MILAN — For decades the stylish hordes were known to arrive for fashion week, drop their bags at the Principe di Savoia, Four Seasons and Grand hotels, and — before attending any shows — rush to shop in the Golden Triangle between Monte Napoleone and Spiga. Prada! Versace! Gucci!
That ended with the rise of global pricing, online shopping and the proliferation of luxury boutiques, ensuring that the brands and goods you wanted could be found pretty much everywhere.
“There’s a perception of exclusivity which is inherent in luxury, but it doesn’t really exist any more,” said Flavio Cereda-Parini, managing director of luxury and brand equity research for Jefferies Group, an investment bank and financial services company.
There still is destination shopping in Italy. But now it’s at the five-star hotels.
“It’s status,” Mr. Cereda-Parini said. “If you own a product that somebody else, even if they can afford it, finds it difficult to buy, there’s an implicit scarcity value.”
In the St. Regis in Rome, patrons can buy exclusive pieces by the jeweler Delfina Delettrez Fendi. The Pink Closet, at Palazzo Avino in Ravello, sells exclusive blush-hued Officina del Poggio purses. Assouline has a boutique with special editions and signed copies at the Bauer hotel in Venice.
And in Puglia, stylish young Milanese women collect Marta Ferri’s palazzo attire at Borgo Egnazia, a resort built to resemble a village.
“Our guests travel the world. It’s too easy to offer something they can find elsewhere,” said Camilla Vender, who runs the boutique at Borgo Egnazia, owned by her husband, Aldo Melpignano.
In 2010 the resort had about 1,000 square feet of empty space that needed filling, so Ms. Vender asked Mr. Melpignano’s shirt maker to produce a gauzy long shirtdress, which she called the Camilla, and a billowing cover-up, the Barbara, and opened a shop. The easy styles became popular in various colors and fabrics, and sell for around 280 euros ($310).
Realizing she was onto something, Ms. Vender then asked Ms. Ferri, a Milan-based dressmaker who creates styles for the likes of her sister-in-law Beatrice Borromeo Casiraghi and Margherita Missoni, to whip up seasonal capsule collections. The most recent, called Scirocco after a sultry Mediterranean wind, had high-waisted hydrangea-hued maxi skirts and cotton piqué dresses in sun-drenched lemon yellow. Pieces like an embroidered jumpsuit cinched with a linen belt and braided headbands sold out.
Such collaborations are “something we’re going to see more and more of,” Mr. Cereda-Parini said. “It’s never going to be huge, but I can see collaborations working.”
Ms. Vender has decided that, as of 2020, she will stock only exclusive collaborations and private labels in the boutique.
Exclusivity, however, is in the clientele as well as the goods.
J.J. Martin, founder of the clothing line La Double J, said that selling in the boutiques at the Pellicano Group’s hotels — Hotel Il Pellicano in the Tuscan town of Porto Ercole, La Posta Vecchia outside Rome and Mezzatorre in Ischia — has “propelled my business in such an important way,” she said.
Il Pellicano “has few rooms, but it has the 50 people whose eyeballs you actually want on your product,” she said.
As Marie-Louise Sciò, creative director of her family’s Pellicano hotels group, said, “There’s no price issue with our guests.” This past summer she created a cashmere capsule with Chinti & Parker for the hotels’ boutiques and collaborated with Birkenstock to spruce up its Arizona two-strap sandals with raffia, suede and silk in a collection called Dolce far Niente, or the Sweet Do Nothing.
“It’s not about putting the hotel name on a product,” Ms. Sciò said. “Our hotel aesthetic translates, and we’re planning to work on more apparel and objects.”
Valentina De Santis, chief executive of her family’s Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Lake Como, had a similar approach when she invigorated the hotel’s boutique. Along with Italian brands like Zilea, which specializes in regional silks, the boutique now features exclusive swimwear from the Bikini line by Stefania Bini, some with prints resembling vintage Lake Como postcards; and an airy linen collection called Mia Piccola Collezione.
Ms. De Santis even has a bespoke linen service, shipping the hotel’s Italian fine linens, produced by Beltrami, direct to guests’ homes.
Such service is expected by shoppers today, but then so is the convenience of e-commerce and retails’ concern for environmental considerations.
At Le Sirenuse hotel in Positano, owned by the Sersale family, Carla Sersale and her niece, Viola Parrocchetti, a designer, introduced the fashion label Le Sirenuse Positano in 2013 for the hotel shop — and, now, a global audience through its webpage. “Because I come from a hotel background, I’m very service focused,” Ms. Sersale said. “If people want to buy it online, I’m there for it.”
The duo now create three collections a year featuring eccentric combinations of European and Far Eastern motifs on tissue-thin voiles, although the collection being introduced at the label’s Milan showroom this week will encompass embroidery, solid color separates and Made in Italy pieces. They plan to introduce housewares in the spring.
Sustainability was key for the stylist Eva Geraldine Fontanelli and Caterina Occhio, a former developmental aid manager, who jointly opened a Goooders pop-up store this year at Palazzo Avino in Ravello (until Oct. 19), working with Ayni knitwear from Peru, Lanapo leather sandals from Italy and Kisany linens made in East Africa. The women are co-founders of Goooders, an ethnical lifestyle site.
“I thought about where I shopped the most,” Ms. Fontanelli said, “and I realized it was at hotels.”
The intersection of luxury shopping and luxury hotels hasn’t been lost on the biggest luxury groups: Consider LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s acquisition last year of Belmond, which includes, in Italy, the Splendido hotel in Portofino and Villa San Michele in Fiesole, outside Florence.
“The well-established luxury brands are going to latch onto this big-time,” Mr. Cereda-Parini of Jeffries Group said. For LVMH, “imagine the potential if they’re able to sell unique leather goods products, or personalized pieces, only available in specific locations.
“The luxury shopper is demanding difference.”