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Menswear suiting will never go out of fashion: Canali CEO

Stefano Canali, the president and chief executive, on 10 years of the ‘Nawab’, how we will dress post-pandemic, and keeping a legacy brand relevant

Stefano Canali, the president and chief executive and third generation of the Canali family in business.
Stefano Canali, the president and chief executive and third generation of the Canali family in business. (Courtesy Canali)

It has been a over decade since the Nawab landed in India. A rendition of the royal bandhgala, the jacket collection from Italy arrived in late 2009 as an exclusive offering by the Sovico-headquartered Canali, a rare attempt at the time by a global luxury brand to customise a local style outside its homeland. Over the years, Canali has reinterpreted the collection in many fabrics, styles and colours to ensure it finds a place in the wardrobe of the luxury consumer. Its heart, however, remains Indian and its soul, Italian, with the detailing completely in tune with its maker.

Deferred owing to the pandemic, the 87-year-old Canali brand is marking the completion of a decade with a special anniversary collection, which includes distinctive classic suits, the Nawab jacket and a Diagonal Placket jacket, in wool, cashmere, linen and silk blends. While the line continues to pay tribute to a bygone era, its designs swing between formal and casual wear—they are all on offer online and at the six retail stores across India, in the 1.2-1.8 lakh price range.

We speak to Stefano Canali, the president and chief executive and third generation of the Canali family in business, about the anniversary collection, the impact of covid-19, and how important India is to Canali. Edited excerpts:

The 10th anniversary collection includes 12 products, including seven sleeveless jackets, two full-sleeved jackets and three suits.
The 10th anniversary collection includes 12 products, including seven sleeveless jackets, two full-sleeved jackets and three suits. (Courtesy Canali)

How did you conceptualise the anniversary collection?

It was designed keeping in mind the Indian gentleman... someone who appreciates tradition and has an eye for contemporary style. It’s like an attempt to fuse the worlds of Indian heritage and Italian tailoring for modern-day royalty. It’s an attempt to evoke the elegance of a bygone era while keeping it contemporary.

What makes the ‘Nawab’ so special to Canali?

It is our tribute to India’s royal tradition. We wanted to present our interpretation of the Indian formal clothing. India is a very important market for us and we have been lucky it has done so well. That’s why we are reinterpreting it, and will continue to do so, each year for the Indian man…he who is increasingly paying great attention to the way he dresses and has a growing interest in Western styles. For instance, we have added a sporty twist by making it in linen. The idea has been to apply Italian fashion’s sartorial spirit while reinterpreting it through the lens of Indian tradition, settling into a stylistic equilibrium.

Do you believe your first-mover advantage was one of the big reasons for the success of the ‘Nawab’?

Yes. We were quick to realise the potential of the Indian market and how we could build value through a customised approach. We were much ahead of other luxury brands, who were still entering the market at the time or exploring options. The Nawab was never really a one-time capsule collection. It has been a long-term, dedicated project that has become a hallmark of our India market. That’s why we have constantly updated it. I believe it’s the quintessential Nawab silhouette that makes it so popular. It’s a versatile garment that works for formal black-tie events, traditional functions like weddings.

Is this versatility gaining a larger space in formalwear post-pandemic?

There has been a significant shift in consumer demands and patterns. Customers are asking for softness, deconstruction, casualwear. As far as menswear suiting is concerned, I believe this will never go out of fashion. Tailoring will never disappear; it is simply exchanging fits, construction fabrics and details with the casualwear. I think because of this cross-fertilisation, the boundaries between formalwear and casualwear will continue to become more blurred in the post-pandemic world; sometimes they may even disappear.

How has covid-19 impacted Canali?

At the work front, digitisation has, of course, become an important part. Some of the habits that we have gotten accustomed to over the past months have become complementary to the way we used to work, as we are transitioning back (unlike India, Italy has started opening up). With consumer behaviour changing, our (physical) stores are evolving too. Digital tools and stories are combining to deliver a more effective response to the changing needs of our customers.

We are definitely facing challenging times, and consumer habits and the way they approach luxury goods are also changing. Thanks to a production chain entirely based in Italy, it was possible for us to work on versatility. We focused on transferring the instinctive skills of our people and our artisans to the products that the market requires.

And what does the market require?

We are paying more attention to value for money as people will buy less but buy better. They will seek goods from trusted brands that are authentic, that have been around for years, that can provide intrinsic quality, craftsmanship and high-quality goods. Since there’s more demand for comfort now, we are on a quest for lightness and flexibility in our offerings and through the expansion of casualwear products. The 2021 summer-spring collection contains a soft hooded jersey hybrid jacket designed for a man who’s always on the move, with capacious pockets and mini-zip pockets for Bluetooth headphones or a notepad. We have to constantly evolve and innovate while upholding our identity.

How challenging is it for a legacy brand to keep the traditional aesthetics intact while matching contemporary trends?

Our challenge was to combine the traditional tailoring process with an “unstructured” construction. We managed to address it because of the craftsmanship and skill of our artisans. Tradition is the ability to make current the teachings and techniques of the past. This gives us the opportunity to benefit from new materials and techniques while remaining faithful to the methods of tailoring production.

Were you always interested in joining the family business?

The company was a priority for my family. At first, I considered the commitment as time taken away from me but later I realised those sacrifices were necessary. When I graduated, I moved to New York for an internship in finance. I spent two years in the US, first at an independent company focused on exchange rate risk management for European companies, then at the exchange desk at (banking group) Intesa Sanpaolo. Experiences abroad have many benefits, like enriching one’s knowledge with different cultures, values and working in a different environment. They also make you realise what you want and don’t want to apply within your own work environment.

You became Canali’s general manager during the 2008 crisis, and as a CEO you have faced the covid-19 crisis. What is your biggest learning?

The best advice my father has passed on to me is that one must be humble enough to realise that no matter how successful you have been, there are always better goals to set and achieve. It is a principle that still guides my choices.

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