Studying 70 Years of Moncler with Remo Ruffini

julia fox


On the music database genius.com, “Moncler” has 983 matches in lyrics. Two tracks by 21 Savage, Bank Account and ball w/o u, are among the most popular entries, with 2.8 million and 972.5k views respectively. In song titles, “Moncler” shows up in 163 entries, with Juice WRLD’s Purple Moncler topping the list with 143k searches. As the chorus of the track unfolds on “Walking ’round Atlanta in a purple Moncler,” a Reddit loophole brings to life a thread dedicated to the rapper’s go-to puffer jacket: In a screenshot from his now-deleted Instagram profile, Juice is wearing a Moncler Men’s 2 1952 Purple Down Lorent Vest, with the caption reading, “@moncler SPONSER ME PLS.”

In Bank Account, 21 Savage mentions Moncler along with other luxury brands like Gucci and Saint Laurent, in a classic rap game ethos to display wealth and construct a specific persona built on associated lifestyle choices. Rap semiotics has always adopted brand mentions as a device for storytelling, a direct result of the shifting cultural landscape and the idea it projects into society. Music lyrics reflect the key indicator of advancements and novelties in the cultural landscape, and subcultures are continuously merging and appropriating styles to create the lexicon of the global youth.

In its 70 years, Moncler has hijacked the linearity between mainstream and niche through ubiquity, acting as a premium luxury brand while being present in and apt for almost every social occasion — from ski resorts and runway front rows, to Christmas family dinners and C-suite corporate board meetings. This horizontal extension of the brand is a result of an engineered strategy that Moncler’s chairman and CEO Remo Ruffini has been devising and updating since 2003, the year he acquired the company and prompted an internal revolution that would eventually lead to the version of Moncler we know today.

“When I bought Moncler in 2003, it was a totally different time,” Ruffini says from his office in Milan. “That was a time when Moncler was stocked in sportswear stores as a historical asset. I began to focus on corporate structure, quality, and branding to push the brand away from that world.” To elevate Moncler’s product, Ruffini tapped into the luxury market through collaborations with Junya Watanabe and Nicolas Ghesquière in 2005, and opened a flagship store in Paris’ hyper-luxury area of Rue Saint Honoré in 2008. “That was a pretty strong statement, which influenced the customer’s perception of the brand,” he says. “From that moment, we became what we are today.”

Most brands manifest change on the surface, telling stories of how people consume in a specific period. As for Moncler, “the brand has gone through quite a lot of changes” in Ruffini’s words. This time capsule approach makes sense for a brand that has adopted strategies of the luxury market when everything in fashion was pointing in that direction. A brand that was formerly recognized with its top-selling product — the puffer jacket — is showing at Paris Fashion Week with a haute couture collection designed by Giambattista Valli (Valli directed Moncler’s Gamme Rouge line from 2008 to 2017). A brand that was synonymous with Italian folklore appointed American designer Thom Browne to direct its Gamme Bleue line from 2009 to 2017.

Looking at Moncler’s history, one can also see the historical shift from luxury to hype culture. The brand was one of the first to incorporate the language of hype from the beginning of what has now become a global phenomenon. Before that, as Ruffini puts it, there was a process of “casualization” of the entire fashion industry, which laid the ground for the streetwear revolution. Menswear grew as the driving segment through relaxed and comfort-oriented products that retained a luxury-like quality, but stripped of exclusivity. Casualization, in Ruffini’s opinion, is the answer to the “super relax” mindset that brought customers to reconsider the traditional canon of menswear: the shift from the Oxford shirt to the graphic hoodie. Since then, Moncler has worked to escape the traditional realm of fashion, a strategy which, for Ruffini, leads to being contemporary.

Streetwear arrived at Moncler as “a way to be more inclusive and contemporary at the same time… A way to survive fashion,” says Ruffini, who also printed this slogan on a huge banner to celebrate the brand’s IPO in 2013. This “Survive Fashion” attitude led the brand to seek collaborations with streetwear masterminds: Pharrell Williams was already a collaborator from 2008, and Virgil Abloh worked on a series of collaborative collections through Off White starting 2016. Particularly, Abloh’s approach to “streetwear as an art movement” shortened the distance between Moncler and the public, leaving the brand’s mark on the said “movement” and visual culture.

Being contemporary is, to Mr. Ruffini, “balancing the romanticization of nostalgia with innovation.” This modus operandi reflects the urgency to “survive” the capital-F fashion mechanism, reinventing the core definition of luxury without denaturing its heritage. Moncler is, and always was, deeply rooted in its archive, although reimagined for future-forward customers. “Fashion is not part of my culture,” says Ruffini. “I don’t have a creative director. I have always thought that luxury is more about products that last over time, and in order to achieve this, you have to invest in quality, and make a great product that’s above trends.” In the wake of today’s archival mania, Moncler is in a position of power even in this specific trend.

Ruffini has preserved Moncler’s archive with an editorial practice: he edits products down, takes them out of stock for seasons to prevent hyper-inflation and short-term hype, to then reissue those classics in different colorways and fabrics. This is exactly the case of the Himalaya jacket, inspired by the first Moncler Himalaya expedition, which was a best-seller before Ruffini took the helm of the company. He momentarily took it down to reissue a new, re-engineered version in 2005, renaming it Maya. Drake wore a red one in his legendary Hotline Bling video in 2015, skyrocketing sales for Moncler. Again, Ruffini edited the product down from the brand’s offering, to relaunch an updated version and celebrate the brand’s 70th anniversary this year.

Ruffini is a very peculiar type of CEO, whose vision is very much invested in everything the brand produces. After years of guest designers and brand synergies, he expanded the format for a new, hybrid collaborative mindset. Moncler Genius began as a digital initiative in 2018 to reflect on the new state of the creative industry, in which brands could act across the content spectrum, becoming platforms themselves. “We need to move away from seasonality,” Ruffini told his team. “We need to bring new concepts to our audience every month.”

This strategy evolved into a physical experience with MONDOGENIUS, presented in Milan in 2021, where eleven fashion designers — from Craig Green to Palm Angels and ALYX — hacked Moncler’s code to reinterpret its essence through collections, performances, and videos. Here, Moncler was a leader in yet another trend presented to the audience: the experientialization of everything, and the dematerialization of the fashion object.

As Moncler gears up to celebrate its 70th anniversary in the age of immateriality, the brand will also release a series of NFT tokens in collaboration with Antoni Tudisco. Ruffini keeps his mind grounded to the product, firmly believing in innovation as the gateway to the future. “I think that, at the moment, the logic behind digital sales is that of the bi-dimensional catalog,” he argues. “It’s been interesting to see brands creating digital images and products, but I don’t think that will be a growing sector if we don’t inject some physical experience into it. We have to find a way to actualize this virtuality.”

Escaping — or “surviving” fashion, as Ruffini likes to say — comes back as a method rather than an empty slogan. “It’s a Moncler year,” Juice WRLD wrote in another leaked track. And 2022 definitely is a Moncler year: the 70th, to be precise.



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