LAPO ELKANN: PORTRAIT OF AN UNCONVENTIONAL HEIR
Chances are that you’ve never heard of Lapo Elkann. If you have, however, you either know him for the gossip surrounding the troubled life of this heir of Italy’s richest and more powerful dynasty (Fiat’s Agnelli Family), or for his style and creativity, which has earned him the title of “Best dressed man in the world” several times.
Lapo’s style and creativity are the reasons why I am writing this article.
In my capacity as a luxury industry insider, I’ve always spotted in Lapo Elkann several elements of unicity, of which an intriguing mix of boldness and humility, and the controversy surrounding his private life have on many occasions caught my attention.
Born in 1977, grandchild of Giovanni “Gianni” Agnelli (also known as L’Avvocato (the lawyer), iconic Fiat’s President, and one of the most popular Italians in recent history whose figure inspired a documentary by Steven Spielberg, aired on HBO), brother of the current FCA’s (Fiat Chrysler Automobile) president John Elkann, Lapo started his career in the marketing department of his family business where he is credited to have significantly contributed to the re-design of the brand’s most successful model, FIAT 500, a car of small size but high design value, that gave Lapo the opportunity to show his taste and knowledge of luxury and fashion with co-marketing initiatives with brands like Gucci.
His promising career in his beloved family business came to an abrupt end after he almost lost his life as a consequence of a night of transgressive sex and drug abuse, in Torino, Italy. Such a scandal inevitably attracted a lot of criticism, and to try and take the public eye away from his otherwise understated family, and from – at the time – a still troubled FIAT, Lapo resigned from his job, starting an entrepreneurial career.
Despite his enormous wealth, his fluency in several languages, his connections, his style and good looks, Lapo Elkann comes across as a kind, fragile, at times insecure, and certainly charming man.
He has openly spoken about his unhappy childhood that he spent at a boarding school away from his family, where he suffered physical and mental abuse, and where he struggled with school; being diagnosed with dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“As a child, you perceive yourself as a problem, because you are weird and everyone treats you like that”.
In 2017, stating “I didn’t enjoy my childhood, and I wish to help other unhappy kids enjoy theirs” he started a non-profit organisation called ‘Laps’, with the aim to conceive and fund – with the contribution of “talents spread all over the world” – initiatives and projects to support children in need.
Lapo started his first company, the eyewear business Italia Independent, in 2007, with friend Andrea Tessitore and former colleague Giovanni Accongiagioco.
“Being independent means writing one’s own story every day” – Lapo Elkann
Despite the eyewear market being extremely crowded, and dominated by the Italian giant Luxottica, Italia Independent gained considerable attention from the press and consumers, introducing a line of sunglasses made from carbon fiber and priced at a steep €1,000.
“Everyone thought we were crazy trying to sell sunglasses at a1.000 Eur price point” Lapo once said, “but that hazardous positioning actually gave us a lot of free press coverage, and the collection was quickly sold out”
Today, Italia Independent produces eyewear in partnership with Adidas, Juventus, Hublot, Pharrell Williams, and has considerably widened its catalog offering products ranging from a starting price of €19, to almost €1,000 for the Hublot collection.
The collaboration with Hublot includes limited editions of their best-selling Big Bang watch; renamed Big Bang Unico by Italia Independent, in which Lapo has played with different materials to give life to truly different and eye-catching versions of this popular, high-end, Swiss watch.
Italia Independent is now a holding company, listed in Milano’s secondary stock exchange, with a turnover of 22 million Eur in 2017, that incorporates Independent Ideas, a media company, and Garage Italia, a design hub that enables Lapo to focus on his biggest passion since his childhood: cars.
Garage Italia, based in Milano, and more precisely in an old and iconic petrol station restored by architect Michele De Lucchi, and originally commissioned by Eni (Italy’s Petroleum Company)’s President Enrico Mattei, is a design hub where Lapo’s creativity is at the service of both a clientele of HNWI who wishes to personalise their cars, yachts, airplanes etc.. and corporates like BMW, Fiat, Hublot, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari for which Garage Italia designs limited edition lines of products.
Garage Italia’s headquarter also features a “trendy” bar and restaurant, in partnership with celebrity Chef Carlo Cracco.
ART & LOOK:
Lapo Elkann is a contemporary art collector (he owns original paintings by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst) and – as mentioned at the beginning of this portrait – he is a man whose style has earned him the title of Best Dressed Man in the World by Vogue in 2008, and the cover of several fashion magazines all over the world.
He apparently owns over 400 suits, part of which belonged to his grandfather Gianni Agnelli, many other tailored by the Italian sartorial house Rubinacci and his ability to play with colors and accessories makes his style remarkable, and certainly unique.
“Creativity, without discipline, structure, order, and organization, means nothing”
At this point, it seems pretty clear to me that the protagonist of this article is a businessman who puts creativity before numbers.
Although Lapo Elkann prides himself on being a self-made entrepreneur (he has recently undergone a radical re-organisation of his company that was – admittedly – mismanaged) with the desire to show to the world that he’s not another heir who builds things upon his family’s money, I believe his creative nature takes over when it comes to business decisions, leading him to the most creative direction, rather than the most profitable one.
In fact, the relatively small size of his company (22 Million Eur turnover), and a large number of high-profile design/creative projects he’s involved in, make me assume that, had he prioritised financial growth, he could have leveraged his popularity and his style working with and for much larger businesses, rather than building his own companies, in very crowded spaces, such as luxury and automotive.
Lapo Elkann is certainly an unconventional heir; his human side, which makes him very “close to people” has earned him the respect of many, and certainly mine.
He doesn’t belong to the category of the “born rich” who show off their luxury lifestyle on Instagram; he rather uses his lifestyle (the clothes, the Ferraris, the helicopters) to give visibility to his creative projects which he seems to genuinely believe in.
This proud Italian, with an international pedigree, might not end up building the biggest brand in luxury, but he certainly conveys style, passion, and love for what he does.
Enough to make him noticed and – who knows? – perhaps remembered.