Moncler’s masterclass in brand rejuvenation

Fascinating interview in The Times with Remo Ruffini, CEO of Moncler. He took over the sleepy ski jacket maker in 2002 and rejuvenated it, recently selling 45% to a private equity group for €418 million, valuing the company at a cool €1.2 billion.

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Here are a few insights on Ruffini's rejuvenation of Moncler.

Build on brand truths

When Ruffini looked for a brand to buy he was after “A small brand name but one with a long history”, as he said in the article. And Moncler fitted the bill nicely. The brand was born in the French Alps in 1952, initially making quilted sleeping bags but soon moving into the quilted goose-down jackets we know today.

French mountaineers and skiers adopted the brand. And when the 1968 Winter Olympics came to Grenoble in 1968 Moncler supplied the French downhill skiing team. Celebrity skiers including Brigitte Bardot and Jackie Kennedy followed.

Grow from an iconic core product

Like many successful brands, Moncler fame flows from an iconic core product. Burberry is based on the trench coats, Tod’s on loafers, Timberland on boots and Moncler on ski jackets. And so far the brand has focused on this core product and avoided the temptation to over stretch the brand.

Use distribution as a brand builder

When Ruffini took over the brand he had a limited budget. He chose to start the rejuvenation by re-establishing the kudos and credentials of the brand by selling it on the slopes in upscale resorts: “It is important to keep the roots. So when I started to open stores it was in the ski resorts: Verbier for the English, St Moritz for Americans and Russians.”

Product passion

Image is of course key in fashion. But people also want product quality if they are going to keep buying at a premium price. And this means a leader with a hands-on approach to product like Ruffini, who says in the interview: "I want to develop the best product I can in the world. I want to buy my own fabrics in Japan, I want to choose my best feather in Poland or in France, I want to choose the best zipper made in Switzerland."

Screen shot 2011-07-01 at 15.04.03Extend the core

  Fashion is one of the few markets where "image builder" extensions (small sales, but good for image) make sense. The PR buzz created by such extensions helps build awareness and aspiration and keeps the brand fresh and cutting edge. Moncler use this approach with two high-end fashion lines: Gamme Bleu designed for men by Thom Browne and Gamme Rouge for women designed by Giambattista Valli. And a limited edition line created by hip-hop celeb Pharrell Williams (on the right with Ruffini) created more buzz.

In conclusion, Moncler is a great example of rejuvenating a brand by uncovering brand truths, updating and refreshing them through careful innovation on the core business.