Quintessentially’s own Forbes-crowned ‘Queen of Luxury’ Annastasia Seebohm chats with Tory Burch Chief Client Officer, and friend, Francesca Danzi about her illustrious career and personal preferences.
Annastasia Seebohm: You had a somewhat circuitous route into New York, also working in Italy and London. Could you talk us through that?
Francesca Danzi: Yes, it’s been quite a journey! I studied Marketing and Communications at La Sapienza in Rome while working as a Beauty Consultant for YSL at a prestigious department store. I worked because I needed a source of income, but in turn, established my passion for luxury and fashion. I was interested in the role of luxury brands in beauty, and their dynamic alongside new chains like Sephora and Douglas. This inspired my final dissertation, which was met with great interest by the industry and opened the door of working for Chanel Beauté. I worked between Rome and Milan and travelled throughout Italy for collection launches and other events, which helped to develop my understanding of brand management and customer experience.
Eventually, I made the tough the decision to leave Chanel to explore agency work as I wanted to play a more significant role in the shaping of the evolution of retail. I spent four years between Milan and Lugano, working as an account director at marketing and communications agencies. I learned so much - about consumer behaviour, responsive marketing strategies, how to get the most out of a creative team, and how to sell a creative output to a client.
I wanted to apply my knowledge to the luxury industry, so I completed a Master in Business for Luxury Goods at the European Institute of Design. When I joined Burberry in London in 2008, it was the beginning of the brand's transformation under the leadership of Angela Ahrendts and Christopher Bailey. Together we aimed to elevate the brand and gain space in the mind of the digital, millennial customer. It was the perfect opportunity for me, and it ended up being a game-changer for my career. Some of my achievements where the launch of the Burberry Beauty Box as well as the Runway to Reality project, which are still a milestone in the evolution of fashion retail.
In my six years at Burberry, I developed an expertise in blending physical and digital commerce, mixing it with content and service to create engaging brand experiences. I covered global roles that took me all over the world, partnering with key digital players like Salesforce, SAP, Google.
In 2015 I decided to launch my venture, Danzi Consulting, which became a retail transformation agency. Our mission was to help businesses develop a customer-centric mindset, embrace digital, and learn to design experiences that build brand loyalty. I was lucky enough to work for brands such as Bulgari, Saint Laurent, rag&bone, and Tory Burch. That’s how I got to New York; after about 18 months of consultancy work for Tory Burch the company offered me to join the leadership team and bring the customer strategy together.
When you were growing up, you had a very different passion. Can you tell us what that was and how you ended up in the marketing/luxury retail world?
When I was a child, it was my dream to become a ballet dancer. I went to many dance classes, from ballet to modern to jazz, and was very committed and dedicated - you must be if you are serious about ballet. It is all about discipline, repetition, pushing boundaries, never giving up, and striving for perfection. I learned a lot; my personality and character were shaped by ballet. It gave me a passion for excellence, attention to detail, and the appreciation for beauty and hard work.
The year of my graduation from ballet school was also my first year of university, and the year I started working as a beauty consultant for YSL. I had a crazy schedule, but I graduated with the Rome Opera Theatre - it was one of the happiest days of my life. Soon, however, I had to face the realities that the professional ballet world was not for me. In turn, I began to find a lot of what I had appreciated in ballet in the luxury industry. I ended up analyzing the semiotics of fashion: codes of the heritage brands, and trends emerging from a time of change in the distribution architecture.
How was it to completely pivot your profession? What was the most significant thing you learned?
It was hard; I was somewhat disenchanted. I refused to dream about my future, and I secretly envied friends who had a clear career ambition and were on the path to making it happen. I knew, though, that I was fascinated by the world of fashion and curious about the communication and marketing strategies behind it. Then Chanel happened - and it all took a new direction. I began to understand the power of a brand, and what it takes to preserve its legacy, and the obsessive attention to detail that it is required to maintain its allure. I learned the incredible power of storytelling, the importance of creating emotions, the skills of understanding the audience then tailoring the communication to suit them.
There was a time when people believed you couldn't get upscale customers to buy fashion online. Now it's hard to encourage customers into stores. Could you characterize the drivers behind this shift?
Yes, what a change over the past couple decades! Convenience is the first driver, accompanied by the increasing quality of photography and immersive video content online. Disclosing the inspiration behind the product brings it to life and makes it desirable. The social media boom is another driver - it has given us a new need for immediacy, therefore, we need to shorten the path between inspiration and purchase. The experience in a physical store can be frustrating rather than exciting, if sizes are out of stock, for example, or if the brand does not master omnichannel capabilities. The whole experience should be redesigned to offer valuable engagement opportunities beyond the product itself. To increase store traffic, brands will have to learn to leverage emerging technology to augment human skills and deliver hyper-personalised, adaptive human experiences - experiences that can transcend the boundaries of digital channels.
What advice would you offer someone trying to launch a new brand? What is the one thing they need to do to connect with their target audience?
They need to listen and tap into a human need. Acknowledge that the consumer’s primary motivation for engaging the brand may not be focused entirely on buying products, but on a powerful desire to learn, engage, interact, immerse, escape, explore, discover or be entertained. The product must be right, but consumers today buy the purpose behind it, the experience that comes with it, and the participation/expression opportunities that it may open up to them.
So much of today's communication technology is improved by learning from mistakes. Can you think of any personal wrong turns that have strengthened your skills?
The biggest one I made was at Burberry, in my last year there. I did not see how much the organization was changing, culturally, or maybe I did not want to accept it. I did not recognise the size or impact of the change that was happening and did not adjust my expectations nor personal strategies to meet it. I would not be who I am today, though, without making that wrong turn.
What's more critical today, product, or service?
I believe service is more important than product today, at least in the world of fashion. We are overwhelmed by choice, and we need curation, advice, and insight-driven personalisation to guide us. A ‘good product’ has been redefined by very different attributes in the social media era. Brand desirability is key.
Which brands do you look to today? Who's leading the field?
I look at brands like Gucci and Levi’s, for the revolution they’ve been able to make and how relevant they have become after years of silence. I look at new brands like Tamara Mellon, a digital player that is trying to revolutionise the logics of product margin and the experience of shopping for shoes. I look at Glossier because of the ‘addiction’ phenomenon they have created, and at Revolve - one of the smartest e-commerce clothing brands, entirely data-driven and millennial-centric.
How about an old, established store, that still does things well?
It’s interesting, I can only think of a store in my home city, Rome, where my mum used to shop, and she still occasionally does. The typical family-run, multi-brand boutique, rooted in the community of the neighborhood, where the owner knows customers by name and calls the café to order them coffee and pastries in the afternoon. I don’t think it can last much longer, though if it doesn’t embrace technology and venture into the digital world. No one can.
What was your last, quick, guilty purchase?
A pair of high-heel sandals, so absolutely beautifully made, with that unmistakable smell of high-quality leather. They are a pleasure for the eyes and the soul - a woman’s wardrobe can never have too many pairs of heels!
What garment has been in your wardrobe longest? How do you feel when you wear it?
This peach-coloured flowy empire V-neckline dress. It has a beautiful wavy asymmetric hemline that falls around the knee. The dress is simple and elegant because of the quality of the fabric and color. It makes me feel like the best version of myself - a prima ballerina or a princess; I wear it, and I immediately smile. I haven’t worn it in a long time, but I tried it on a couple of weeks again, and it still fits perfectly.
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