As the oldest industrial company in the world, with its Italian heritage and DNA, Beretta is a unique blend of history and technology. We recently caught up with the current president and CEO of Beretta USA, Franco Gussalli Beretta, Dott. (15th generation), who explains the connection between high-tech and high-touch, between fashion and firearms.
MR: Your new Beretta luxury lifestyle collection looks terrific: tell us about it.
Franco Beretta: The essence is that we understand our customer’s lifestyle. We’ve been making apparel for years but our new collection reflects a complete outdoor lifestyle, founded on technical elements but focused on luxury and fashion. Some customers seek out technical clothing; others just love the lifestyle and want to look authentic. We combine traditional fabrics (woolens and cashmeres) with high-tech performance fabrics, artisans with computer technicians. We study clothing from the perspective of movement. For example, we added four-way stretch to our quilted jacket that protects from cold, rain and snow ($969 suggested retail). But unlike other makers, we add stretch panels not just down the sides but also under the sleeve and elbow area.
We have a wool/cashmere plaid sportcoat ($599 suggested retail) with a perfect shoulder but also bi-swing construction for mobility. We also have a quintessential Loden jacket in a beautiful heritage fabric. We also like to point out details like the strategically placed braces on one of our quilted jackets that allows it to convert to a backpack. Its luxury with authenticity, fashion with function.
MR: What is your distribution?
FB: At the moment, it’s mostly mail order and e-commerce. We have two U.S. galleries in NY and Dallas that attract traditional hunters and shooters who want the best shooting equipment. As you might imagine, we have a huge fan base in the South. We also have galleries in London, Paris, Milan, Moscow, and Buenos Aires. In Memphis, we have an 1800 square-foot shop (with Italian flair) inside a Bass Pro Shop. Our DNA is outdoor activity so we are reinventing the concept of an outdoor specialty store.
But our future is better specialty stores that can appreciate a heritage brand from the oldest family business in the world. We have shown the line to a few of the best specialty stores in America who are talking about in-store shops. Now is the time for these types of partnerships.
MR: I understand that fashion is just one of several businesses you’re in?
FB: That’s correct. We’re also in the wine business with Agricole Gussalli Beretta. We call it “precision winemaking”: where tradition, terroir and weather combine to create “unique wines with noble personalities”. My grandfather had land near Brescia with the right combination of soil and climate (similar to Champagne) so our special sparkling wine, Franciacorta, is doing very well.
Our family holding company also owns optics (Steiner binoculars, top of the line for birdwatching and marine use), Finnish rifles, financial and real estate businesses.
MR: There seems to be a revival of interest in hunting and shooting, even among young non-southerners.
FB: Humans need connection with nature, an excuse to bond with the elements. The history of hunting is the history of mankind. In most countries, hunting means sustenance and survival. The hunting tradition embraces all socio-economic components: from Italy’s humble farmers to England’s royal family. Also Sporting Clays has now become the new ‘Golf’.
MR: How did you make it through 15 generations when few companies make it through three?
FB: We pass down the passion. My father just recently retired, my son Carlo who is currently studying business at University in Milan will come to the States to further his business studies. So I am sure the business will continue. We are part of an international group of about 40 companies The Henokians, an association of companies (in Europe and Japan) that have been family-owned for more than 200 years.
But I think the real secret is our rare combination of tradition and innovation. We always respect tradition: our factory workers craft with their hands; we view everything we produce as a piece of art. We have many young people who want to become artisan engravers.
MR: I understand you’re planning a special trip for a small group of journalists this June.
FB: Beretta has selected a small group who will be attending Pitti/Milan for a special day trip on June 17. We will be going to view the new CHRISTO installation ‘The Floating Piers‘ (CHRISTO’s first large scale project since ‘The Gates‘ in 2005) with lunch afterwards at the Beretta Villa and a visit to the Beretta museum and headquarters. Lake Iseo is our home province; ‘The Floating Piers‘ will encircle the island of San Paolo which is owned by the Beretta Family. We’ve been very involved with CHRISTO on this project and we’re truly excited about it.