Luca Faloni on how to build a brand: “You have to be paranoid about the details”

We sat down in Faloni's Notting Hill apartment to talk about how he built his business and the enduring appeal of Italian design

Despite living in London since starting up his eponymous menswear business five years ago, Faloni has clearly lost none of the characteristic Italian flair for hospitality.

As he takes a sip from his Molinari — an Italian coffee liqueur — he explains that he first came up with the idea for his brand while doing a stint as a strategy consultant in San Francisco. What if, he thought, you could give customers the best of Italian design and craftsmanship for a third of the price?

And he did just that. But how did Faloni build his business, capture the enduring appeal of Italian design, and what has he learned from it all?

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Look at a man’s wardrobe; it’s the same items – these trousers, those shirts – just in a few different colours.

Some people say: “When are you going to do new products?” We don’t need to. We need to improve the products we have and just add colour choices. If you have the best linen shirts in the world, that’s a big market.

We spend a lot of time thinking: What makes a shirt a perfect shirt? We only use mother of pearl buttons. The collar is a one-piece collar, so it’s cleaner and it stays up without collapsing. We think a lot about the angle of it, too. There’s no placket for the buttons. We think about what you can remove to make the design better.

I have a strong view about how a shirt or pair of shorts should be. However, as a customer, I couldn’t always find what I was looking for. One year, Dockers changed the belt loops on their chinos and made them diagonal. Why?

"I think that’s the day that made the most difference in my life. She told me I had to go to Bocconi University in Milan – I didn’t even know what it was..."

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I’m from Turin. It’s the first capital of Italy, the city where the monarchy was based. They call it the little Paris, but I call Paris the big Turin.

Ninety per cent of my friends have stayed in Turin. I got lucky. There was a maths teacher who asked me where I was going to university. I told her Turin. She said, “Absolutely not.” I think that’s the day that made the most difference in my life. She told me I had to go to Bocconi University in Milan – I didn’t even know what it was. Through Bocconi I went to America and then to London. If I hadn’t had that conversation that day, everything would have been different.

I was at Wharton, where Donald trump went. [Laughs] I saw all these other young people raising money from venture capital, starting companies. Some of them go bankrupt, some of them make it huge. But people don’t seem scared of starting stuff – it’s normal.

When I did my masters at LSE I went to watch a speech by the EasyJet founder, Stelios. Beforehand, I went to the bathroom and he was next to me, so we had a brief chat. I asked him what age I should start my business. He said: “Start it at 28.” Why? Because there are clear studies that show 28 is the best age because you are experienced enough not to make silly mistakes and you are young enough not to have too many commitments. You can take four or five years of risk before you have commitments. And, almost by chance, I ended up starting my business at 28.

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I cannot sleep at night if the product is not perfect. It’s stressful in a way. I’ve read a lot about optimising your week, your day and your hours. I do work a lot, but not always in the times slot you’d think. I like working on Sundays, when you can focus because people aren’t sending emails. I like working at night, too. If I’m behind, I just work until five or six am and then it’s done.

Important trends? ‘Nesting’ is one. With companies like Netflix, Urban Massage and Deliveroo people are spending more money at home. It might be sad from one point of view, but it’s also efficient.

In Italy we develop more designers because of the heritage. Having Armani and Versace means people want to study design. Some nations develop an intrinsic advantage in one area which perpetuates. But we don’t have many large, global companies. Italians are either too humble, think they’ve made it, or sell up too soon.

Read the full interview in the Jul/Aug issue of Gentleman’s Journal. Subscribe here…

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