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Zegna silk and Maserati steel combine as women take the driver's seat

The Property Addict / Luxury Lifestyle

Aug 27 2015

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Gildo Zegna in front of the Maserati Ghibli Zegna. Turin-based Maserati is the latest car manufacturer to collaborate with a luxury fashion label. But there's more to this strategy than meets the eye, writes Fiona Carruthers. Maserati's global chief executive, Harald Wester, is a hard man to catch out. Sitting in the opulent lobby of the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromà ©es in Stresa, on the outskirts of Milan, the German boss of the Italian sports car known for its macho roar is bemoaning the fact that there's little brand loyalty these days. "My father drove BMWs all his life," sighs the mechanical engineer who grew up near Bonn. "He was an architect with five children. When I was young, a brand was like religion. People sat around the dinner table debating if they were an Opel or a Volkswagen family." If adherence to national brands is waning, why then has Wester spent millions of euros ramping up the "Italianness" of Maserati by partnering with Italian menswear label Ermenegildo Zegna? He smiles. "I said "Ë?nationality' no longer really matters. Identity does." He warms to the subject: ""Ë?Made in Italy' speaks to the heritage and quality of both our brands. It evokes values, culture and, most importantly, emotion. It's Italian passion over clinical German precision." The partnership involves pairing Zegna's anthracite dark grey silk " a tougher version of what it uses in some of its suits " with Maserati's black, natural or red Poltrona Frau leather to create a special interior for Maserati cars. It was first used in 2014 on 100 limited edition Maserati Quattroporte Zegna cars, which retailed overseas for more than $US175,000 ($289,000). Just one came to Australia, sold to a Melbourne buyer. Globe2 Mini Paceman revamped by Roberto Cavalli. Following on from that success, Maserati this year announced that its Ghibli and Quattroporte models could be ordered with the distinctive Zegna seating, for about $11,000 more than a full leather premium package. "I asked my people, "Ë?What could we do with a partner in the luxury industry which would offer something to our customers, but also their customers " something which none of us could do alone?'" Wester says. "And Zegna was top of the list." That both companies have impeccable Italian family DNA, are more than 100 years old, come from the same region in northern Italy and sport a reputation for craftsmanship added to the logic. Not to mention that two brands beat one. Cue the haute couture car. Well, almost. If only it had been that easy. "Our biggest challenge was convincing Maserati that silk would work," says Gildo Zegna, a third-generation family member and chief executive of Ermenegildo Zegna. "I don't think anyone had ever used silk on a car seat before. We had to convince a tough German engineer [Wester] that the crazy Italian approach would work." It took a while to develop the right kind of silk fabric for cars. The first one tested resembled Swiss cheese. "It was more holes than fabric," Zegna opines. It took another 14 months to come up with something usable. Zegna ended up twisting silk yarns to strengthen the final warp. Specific surface treatments " anti-abrasion, anti-stain and anti-UV treatments " were also applied. To get it right, the Zegna textile team relocated to the main Maserati plant outside Turin. "That's how tenacious we were," Zegna says. Tenacity paid off; Maserati is now Zegna's fifth biggest client, typically using more than 12 metres of silk to fit out a car. Compare that with the 2.5 metres used for the average suit. With the latest batch of Maserati Zegna cars about to roll off the assembly line, available in Europe from September and in Australia early next year, Zegna and Wester use the northern hemisphere summer to showcase the co-branded car to more than 50 international journalists. After three days of wining and dining in Stresa, the journalists drive to Zegna's factory and museum in Trivero, do laps of the Balocco racetrack in Maserati's GranTurismo and MC12 race cars, and conclude with a tour of the Maserati plant near Turin. It seems like a lot of fuss given such collaborations are not new. In 2012 Victoria Beckham did 200 special editions of a Range Rover Evoque that retailed for double the price of a normal Evoque. In 2013, Italian designer Roberto Cavalli partnered with MINI to produce a bespoke vehicle, while Stella McCartney recently teamed up with Jaguar. Arguably the most famous Australian example was back in 1985, when Carla Zampatti helped design a Ford Laser for the women's market. Four years ago Maserati's parent brand, Fiat, released a Gucci Fiat 500 to mark Gucci's 90th anniversary. In 2011 Maserati partnered with another Italian fashion house, Fendi, to produce 50 cars in Fendi's distinctive shade of grey with iridescent gold effects. These partnerships are vital in a crowded luxury market where it can be hard to stand out, even if you're a Maserati. "The point is not really to sell cars per se," says Adel Habib, publisher of Top Gear in the Middle East. "It's not going to make a customer rush out and buy a car. But it does create excitement and that sense of one-off." Co-branding is emerging as a handy solution to the luxury car market's wider conundrum. On the one hand, brands need to keep their top-shelf customers engaged in the idea that they're buying something elite. On the other, manufacturers from BMW and Porsche to Audi and Mercedes-Benz are pushing out tens of thousands of cheaper models at lower price points. Witness the BMW 1 Series, the Porsche Macan, Audi's A1 and the Mercedes A-Class. Maserati has dropped its price of membership, too, with the introduction in 2013 of its third-generation Ghibli model, a smaller four-door sedan, yours for about $138,900. The entry-level Ghibli helped Maserati sell almost 40,000 cars last year, compared with 6000 in 2012. Its first SUV, the Levante, is also on the way. In such an environment consumers need more reassurance than ever that they have bought into a privileged club " not least when the fine-looking vehicle overtaking them on the highway could be a cheaper model of their own. Try explaining that to your third trophy wife. "The co-branding allows us to say something different to customers about our respective products, while cross-promoting each other," Zegna says. Saying something different includes reaching out to the increasingly active female buyer. Maserati and Zegna might be men's labels but, in Maserati's case, that's changing fast. Ten years ago, as with most luxury cars, Maserati buyers were almost all men. Between 2012 and 2015, Maserati saw its female market share grow from 12 to 20 per cent of its total sales. Today, 67 per cent of the customer base is men aged 40 and over. But in China, Maserati's second-biggest market behind the US, 35 per cent of the brand's customers are women under 45 " and they're buying the car for themselves. It's accepted industry wisdom that a fashion house helps soften a car's image of leather and steel, while the car adds grunt to the designer's client database. "Women also play a very important role in our business," Zegna says. "More than 50 per cent of men who walk into our shops are with a woman " and she makes the final decision." Wester nods vigorously. "It's the same with cars." How apt, then, that with a Zegna edition Maserati, women can finally wear the pants. Fiona Carruthers visited Italy as a guest of Maserati and Qantas. Source: AFR Magazine

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