Salvatore Ferragamo is often mistaken for his iconic fashion designer grandfather and founder of the Salvatore Ferragamo fashion brand, who became known after his shoes because a must-have in Hollywood for actresses such as Katherine Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. Eighty-nine years later, Ferragamo’s grandson is nowhere near the fashion house. Instead, he heads the family’s $680m hospitality estate in Tuscany, Il Borro.
The 700 hectares historic hillside village, which was owned by the Savoy dynasty, now comprises a five-star Relais and Chateaux resort, an upcoming yoga retreat, four restaurants, farmhouses, villas, vineyards and retail shops.
Now, Salvatore Ferragamo junior is bringing a taste of the estate to the Middle East for the first time in the form of an Il Borro Tuscan Bistro in Dubai. Located on the Turtle Lagoon within Madinat Jumeirah’s new concept Jumeirah Al Naseem, the restaurant and lounge concept is set to open in December.
We talk to Ferragamo on his venture into the region, challenges in hospitality and his famed family name.
1. You’re named after your great grandfather, how does that feel? Do you ever get mistaken for him? Do you get a lot of attention for your name?
As you can imagine, I feel very proud to be named after my grandfather; it is a great honour for me. Carrying such a big name brings, of course, a lot of responsibilities with it. And I always ensure to fulfil these in the best way possible. Yes, sometimes it does indeed happen that I’m mistaken for him.
2. Your family’s fashion house has a rule where not more than three members of the family can work in it. Why is that? What’s the reason behind the rule?
The younger generation of the Ferragamo family has a significant number of descendants. Thus it is essential to limit the presence of family members in the business, in order to ensure an extent of legitimacy, professionality and credibility. The company follows selection processes of any other company, meaning that family members are selected according to their CVs and motivation to work their way up.
3. Why the decision to launch the Il Borro Tuscan Bistro in the Middle East and specifically Dubai?
It is essential [for us] to be present in Dubai because it has witnessed an immense growth throughout the past decade and is still revolving at a rapid rate. It has become a crucial global hub for tourists as well as businesses and has formed a remarkable hospitality sector to support their needs.
The cuisine of Il Borro Tuscan Bistro will bring a true piece of Tuscany to Dubai.
4. Many argue that Dubai’s hospitality sector is oversaturated, with new venues opening left and right. Do you agree/disagree?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that the market is oversaturated. It is correct that there is a vast amount of new venues opening in Dubai. However, each restaurant targets a different segment of customers.
In addition, brands with a strong guest experience offering outstanding USPs do still stand out in such a competitive market. I’m very certain that Il Borro Tuscan Bistro Dubai has a unique concept that does not exist in this form here in Dubai.
5. How does the Italian market differ in terms of saturation and competition when compared to the UAE market?
One of the key differences is maturity and pace I’d say. The UAE market is younger and moves much faster in terms of restaurant openings and new trends. Another crucial difference is the spending power, which is higher in the UAE than in the Italian market.
This affects customers’ behaviour as they are dining out more often due to their higher spending power. One similarity is that Il Borro and the city of Florence are very international tourist destinations. Thus we are experienced with international guests and in applying an international hospitality approach.
6. Have you noticed a change in consumer spending following the global economic downturn in both Italy and the UAE?
Obviously every economic crisis affects consumers’ spending behaviour, even if it just temporarily. However, it is always a matter of time until the markets and consumers’ behaviour settle down again and consumers will also show a ‘fight to quality’ in restricted times.
7. Expansion plans for Il Borro? More outlets in the Middle East or abroad?
First of all we’d like to focus on our current project in Dubai, to ensure a flawless launch. We are always evaluating new opportunities and destinations. However, our priority at the moment is the opening of Il Borro Tuscan Bistro Dubai.
8. Would you ever consider joining the Ferragamo fashion brand again?
I do not really intend to join the Ferragamo fashion brand again. You have to keep in mind that Il Borro is like my child; I was involved in its redevelopment from the very beginning on and have seen it grow into what it is now. I simply love what I do because my true passion is nature, good food and excellent wines.
9. What are the positives and negatives of working in a family business? And what was one of the reasons you decided to leave the Ferragamo fashion brand?
Being associated with one of the most well-known fashion brands is a strong motivation. It has always been a big help in difficult decision making processes. However, I can comprehend that in some cases it might be challenging to step out of the family business due to many reasons.
This does not apply to my situation though; the moment my father purchased Il Borro it was pretty much clear that I couldn’t miss the opportunity to become a part of it. The estate reflects my personality and mirrors who I am.
10. Best advice your grandfather ever gave you?
Unfortunately I never had the chance to meet my grandfather. But one of my father’s advises that I will never forget was: Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to try.