Having been acquired by private equity firm InvestCorp in June last year, the predictable thing for Corneliani would have been a radical change in approach, shifting from the time-honoured traditions of the past in an effort to capitalise on a rapidly changing global market. However, the brand’s visionary style director, Stefano Gaudioso Tramonte, had other ideas.
“What is important is to preserve your DNA and not change too much too soon, otherwise you will loose the customers who have been loyal to you,” says Tramonte, as he sips a double espresso and tucks into a chicken sandwich – clearly pushed for time on a whistle-stop trip to open the brand’s new standalone boutique in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates.
“We need your heart to be with us. We need you to follow us because you love the brand,” he continues. “In the past 10 or 15 years, some brands have done really well in emerging markets like China. This sudden expansion means that the style is being driven in a certain direction, and in some cases this puts off the loyal customers who have been with you from the start. But this isn’t how we do it at Corneliani; we always keep our long-term customers happy.”
Loyalty is of vital importance to Tramonte, who spent successful stints at the helm of both Zegna and Pal Zileri before taking up the post at Corneliani in September 2016. He speaks fondly of his two brothers – the younger of which is so loyal to a different brand (which shall remain nameless), that even the fact Tramonte works at the top of Corneliani isn’t enough to convince him to deviate from his long-preferred label. “He wears literally everything from them,” he says. “Even now I am at Corneliani I can’t even get him as a customer. Just imagine how difficult it is to get people who you don’t know!”
Yet while attracting new custom is undoubtedly a difficult task, Tramonte is stoic in his belief in the brand, and his methods. “Our idea is to give every garment a reason to be bought,” he explains. “Before we design a piece, we make sure to understand why someone would buy it – why do you need to buy this blazer instead of a different one from a different brand? Of course, this is not enough: once this is decided you have to communicate it to the customer so he knows why he needs to buy it.”
Corneliani is something of a rarity in the fashion industry, in that it is set up in such as way that it does not have a conventional creative director. Tramonte’s official title at the company is – somewhat puzzlingly – ‘General Merchandising Manager and Style Director’. “We work like any other style office but we don’t have a star,” he reveals. “It is not like other companies who have a creative director who takes all the credit for a collection. I think it’s good that people recognise the true value of all the people who are working on the collection.”
As such, Tramonte increasingly finds himself in a supervisory role; charged with the thankless and presumably mind-boggling task of overseeing the company’s operations and creative direction from top to bottom and constantly facilitating the work of others, Tramonte admits that he doesn’t get much time to actually design nowadays. “Right now, I feel like I could be a psychologist,” he says. “When you get to a certain level, you stop doing work for yourself and start solving problems for other people. Before I used to do a lot on my own, but now my main job is to create the perfect conditions for everybody else to do their best work. And to do this I have to listen to everyone’s problems, understand them and offer solutions.
Tramonte is a man who has lived his whole life so far around the kind of sartorial elegance his current employers are famous for. Born in Milan in 1973, he cultivated a passion for the fashion industry from an early age – largely down to his grandparents’ fur atelier in the centre of the city, where he spent many a long afternoon after school, observing the craftsmanship of the tailors, gaining inspiration from the designers and, without knowing it at the time, getting a head-start on the development of his future career.
He also took inspiration from the most stylish characters of the time, with founder and president of Fiat Automobiles, Giovanni Agnelli, chief among his sartorial inspirations. “Not only was he a brilliant businessman and lawyer, but he was an icon of style and elegance,” says Tramonte. “And elegance is about so much more than dressing well… Agnelli is one of those guys who could wear anything and still look cool. Elegance is an attitude; it’s like courage – you have it or you don’t have it. The nearest guy to Agnelli at the moment is probably Eddie Redmayne; he doesn’t have a classic look but he carries himself well and with confidence, and that is the key to elegance.”
So, does Tramonte consider himself as elegant? Standing at 1.98m tall (“or two metres if I wear a shoe with a heel”), he certainly has the frame to get noticed, however Corneliani’s style director is not a man who craves the limelight. “I’m not a guy who loves to be centre of attention,” he says. “I’m already very tall and when I enter a room everyone is usually looking at me already, so I don’t need to stand out any more with my clothes or accessories; I don’t tend to wear any more than two colours at a time. Clean and lean is my style.”
As our conversation continues, talk turns to travel, and while Tramonte is continually drawn to the buzz and energy of New York City (“Whenever I’m there, I always wake up happy and ready to work,” he says), for him, his new home in Mantova, in the northern Italian region of Lombardy – where the company headquarters is located – is most definitely where the heart is. “I feel really at home there because my wife and kids are there, and the city is absolutely beautiful. It’s a bit like a small Florence.”
A family man, Tramonte is happily married with two daughters, so when we ask him what his biggest luxury is, we already have a pretty good idea about how he’s going to answer. However, the Italian is full of surprises: “It would be easy for me to say that my biggest luxury is spending time with my kids, and really it is,” he says. “But I know everyone says that… so to make things more interesting, my other biggest luxury would have to be my Porsche 911 Targa Cabriolet from 1973 – my birthday! I don’t get to drive it often but I love it when I do.”
We can imagine him now, dressed in a sharp blue suit piloting his beautiful Porsche around the twists and turns of Lombardy’s roads. If that’s not true elegance, we don’t know what is.