How Did Remo Ruffini Turn the Humble Moncler Down Jackets into a Multibillion-Dollar Empire?

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The French National Ski Team wearing Moncler, 1966.

By the time Ruffini was born, Moncler was already established as a European luxury label. Founded in 1952 by the French entrepreneur René Ramillon (the name is an abbreviation for Monestier-de-Clermont, an Alpine town), the company originated as a producer of outdoor equipment—tents, sleeping bags—and began to make down jackets at the request of the legendary French mountaineer Lionel Terray.

Soon there was a specialized line: Moncler Pour Lionel Terray. Italian and French mountaineers wore the gear through the ’50s and ’60s, and in the 1968 Winter Olympic Games, so did the French ski team. Jean-Claude Killy hung his three gold medals over a cheap Moncler jacket. As Alpine holidays grew more popular, the company became a signifier of ski glamour. “Moncler!” reminisces the Italian-Texan socialite Michele Recchi. “You put on one of their jackets and felt like you were Grace Kelly at the Palace Hotel.”

At 14, Ruffini himself owned a prized puffer that he flaunted on his motorbike. In the ’80s, the jackets became an unofficial uniform for a posh group of teenage rebels nicknamed paninari, after Il Panino, a popular snack bar in Milan. The fad got so big that it inspired a song by the Pet Shop Boys, “Paninaro,” and spawned a rogue subculture of kids who slashed their puffers and covered them with graffiti.

By the end of the ’90s, however, Moncler was struggling, pinched between the viral expansion of luxury brands like Prada and Gucci and mega sportswear companies like the North Face. But in 2003, Ruffini arrived, determined to woo a broader range of consumers. When he and his backers bought the ailing label, it had total annual sales of about $62 million; by 2010, they were $368 million. “Other brands have a target,” he says, “perhaps a certain age group, people earning a certain amount of money. But I thought: We need to make something for skateboarding kids, for travelers, for the elegant lady who dines out.” The jackets became both more high-tech and more high fashion. He expanded aggressively, especially in the hungry new markets of Asia, and balanced tradition and innovation by creating distinct lines: Moncler outlet uk Grenoble, the classic sportswear division; Gamme Rouge, the couture-ish women’s line, designed by Giambattista Valli; and Thom Browne’s daring Gamme Bleu men’s line. (Aside from Pharrell, there have also been collaborations with Junya Watanabe, Sacai’s Chitose Abe, Erdem Moralioglu, Masaaki Homma, the kooky Los Angeles collective FriendsWithYou, and most recently, Kanye West’s stylemeister, Virgil Abloh.) Less splashy but perhaps most remarkable of all is an ultralight collection called Longue Saison, which has somehow succeeded in getting people to consider down jackets a warm-weather staple.