Vivienne Westwood CEO Cristiano Minchio talks fame, fortune and the future of the iconic luxury house.
Cristiano Minchio loves Hawai‘i. In fact, of all the places he’s visited, Waikiki happens to be his favorite. “if I wanted to have a fine dinner or have an amazing shopping experience as New York or Paris, I can have it,” says the Italian-turned-Angeleno. “If I wanted to, instead, relax and be outside, I can take my car and go to the other side of the island. In other places, it is all too much one way or the other. Here, I can have both.”
?That’s saying plenty considering how much the Vivienne Westwood America CEO travels. Even before he set foot in Honolulu back in late October, he hadn’t returned to his home in Los Angeles for nearly three months. But judging from his past, Minchio’s passport was already well worn long before Vivienne Westwood came a-calling.
Minchio, 41, studied history and philosophy at University Ca’Foscari of Venice, and holds a master’s in political history. He then spent almost two years working for UNESCO, and made his way to UNESCO headquarters in Paris. It was there that Minchio and his relationship with the fashion industry came into play.
“I started getting more involved and writing more about Fashion Week in Paris while working at UNESCO, traveling all over the world,” Minchio recalls.
Trips to L.A. and New York ensued. Minchio then decided to open U.S.-based Scatola Sartoriale in 2000, a distribution company catering to high-end designers, including Vivienne Westwood. Deals were struck, and friendships were forged. In 2009, the luxury house tapped Minchio to helm the brand in America. Two years later, Vivienne Westwood’s first U.S. shop opened in L.A., and its second opened in 2013, here in Honolulu. Th e British label only continues to gain foothold in the states. New York’s first Vivienne Westwood boutique is scheduled to open its doors in February 2016, while Hawai‘i may be seeing more of Vivienne Westwood beyond Moana Surfrider territory—an accessories-only shop at Ala Moana Center is being explored, as well as a limited-edition collection store at T Galleria Hawaii by DFS.
“We’re starting a relationship with DFS worldwide, opening new locations in Europe and in Asia; Hawai‘i is also being considered …” Minchio says.
“Sixty percent, more or less, of the business of our company is in Asia. Our biggest markets are Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong and Macau,” he adds.
With the constant influx of visitors coming in from Asia, Vivienne Westwood—like other luxury brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Prada—knows just how successful having a strong presence in Hawai‘i can be.
“For us, the Hawai‘i market at this point [along with maybe] New York is the most important market in the United States,” Minchio says.
Asian consumers notwithstanding, Minchio has his sights on another key demographic—millennials. For a 40-year-old company like Vivienne Westwood, courting the Gen Y cohort is a delicate balance between innovation and brand preservation.
“Fashion is a very fast market; what you sell today is old tomorrow,” Minchio says. “At the same time, [in order] to transition, you really need to be focused and make sure you don’t veer off from your identity.”
Fortunately, Dame Vivienne Westwood herself has a very distinct point of view to begin with. Her ahead-of-the-curve styles are unmistakable, and her flair for the unconventional constantly keeps her on the forefront of every fashion editor and blogger out there.
“Vivienne Westwood is a designer and an artist,” Minchio opines. “She designs for what she’s feeling inside for that particular season and hopefully, her client will like it. Also, in her designs, there is always a tie to climate change, which is what she is fighting against.”
And like the designer, Vivienne Westwood clients are just as diverse—everyone, from Gwen Stefani and Anne Hathaway to Rihanna, is a fan. At last year’s Oscars, starlet Zendaya Coleman earned major style points, and made headlines, when she donned an off-white Vivienne Westwood gown, proving that young Hollywood, too, could ooze old Hollywood glamour.
“We’re more and more connected with young celebrities … Zendaya’s been a very good friend of ours, and we’ve been working with her on a daily basis. She’s almost our brand ambassador,” Minchio reveals.
Awards season is just a few months away. Soon, publicists reaching out with gown requests for their A-list clientele will inundate Minchio and his team. Wardrobe conversations start in early December, and then it is back-to-back fittings until March. However, not everyone makes the cut. As Minchio says: “When we try to dress a celebrity, she has to represent our DNA because we cannot go to somebody who doesn’t have our ethics or [share] our ideals. It would not make sense.”
Perhaps when the SAG Awards, the Golden Globes and the Oscars come to a close, Minchio can pay Hawai‘i another visit—whether it’s doing additional recon for Vivienne Westwood’s next location, or searching for his own Waikiki pied-à-terre…