The annual Milken Institute Global Conference convened last week, drawing together some of the world’s top minds to discuss solutions to problems facing the world today—ranging from the globally economy to health and education. Among the speakers, was a familiar face: Barneys’ COO and EVP Daniella Vitale, who joined a panel discussion focused on Global Retail: Adapting to Changing Tastes.
Moderated by CNBC reporter Susan Li, the panel highlighted issues that face growing luxury markets around the world, and Vitale brought to the discussion her insight on Barneys’ success in this area, chalking much of it up to one word: authenticity. “Conveying authenticity—that’s one of the big problems in retail today,” she told the crowd. “There are too many people trying to be everything to all consumers. That’s not sustainable. I think that is one of the reasons Barneys is so stable and are growing—we know our customers so incredibly well, and what we do is for our customer.”
Joining Vitale and Li in the discussion was a coterie of other industry leaders, including Christophe Jouan, CEO of Future Foundation, an independent consumer trends and insight company; Lyndon Lea, the managing partner of Lion Capital; Guilherme Reichmann, head of strategy and planning at Grupo Boticário, one of the largest beauty and retail companies in Brazil; and Sonu Shivdasani, chairman and CEO of Soneva, a luxury resort company that emphasizes environmentally responsible tourism.
Beyond this one panel, the conference played host to dozens of other discussions and events, all of which aimed to explore solutions to today’s most pressing challenges in financial markets, industry sectors, health, government and education. These leading thinkers were brought together by The Milken Institute, a nonprofit think tank whose founding principle it to increase global prosperity by widening access to capital, creating jobs, and improving health worldwide.
But that conversation has repercussions that apply to most any field, including retail. Vitale, along with the rest of the panelists, spoke to what makes each of their companies tick and how they continue to expand and grow. In addition to the emphasis Vitale placed on authenticity, she also stressed the importance of branding in today’s marketplace.
“Branding has become very important for Barneys, in part we previously relied heavily on our past and on an idea of Barneys that was relevant in the ‘90s,” she said. “A younger consumer couldn’t care less about that though—they didn’t know what we were talking about and they weren’t interested. The Barneys DNA is fantastic, but it wasn’t speaking to that customer. It becomes about how you let the past influence but not dictate what you’re saying today. It’s still there and part of the DNA, but we’ve worked hard in exposing the brand to a completely different audience. And we have to keep doing that.”
To hear more of the insights Vitale and the other panelists offered, check out Milken’s video of the whole conversation.