Camera Buyer Italia brings together more than 100 top stores. To overcome the crisis, President Francesco Tombolini is in favor of a commercial quarantine. No discounts until August, order for spring 2021 only from September. The luxury brands would not have recognized the signs of the times. With one exception.

The names are world famous. Biffi in Milan, Penelope in Brescia, Leam in Rome. These are the top luxury stores in Italy that have merged into Camera Buyer Italia (CBI). Together, the more than 100 members generate sales of around €2.2 billion. That's about as much as that of Harrod’s department store.

CBI’s president is Francesco Tombolini. Tombolini made a career at Giorgio Armani and Gucci almost made it to the top at online retailer Yoox. Since the Italian government ordered all stores to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Tombolini has been in the media every day to promote the interests of fashion retailers. Compared to politics, he campaigns for tax benefits and an aid fund. Compared to the brands, he demands that payment terms be stretched and deliveries stopped. "The biggest mistake would be to continue now as if nothing had happened," says Tombolini.

TextilWirtschaft: The coronavirus pandemic is sweeping the global economy. What do you expect for Italy?
We are facing a long crisis. The gross domestic product shrinks by 8% in the first quarter and by 10% in the second quarter. Domestic consumption is falling. There are no tourists either. The situation is complicated.

The fashion stores in Italy are closed. How do retailers deal with it?
It feels like we're in the war economy, like we're in the trenches. We work from home or in the back of the shops. We are in contact via video. The health of employees is the top priority. The controls are extremely strict. In the office we have to keep one and a half meters apart. Protective masks and gloves are mandatory. Generally, only the owners are present. The employees are at home. Some traders are considering firing half of their workforce.

The Italian government has adopted a stimulus package worth €25 billion. Does it help retailers?
Everything is missing. One thought of the pizzerias, the arcades, the bars and the museums, but not of the retail. In Italy, people still think that fashion is for the rich. There are 26,000 stores in the country. Many small boutiques write to me. We have made specific suggestions. But it seems like few are listening to us.

Do you already have a forecast for this year?
The spring season is practically over. If there are no tourists and there is no economic upturn, autumn will also be difficult. My most optimistic forecast assumes a minus of 26% if the shops are open again from mid-April. Should we lose another month, it will be a minus of at least 44%.

Is e-commerce the salvation?
Around 70% of our members have a web shop. However, we must not forget that e-commerce only accounts for around 23% of our sales. I did a rough calculation. Over the next two months, our stores are expected to reach 16% of their potential. Extrapolated over the year, this corresponds to a loss of €390 million.

How do the luxury brands behave?
I find it difficult to understand the behavior. Our stores were closed when half of the spring goods had arrived. Now many brands insist on continuing to deliver, even though everything is closed with us. The large international groups make a confused impression on me. They remind me of the French monarchs who barricaded themselves in their palace at Versailles during the revolution. Gucci is the only luxury brand that has shown immense understanding.

What about the smaller labels?
It looks very different. I am touched by how they do everything to help us, although they themselves could use help. I think we should give them more space in our stores in the future.

In Germany, many retailers negotiate with their landlords. In Italy too?
In Italy, many landlords are accommodating. In addition, 56% of our members own the respective property.

The Italian retailers generate large sales through Farfetch. Help in the crisis?
I would like to officially thank Farfetch. They are the last bastion. I would like to talk with them about how we deal with the excess goods.

The first e-tailers and marketplaces offer discounts. Right? Or ruinous?
I am an online pioneer. How could I criticize that now? I can understand the e-tailers. Your marketing costs go up, sales go down. That is why discounts are needed. The stationary trade should, however, forego discounts. We should agree to keep prices stable until July and August. We only get the autumn goods in August and September. If we accept goods in May, this empties our checkout. Commercial quarantine is required.

The next trade fairs are scheduled for June. Pitti Uomo is sticking to its date. Does the world need a spring 2021 collection?
I have great respect for the Pitti team. The world of fashion would be different without them. It is right to think positively and present fashion beautifully. But if nothing significant changes by June 15, retailers will be sitting on a huge mountain of goods. They cannot worry about the 2021 spring collection because they have not sold the current spring collection. When I think of June, I see retailers who just sell and don't want to buy anything. Also: do we really think we can start again in a few weeks? The hospitals are full, the airports are closed. Which fashion house is investing a lot of money in a fashion show? We should wait. Spring 2021 can be ordered in September and October. In significantly reduced quantities.


This interview was originally published on the website of our sister magazine You can read the original German version here.

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