I sell to men of power… kings and queens.
Alain Schimel

FRANCE. Imagine walking into a duty free shop where the level of service is so stratospheric that a leather jacket that doesn’t quite fit you is tailored by hand and then shipped to your home within a week. And where, if you so desire, a private jet can bring further merchandise to your residence for your perusal.

Welcome to the rarefied world of Zilli, the French luxury menswear house founded by Alain Schimel in 1970. Monsieur Schimel has honed personal customer service down to a tee. Admittedly, you have to be able to afford this level of attention – the centrepiece of the luxury Zilli apparel and accessories collection is a US$100,000 crocodile leather jacket – but this emphasis on the ultimate customer experience is a reality, even inside the brand’s small but perfectly formed airport boutiques.

The Moodie Report met Monsieur Schimel, who became a Knight of the Legion of Honour in France last year, as he presided over the family-owned company’s luxuriously appointed exhibition stand at the 2008 TFWA World Exhibition in October. He was visiting Cannes to attend a Champagne party to mark the reopening earlier this year of the completely refurbished Zilli boutique in the city. Many people in the travel retail industry know at least one member of the Schimel family – his daughter Alexandra is the Travel Retail Director, and she also sits on the TFWA Management Committee. This business really is a family affair: his son Laurent is the Managing Director and his Italian-born wife Roberta oversees the selection, quality control and production.

A charismatic man with an easy Gallic charm and wit, Monsieur Schimel is not keen on my initial line of enquiry: ‘Who are your clients?’ I ask. “Kings and queens… I sell to men with power,” he smiles, enigmatically, but he does not wish to be drawn on names, for that is not the Zilli style. Quiet discretion is the order of the day – not the modern, blaring celebrity marketing that can, in some cases, drown out a brand message. One thing is for sure, the Zilli brand is adored by Russian oligarchs and the other well-heeled residents of Richistan, spanning the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South America.

As well as having a penchant for top-level customer service – Monsieur Schimel likes staying at The Connaught Hotel in London, where he receives a similar level of attention to that which he lavishes on his own clients – he has an acute eye for product design and development. The company’s press release talks of “l’expérience sensorielle” and “l’excellence jusqu’à l’exception, l’élégance jusqu’à l’extravagance”.

A family affair: President and founder Alain Schimel pictured with his son Laurent and daughter Alexandra

Zilli apparel and leathergoods are made and hand-finished using the finest precious skins and materials in the world and they demand to be touched and experienced, not just seen. This is partly why shopping at Zilli is a pleasure. A cashmere and chinchilla mix overcoat is possibly the softest garment I have ever felt, while the bamboo and cotton mix T-shirt (yes, real bamboo!) weighs almost nothing. These super-lightweight clothes are made for travelling.

The same goes for the above-mentioned US$100,000 crocodile leather jacket, where form meets function. One day you could be walking around in sub-zero temperatures in Moscow sporting this jacket with its cosy chinchilla fur collar and silk lining, whereas the day after you can both look and feel cool in the very same garment in the warm Miami sunshine, having simply detached the fur collar and lining.

Riviera retailer: Guests mingle outside the completely refurbished Zilli boutique in Cannes during the TFWA World Exhibition

Product development has reached fresh heights for Spring/Summer 09 with what Zilli claims to be the world’s first garments made with real 24ct gold thread. Examples include an ultra-fine black cashmere sweater with this precious gold thread used as a trim detail on the front pocket.

On the leathergoods side, one stand-out product is a highly polished cigar humidor-style wooden box containing a belt with three interchangeable buckles, in pink-gold, gold and silver – along with your very own miniature Zilli screwdriver to fit the buckles perfectly into place. A perfect gift for the well-heeled business traveller who has everything.

Travel retail advancement

Zilli entered the duty free market in 2000 and has since expanded in the sector with airport stores in locations such as Moscow, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Vienna. In 2006, the company’s export achievement was recognised in a prize for top exporter to Russia in 2005, presented by the French Minister for International Trade, Christine Lagarde.

This year, on the domestic market, the company has opened stores in Capri and Doha and a third boutique in Dubai. In Kiev a Zilli corner has begun trading in the Sanahunt Department Store.

About Zilli

Zilli is present in more than 30 countries in 29 freestanding boutiques and 100 points of sale. In 2007, the company achieved consolidated sales of €54 million, a +45% increase on 2006. Forecast turnover for 2008 is for €70 million, representing a +30% upswing. As at 31 October 2008, Zilli had 300 employees, of which 100 work in the ateliers based in Lyons, which produce 8,000 pieces per year. The company specialises in coats, jackets, sweaters, ties, footwear, belts, small leathergoods, cufflinks and other accessories for men, along with garments and leathergoods for women, including handbags.

Made for travel: (from top left): Zilli luggage; small leathergoods from the Spring/Summer 09 collection; this jogging suit could be worn in a first-class airline cabin; the humidor-style gift box containing a belt, three interchangeable buckles and a miniature Zilli screwdriver


Zilli expands product and regional foothold – 14/12/07

Zilli launches first collection for women – 20/08/07