EXCLUSIVE: Stefano Tonchi on His Next Chapter

by Alexandra Ilyashov

After three decades in media, nine years of which were spent helming W, you’d think Stefano Tonchi would chill out this summer. Think again. He’s been busy doing his homework to launch his own consulting business.

Stefano Tonchi and Naomi Campbell

How was your summer as a free agent?
I’ve been working a little too much. I was in Europe all of July, for couture in Paris, and meeting with a lot of people, like fashion executives in Milan and Paris, then I came back again in August. When I was in New York and the Hamptons, I thought it would be quiet, but actually I ended up having tons of meetings. I really wanted to use these months to research and understand what people care about, what’s needed now, and what I can do—the white space.

What have you learned?
There’s a great need for a brand direction. I want to set up a consulting business to help companies in transition, to navigate these times of change and growth. My 30 years of experience in the media industry and my connections in the art and fashion world, my insider’s intelligence into our industry—I can give some help, you know? We live in a time with so much information, confusion, and uncertainty. The world is full of questions, and simplistic answers. It sounds like everybody is a Trump, somehow. Print or digital? Retail or e-commerce? Short-form video or long-form narrative? Is it about celebrities, or are celebrity done? Technology is trying to answer lots of questions, but great companies are made also by instinct, invention—and what people feel.

What sorts of clients are you courting?
Global companies in entertainment and media. The China phenomenon is where the future is happening, and I’m interested in the future. It’s what every luxury company is thinking about, whether food, fashion, or lifestyle. In three years, 50 percent of all luxury consumer consumption will be concentrated in China. Most executives in Europe, their first question is, “What would you do in China? Which celebrities? How can we communicate with the new generation of Chinese?” That’s very much at the center of my thinking. Also, I did a little study on the behavior of young people, where they spend their time—the answer is…online. Where in particular? On video games. There are lots of female video game players now, too. I forecast a much stronger integration of video games and virtual reality, with fashion and celebrities. You should expect a video game with a Serena Williams look-alike wearing Chanel, or a superhero Gwyneth Paltrow who will save your body.

Will you have a team or an office for your new venture?
It’s not about hiring 20 people, putting them in an office, and making them execute projects. You cannot operate like that anymore. I’m trying to work like an editor of a magazine—bringing in talent for specific reasons, on specific projects, for specific issues. Right now I use a lot of my home for working; I have the luxury of enough space. We all live on our laptops and phones, and can do business everywhere. I’m planning to rent space in a new building. I have a couple offers.

Blake Lively, Stefano Tonchi

How can companies benefit from your intel?
There’s not one successful company today that doesn’t have a social and cultural message. When the message is wrong, you get in trouble. Making nice clothes was never enough. But for a new generation, it’s just ethically wrong; “why produce more goods?” is a state of mind. The success of companies recycling, renting, and reselling clothes proves this. For me and a different generation, renting a tuxedo was stigmatized. Now, it’s about, “I didn’t need to buy it. I looked great anyway and I rented it.” For many young people, it’s ethically unacceptable to spend $5,000 on a dress you wear only twice. It doesn’t mean fashion is over. People actually love fashion even more but think about it in a different way. It’s not that people won’t spend $1,000 on sneakers; they will, and then will resell them.

What’s on your docket for fall?
I want to go to China for one of the new [retail] fairs in October. I’ll see some shows in New York, especially my good friends’, like Tory [Burch]. I want to absolutely see Emily Bode’s show. Then, I’ll be in London. Tim Walker is my great friend, and a photographer I brought to W—there’s a big retrospective on him at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and a lot of work I did with him is in the exhibition. I’m going to Milan [Fashion Week], some of the designers I admire and count as close friends, like Miuccia [Prada], Donatella [Versace], are there. I’m also working on two exhibitions in Italy—at Milan’s Camera Della Moda and MAXXI in Rome.

You seem pretty optimistic about fashion’s future. Are you as hopeful about the media industry?
I don’t look back at my days in the media. But there’s a lesson about online and offline experiences. To survive, a media brand today needs to have e-commerce, or a strong entertainment production company or presence. That’s something I’ve believed in the past year.

Is it odd not to have a next issue on the horizon?
I have so many deadlines already, I actually have to multitask much more than before. It’s fun working on projects with different teams. It pushes you to learn more, and get less attached. I’ve relied so much for many years on certain people, thinking they were irreplaceable. Habits make you do that. Now, I see there are so many great, talented people. You go to the right person for the right project. I benefit from this freedom. I feel very positive.

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