 with the idea of opening around 40 stores in Italy. Neither Sergio nor I ever thought we would have nearly 400  points of sale under the Camicissima brand all throughout the world. It is a journey that makes us very proud, but we’re not stopping there. Armed with our learnings, we’re ready to face any difficult and demanding challenges that come our way.

We are looking at new opportunities, with the aim of consolidating our worldwide presence. We want to double the number of stores we have and explore opportunities in both our established markets and emerging ones with interest. Our established markets remain our main reference point, as they show great potential where we can still acquire significant market share. We offer a truly universal product that can satisfy the demands of any type of consumer in any part of the world.

Incredibly, you opened in New York on Black Friday in 2009. Remind me of your feelings on that day.

Our New York store represented the start of Camicissima’s internationalisation. No one would have ever bet that a then-unknown Italian business would first arrive in America and subsequently take over the rest of the world in just a few years.

In my own small way, I felt a bit like a modern Christopher Columbus. Alongside my brother Sergio —  who shared and still does share my vision and ambitions to this day —  we managed to set up shop in one of the main shopping streets in the Big Apple: Madison Avenue and on the corner of 53th Street, nonetheless. This laid the foundations for our dreams to come true.

The brand recently opened a new flagship boutique in an exclusive shopping street in Vienna, Austria. It is one of several domestic store openings through the COVID-19 crisis.

Camicissima offers timeless, comfortable and functional menswear shirts with an Italian spirit

Where does travel retail fit into your international strategy and how – pre-COVID – has the market performed for Camicissima? How hopeful are you of a rapid bounce back?

Travel retail has a key role to play in Camicissima’s development strategy. Aside from reaching international clientele and driving brand awareness abroad, the channel represents an opportunity to seed our products in any given market and assess whether we should open up flagship stores in those respective countries.

Camicissima’s proposal is perfectly aligned with the demands of the contemporary traveller who is always in search of practical, comfortable solutions. For example, our Non-Iron Zero Crease shirt, one of the brand’s iconic items of clothing, has always attracted the type of men who travel for work and who remain a core target of both our brand and travel retail.

Your business model has been built on developing franchises around the world with entrepreneurs. Could you tell us about your partnership with Lagardère Travel Retail? How do you choose your partners and locations in the channel?

Choosing the right partner is a fundamental requirement when searching for opportunities in travel retail. A partner who can act harmoniously with our brand and understands our potential will be able to define a real long-term path with us, which isn’t limited to a one-shot opening.

Alongside Lagardère Travel Retail, we tested the French market with an initial opening in Lyon Airport back in January. This led us to open other French airport stores in Nice, Marseille and Toulouse. This is the starting point for our decision to open more stores in the domestic market in France. This is exactly why Camicissima needs to have a dedicated travel retail team, whose objective is to explore the day-to-day occurrences in this marketplace and launch new, fruitful partnerships aimed at developing Camicissima’s international business.

Early this year, Camicissima offered a travel promotion to shoppers at French airports through Lagardère Travel Retail

The Camicissima corner at Geneva Airport, also launched in partnership with Lagardère Travel Retail, was specifically conceived for travel retail

Camicissima has performed strongly in China travel retail, particularly – and interestingly – in the rail sector. China was first into the crisis and first out. How are you seeing sales and prospects there?

Until today, China – where we have nearly 180 sales points with a significant local partner – is experiencing a like-for-like with outstanding results (all positive signs), both in stores and particularly online. Moreover, the market was already dynamic in terms of digital acquisitions even before COVID-19. The very first and very encouraging green shoots are that, after the shock of coronavirus and lockdown, there is a glimpse of a recovery.

How important is ecommerce to Camicissima and how much has this changed in recent years? Will the health crisis accelerate a move to ecommerce?

Over the years, digital has grown in importance which is why we’ve launched our ecommerce platform Camicissima.com. This enables us to reach a new pool of potential customers and increase brand awareness.

This year, ecommerce represented 4% of our sales, which is a +30% increase from the same period in 2019. This trend has been accelerated by recent events that have greatly altered customer’s purchasing behaviours. However, for us, the in-store experience still remains the principal method we engage with our customers.

Let us talk about your products: The simplicity of the concept is key – size, three different fits, six packages of choice. And of course, the focus on quality – of fabric, of finish, of style. Tell us about the fusion of those elements and how it fits into your acute knowledge of how men like to (or do not like to!) shop.

Unlike before, men’s clothing must now respond to the needs of an increasingly demanding and multi-tasking man. Each customer has his own identity and style that he associates with. Being able to provide the right pieces for his wardrobe is a necessity in this competitive market. Comfort, attention to detail and trends have thus become the three ingredients in every Camicissima product.

In order to appeal to a wide range of clientele, our products range from the timeless Classic shirt, the elegant Fancy shirt, the Permanent shirt line which takes its names from cities, to the Non-Iron Zero Crease shirt, which remains perfectly crease-free throughout the day.

You do not have salespeople you have sales consultants. Tell us about the difference. How do you ensure that philosophy is maintained when working with offshore companies and, say, travel retailers?

Every item from the Camicissima collection tells a story. From the initial idea and material selection to the finishing and packaging, each element represents added value that makes the product unique and exclusive.

It would be limiting to restrict ourselves with a fashion show, which might communicate a style, cut, colour or trend – at most. Instead, we want to move our clients; an effect that only a detailed narrative can create. This underlines the importance of working with true and proper sales consultants. They are the ‘narrators’ who can enhance the Camicissima experience as soon as a customer walks into our store.

Tell us about your Shop Control System. Travel retailers continually strive to maximise conversion rates – have you applied the system in the channel?

We have patented an internal tool to monitor the KPIs of all our stores on a daily basis in our flagship stores, shopping centres and airport stores. This is a fundamental tool in understanding the behaviour of our consumers and their evolution through the Camicissima shopping experience. All the data is analysed to gradually improve the sales experience and drive brand interest, driving footfall in our stores.

You study global trends relentlessly, and then apply your own Italian touch. But how much does men’s taste in shirts vary around the world? Any anecdotes you can share?

Shirts are an integral part of our lives. Fashion and trends no longer have boundaries. We’ve always made the men’s shirt our trademark and one of our best innovations is the Non-Iron Zero Crease shirt, which remains perfect all day long, from morning to evening. It is the perfect product for a man who wants to combine style, comfort and functionality.

“We want to move our clients; an effect that only a detailed narrative can create. This underlines the importance of working with true and proper sales consultants. They are the ‘narrators’ who can enhance the Camicissima experience as soon as a customer walks into our store.” ­— Camicissima CEO Fabio Candido

Talking about Italian touch – how important is that to you as a third-generation Italian company? You say you want customers entering your stores to feel as if they were in Italy.

The Italian spirit is one of our company’s four values, along with tradition, quality and curiosity. These are values that have been reinforced through generations along with our passion for the art of shirting. From planning to producing, Camicissima tells the story of excellent quality, dexterity and creativity with a strictly Italian spirit. This is the same spirit that we seek to communicate through our personal relationships with clients around the world.

Finally, some personal questions. Who have been the people who have most inspired you in business and life, and why?

My inspiration comes from the two people who have helped me grow and who taught me the values of life and work: my grandfather and my father.

My grandfather taught me perseverance and strength in pursuing my dreams, making them a reality and beating all odds. He showed me the true meaning of the phrase ‘think big’.

My father is a role model for me. He taught me the value of being honest and proper in all business dealings. Growing up, my greatest wish has always been to build something that would make them proud. Through them, I learned the value of sacrifice and never giving up.

I always like to ask this of entrepreneurs. In your business life, what is most likely to keep you awake at night? And the element most likely to make you want to leap out of the bed in the morning?

Camicissima is a child whose birth I witnessed and whose growth I have followed — year after year — with all the pride and apprehension that only a parent can feel for their own child. The question that is with me during the day and makes me reflect each evening is “Is there something that I could have improved?” I wake up in the morning and pause to perfect what I started the day before. Deep down, this is the formula for growing day by day. Deciding to overcome your own limits and establishing increasingly ambitious goals for yourself.

Even in the middle of a race, the best driver is he who knows to stop at the right moment, make a pit stop and take off again quicker than before. Safe in the knowledge that everything is perfect.

If you had to sum up Camicissima in a single (short) sentence, what would you say.

I believe that the true essence of Camicissima is contained in one simple word: tradition.

It is the tradition and know-how of Italian shirts, which has resided in my family and company for generations. It is the tradition of ‘Italianness’ and the typically Italian way of life. This is why I want to become, alongside my brother Sergio, an ambassador of Italian living through the Camicissima brand.

Camicissima goes for Gold at the Moodie Davitt Virtual Travel Retail Expo

Camicissima is a Gold Partner of the Moodie Davitt Virtual Travel Retail Expo#VirtualStand FA-G3. 

The unique 5-day ‘live’ event, followed by a 30-day showcase, begins on 12 October, just after the conclusion of the Chinese Golden Week holidays. It features a star-studded series of events across the five days, including a Symposium, category workshops and a new consumer research initiative.

Registration is free for buyers, exhibitors and preferred media partners. (Click here to register)