Adding some more bite to Paul & Shark in travel retail

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

paul and shark with catherine

This Blog comes to you after a brilliant couple of days in Varese, near Milan. I was there to get the know the compelling family story (and values) of one of Italy’s most distinguished luxury fashion names, Paul & Shark.

The invitation came from Catherine Bonelli (above), the house’s new Global Travel Retail Director. There aren’t many more popular executives in our business than Catherine but, critically, she is also held in deep respect by her peers and by retailers.

Based in Paris, Catherine previously served as International Travel Retail Director at Lacoste, a role that followed a decade at The Coca Cola Company.

She has joined a company with a fiercely proud family ethic and an impressive obsession with quality. I saw those values first-hand over an engaging dinner with Andrea Dini (below), who runs parent company Dama as well as the house of Paul & Shark Yachting.

Paul & Shark Andrea and Catherine

Andrea’s an unassuming, modest and engaging man, but one impassioned by a refusal to compromise on manufacturing standards.

For him, ‘Made in Italy’ means more than simply a production location. It means ‘Made of the finest quality in Italy’ and he flatly refuses to consider moving production to cheaper labour markets. When he joined the company 25 years ago it exported only to Germany. Today Paul & Shark is in over 70 countries, including a strong (but still underdeveloped) travel retail presence.  Pertinently for the travel retail channel, the company has  forged a particularly strong reputation in China (where it is booming via a multi-tier store network, including second and third tier cities), Russia and India.

Paul and Shark  old pic

What is the key to surviving and flourishing as a family company in a world dominated by multi-national giants? Andrea thought about his answer for some time, then replied: “The key is first of all a strong brand, then a personal relationship with the customers – we are not the kind of partner who simply says ‘buy, buy, buy’.”

Catherine, already deeply immersed in the company culture, added: “It’s about passion, agility, flexibility, dedication, customer-orientation – all backed by a long-term vision.”

Paul & Shark Yachting – the famous emblem with which the brand was born – is synonymous with the weatherproof nature of its garments, something that carries through to this day. Such a quality also serves as an analogy for a company that has weathered industry consolidation, various economic crises and much else besides to stand tall as a leader of the Italian fashion business.

paul and shark 2 dummy

Paul and shark 2 showroom

Paul and Sark with Paulo and Catherine

During my stay I visited the company’s factory , showrooms and warehouse. Paul & Shark is obessed by the quality of fabric it uses (a special Egyptian cotton; mainly Australia wool). To watch the magnificent, multi-coloured intricacy and brilliance of of certain machinery, was a journey into a new, intricate and wonderful world. Our tutor was Paulo Zanetta (above with Catherine and me enjoying lunch at company headquarters), who taught me more about garment manufacture and care than I would have otherwise learned in a lifetime.

Paul and Shark yarns better Paul and Shark yarns

paul and shark 2 colours

Paul and shark 2 indian

[Paul & Shark personalises shirts for retail clients and individual consumers]

Later, with Catherine, I visited the Paul & Shark flagship store on Via Montenapoleone (below), directly adjacent to names such as Cartier, Dior and Hermès universe. I watched amazed as one young Taiwanese woman (already clad head to toe in the brand) bought no fewer than 18 items in probably just as many minutes. The transaction, running into several thousand Euros, underlined again the appeal of the brand to key Asian nationalities.

Paul and Shark flagship

You can read my full report in a forthcoming issue of The Moodie Report Print Edition. One senses already that the passion and knowledge of Catherine Bonelli has found the perfect home. Watch this space in travel retail – there are surprises aplenty coming.

Paul and Shark 2 office

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