The Italian, being very sociable and open to new acquaintances, did not lose his way in the Russian capital, but managed to enter the rather narrow circle of professional wedding photographers.
But he had another great dream. I remember that the first time I met him “at home”, I was rather surprised by his appearance: wearing a well-ironed shirt with long sleeves and cufflinks, and fashionable smart trousers. Then I found out that this was a custom elevated into a principle. “Wherever I go, whoever I’m working with, always in a suit with collar and tie”.
In this respect, Francesco is not only concerned about himself. Fashion is his second passion. He makes his own clothes. Even if he buys ready-made suits, he alters them to his own taste. And in fact, he designs clothes too. At first this was “just for himself”. But he always dreamed of one day creating his own collection of clothes and displaying them to the public. I must admit that though I really liked this enthusiastic and charming man, I always took his plans with a pinch of salt. Fashion designers, well-known and less well known, are two a penny in Moscow. And it’s hard, to put it mildly, for someone from outside, without substantial financial backing, to break through into this world.
...And now we’re sitting together and chatting again. But this time it’s Francesco posing for the photographer and giving me an interview. And we are talking in his own wedding dress salon on Nizhegorodskaya Street.
— Has a lucky chance changed your fate again?
— Not at all, smiles Francesco. The fact that I have become a fashion designer is the realization of a long held dream. Although here too I was unexpectedly helped by several completely chance meetings. And there were the objective circumstances too: the economic crisis, the falls in the Russian rouble rate...
— Which meant?
— That life became more expensive. There were fewer weddings. And the work I was getting was dwindling rapidly.
— But people aren’t getting married less often...
— Of course not. But weddings on a grand scale, with a professional photographer, are taking place less frequently. And I have a family to keep...
Anyway, I happened to call in at a small tailoring shop not far from home, taking in a pair of trousers for repair. There were two tailors working there, quite elderly Armenian women. I looked at their work and suggested we cooperate. I had already thought about and sketched my first collection – a line of men’s business waistcoats.
The wedding market in Russia has also been affected by the crisis. Newly-weds are economizing. The times when you only had to open a salon and wait for clients are gone. Now you have to adapt to the new conditions. Not everyone succeeds in that. And these harder operating conditions are what distinguishes the Russian wedding market from the Western one today. As for prospects, I personally think they are very good. Competition and natural selection are changing our approaches to work for the better, The weak players are being weeded out. The strong, creative and up-to-date ones stay in business. This has to be a good thing!
The majority of those leaving are the ones who are not prepared to subsidize the business financially for many months (sometimes even years!); to pay the rent on the premises, the expenses on goods and materials, to pay out on staff salaries, advertising and so on. And this is on average 500,000 roubles a month.
What else is worth mentioning? Delivery, quality warranties and how much the goods are in demand at the justified price. For example, we offer our purchaser unique terms: free-of-charge delivery when required, and the opportunity to return the goods without having to give a reason for one month after purchase with 100% repayment. We have confidence in our goods. And if the question of client traffic is resolved, you only need to have good articles at good prices, and success is ensured.
In my view, to advertise a medium-sized salon in a big city, you need a budget of at least 100,000 roubles a month, preferably more. And this budget must be allocated and directed correctly.
If you don’t want the risk, consider the franchising option. The key advantage in a franchise from “Amore MiO” is precisely that client traffic is directed to the franchised salons.
Given the right approach, the recoupment period for a wedding salon today is 3-5 months, sometimes less. You need about one to one and a half million roubles to enter this market. One very good way is to organize an atelier along with a successfully running wedding salon. We ourselves once did that very thing: from showroom to production and retail sale all over the world.
— That’s right. Or vests, as Americans call them. After all, it isn’t very convenient to work at a desk all day in a jacket. And in summer it’s too hot as well. On the other hand, with nothing over your shirt, it doesn’t always fit the company’s image. And the waistcoat is a successful compromise.
The tailors agreed to try. But they made a mess of the first ten waistcoats, they didn’t make them the way I wanted. On the other hand, the eleventh one turned out pretty well!
And my thoughts were already racing ahead. Why not do something for women too? And here I again, quite by chance, met a Moscow girl... No, quite by chance, really! In the metro. She was wearing a beautiful elegant jacket, obviously not from a shop. I expressed my delight. It turned out she was a designer herself. It was she who invited me to the next CPM (Author’s note: Collection Première Moscow, the biggest fashion exhibition in Eastern Europe). And then she helped me develop and make a collection for women. We worked together for almost eight months.
— On whose money?
— I made the waistcoats myself, from my savings. But the women’s collection of wedding and evening dresses was made to order. It wasn’t easy to find customers. It’s one thing to create a collection, but quite another to present it to potential clients so that they want to have it.
But it was even harder to obtain suitable fabrics...
— So where did you find them ?
— All the fabrics are Italian. Some of them, and ready-made wedding dresses on offer in this salon, I bought from a firm which was winding up its affairs in Moscow. The other fabrics I selected personally in Italy. In the course of business, friends from among my fellow countrymen living here introduced me to the owners of a showroom in Stary Arbat, who allowed me to exhibit finished examples of waistcoats and dresses there.
— Francesco, how do you come to have a business card showing you as managing director of the Moscow company Sartoria Reale (Royal Atelier)?
— Sartoria Reale is a firm for making and selling men’s made-to-measure clothing, founded by a certain Neapolitan. They are made to order in Italy. I was appointed managing director quite recently, My main responsibility there is for made-to-measure men’s clothing and footwear. Naturally they expect me to come up with new ideas for designs and fabrics. Sartoria Reale also helped me to acquire the wedding dresses I mentioned. They agreed with me: men are all very well, but why not dress women too?
— And how do you find time to work in two places?
My partners have managers for the day-to-day work with clients. But in my wedding salon in Moscow, I have been working alone so far.
— Do you work all day here?
— Clients come by appointment. Mostly they are working and are only free in the evenings. They can come in as late as nine in the evening. So I get home towards midnight, sometimes later. I hardly see my family...
— How do they relate to that at home?
— Well, I do all this not just for myself, but for the family, so that my wife and daughter can live better and more easily. So that they will have a future. Of course, by that time my daughter may have plans of her own. If she likes what I’m doing now, she will carry on with it. And if not, she’ll build her own life independently.
— Has photography faded into the background now?
— No! I am continuing with it as far as I can. I probably couldn’t live without photography. It helps me keep my inner balance. I confess, I took photos for a wedding last Saturday.
— Did it take a lot of money to set up your salon?
— In this case, not much. Less than 300,000 roubles, as we were partly using a collection that was already available. The biggest investment was in marketing and advertising. It all goes through the internet, through our website. And of course through meetings in person with potential customers and clients. Another thing: last November we took part in the “Mrs. Russia-2015” competition, in which the showing of 15 of our wedding dresses was arranged. That is, we demonstrated to the public at large what we actually had to offer.
— Were there any bureaucratic difficulties?
— No. The wedding salon became a new subsidiary of the existing firm Sartoria Reale. Its field of activity simply expanded.
— How did you end up on Nizhegorodskaya Street?
— I got tired of using someone else’s showroom on the Arbat. All the time you had to ask permission for literally everything, come to agreement on when I could bring clients in. Sometimes I simply lost clients because I couldn’t receive them at a convenient time.
In the end, with the help of an Italian friend who was renting premises here, this is where I settled, Here I have my own salon, a showroom and a small sewing workshop. Altogether, 150 square metres. The rent is not too much of a burden, it’s about 1,000 roubles per square metre a month.
— There are quite a lot of wedding salons in Moscow today. Does the competition bother you?
— The competition is considerable. And here you have to stand out primarily by knowing how to serve – how you present the goods, how you sell them and how you work with your clients.
— Is it difficult to work with Moscow clients?
There are at least 500 wedding dress salons in Moscow, Considering that there are about 100,000 weddings a year, they should average sales of 200 dresses a year (16-17 a month). And the existing salons should be enough to satisfy the demand. However, allowing for additional clients from the regions, and depending on the season (the summer months are the peak), the existing salons cannot always cope. Furthermore, services here are often offered by normal clothing repair and sewing shops, i.e. unspecialized workshops, therefore it is not worth considering them as full participants in the market.
The size of the wedding dress market in Moscow in cash terms is not less than 8-9 billion roubles per annum (!). And demand can only grow. To enter this market in Moscow requires from five to ten million roubles (60,000-120,000 euros). This is comparable with the situation in Europe. But unlike the Western market, the Moscow one is free and awaiting investments.
For the opening and the first six month of operations of a salon, the following investments are required:
lease of premises from 50 sq.m. in the centre: 600,000-1,000,000 roubles;
renovation of premises: 600,000-1,500,000 roubles;
staff salaries: 600,000-1,000,000 roubles;
equipment: 500,000-1,500,000 roubles;
advertising: 600,000-1,000,000 roubles;
10-15 dresses ready in stock: 500,000-1,500,000 roubles;
other expenses: 500,000-1,000,000 roubles.
Allowing for an average price of 100,000-120,000 roubles for making an exclusive dress and an average volume of work of 10 dresses a month, profit will be 1,000,000-1,200,000 roubles a month. Recoupment of investment can be expected in six months to one year.
— In our business, the thing you have to do above all else is find out what exactly the client wants. Sometimes she doesn’t know herself. And you have to guide her, advise her, make suggestions. You can’t just say it’s a beautiful dress. You have to see how it looks on the woman herself, if it suits her.
In this, the main thing is to be very patient. Sometimes people come in three or four times to try on the same thing. But we work with them patiently each time, and help them make the right choice.
— How much does it cost to order a wedding dress from you?
— That depends on the model. From one to five or six thousand euros. But you can also hire a ready-made dress from us. That will cost 20-25,000 roubles a day.
— How long does the client have to wait for the order to be ready?
— A wedding dress or evening dress is not a classic business costume. It involves much more work. Two to two and a half months at least.
— Do Italian wedding dresses differ much from Russian ones?
— Only in that they are Italian. And made by Italians.
— Which fabrics are most in demand in Moscow today?
— Chiffon, silk, satin, of course...
— Wedding dresses will do well, of course. But are evening dresses selling in Moscow?
— Yes! Russian women really love evening dresses. And in any weather too, from minus 25 in winter to the summer heat. In that sense, you don’t have seasons here. And Moscow women’s love for what is called Italian fashion, Italian good taste, is well known.
— You are successfully bringing your long-held dream to life. But knowing how irrepressible you are, it’s not going to end there.
— I still have another great plan: I dream of setting up a House of Italian Fashion in Moscow. A place where young Italian fashion designers – talented, but lacking funds – would have the opportunity of bringing their ideas into being free of charge and showing them on the podium. I want to open for them the door which was once, alas, closed for me. I won’t say just where this House of Italian Fashion will be, so as not to put a jinx on it. But I’ve already got my eye on splendid premises of about 700 square metres!
— But a project like that will require serious money, surely?
— I already have a few ideas of how to get it...