Interview by Philippe Combres
Edited by Jenny Mannerheim and Katie Lister
Photography by Skylar Williams
LuisaViaRoma For UNICEF Kicks Off Its Star-Studded Inaugural Winter Gala and Benefit in St Barth.
When it comes to the the most sought-after annual events to attend in St. Barth, there’s a new kid in town - or should we say, “there’s a new gala in town to benefit kids.”On December 29th, LuisaViaRoma for UNICEF held its inaugural Winter Gala at Eden Rock.
We cannot stop saying that this was the most incredible bash to happen on the island ever, and we have been around for long enough to have seen everything St Barth.
The Winter gala was the fifth fundraising event by the two collaborating organizations, and is the seasonal sister to the annual Summer event held in August in LuisaViaRoma’s home base of Italy. Porto Cervo and Capri have been the Summer event locations to-date, and they hope to make St. Barth the Winter gala destination for years come. ‘
There is arguably no more exclusive of a place to be for the Christmas and New Year’s period than Saint Barth, where A-list celebrities, billionaires, the global jet set and local residents convene in this little slice of paradise to have carefree fun in the sun, in the most glamorous way.
And it’s all about the parties: Saint Barth turns into a week-long party from Christmas into the new year at the hotels, on private yachts, at luxurious estates and villas, in the island’s chicest restaurants and bars.
Could there be any better time and opportunity to hold a benefit to raise funds for a worthy cause in the most fashionable way with the most stylish and influential personalities and philanthropists than during this key week on the island?
LuisaViaRoma for UNICEF has hit the sweet spot.
As the world’s leading online retailer with exceptional influence, LuisaViaRoma is deeply focused on intersecting the world of luxury retail with social responsibility, impact and sustainability.
The LuisaViaRoma for UNICEF gala was born out of the desire to make a difference through fashion and philanthropy, and the St. Barth gala did not disappoint in proving that that one single evening of bringing people together in celebration can make a massive impact in the name of doing good for the planet and its people.
The event was hosted by Luisa Panconesi, President of LuisaViaRoma’s Event Committee, Kieran O’Brien UNICEF Global philanthropy, Tommaso Chiabra Fundraising Chairman UNICEF Italia, and the event's Founding Partner, the London-based skincare company Augustinus Bader.
Co-Chaired by Reno Ruffini and power Art Dealer/Gallerist Larry Gagosian, the evening featured a cocktail reception, a gala dinner and a live auction of exclusive items, artwork and experiences conducted by Michael Macaulay of Sotheby’s.
Dua Lipa, the multiple Grammy-winning queen of “good vibes only” pop music gave an unforgettable performance.
Notable names came out in droves - and from all distances - to attend and support their efforts, including:
Leonardo DiCaprio, Dylan Penn, Izabel Goulart, Frida Aasen, Nina Agdal, Daniel Arsham, Dania Che, Jordan Barrett, Ernesto Bertarelli, Danielle Bernstein, Suede Brooks, Victoria Barbara, Elen Capri, Hana Cross, Vanessa Fuchs, Marco Glaviano, Ophélie Guillermand, Michael Kagan, Valery Kaufman, Bianca Klamt, Kygo, German Larkin, Christophe Le Friant, Kailand Morris, Chantal Monaghan, Alec Monopoly, Valeria Nicov, Jenaye Noah, Andrea Panconesi, Annagreta Panconesi, Charles Rosier (CEO and co-founder of Augustinus Bader), Etienne Russo, Bob Sinclar, Antoine Verglas, Kasey Wamsher, Davidand Togzhan Wertheimer, Gabrielle Westbrook-Patrick, Domingo Zapata and more.
Celebrities in the room introduced live auction items which included numerous art pieces, luxury items and one-of-a-kind collectibles. Auction highlights included an incredible collection of signed instruments from Rock and Roll icons, Elvis Presley’s Harley Davidson, and an original painting from the “Mona Lisa” series by artist Domingo Zapata. Modenese atelier ARES gave the organizers three handcrafted vehicles for its auction. Guests bid for a Special Edition S1 Biposto supercar, which has been expressly designed for the occasion, a Land Rover Defender Spec 1.5 Cabriolet and a matching ARES Scrambler motorbike.
Collectively via the past four Summer editions of the gala, LuisaViaRoma raised a total of 13-million Euros to support UNICEF’s programs and work in helping to make every child count, through providing care for and protection to vulnerable children worldwide.
An impressive 4-million Euros were raised through this first Winter edition in Saint Barth.
LuisaViaRoma hope to surpass this number next year.
And we at L’Officiel Saint Barth and everyone on this big little island certainly welcome you back next year with open arms and big hearts.
Interview with Andrea Panconesi, Chief Executive Officer at LUISAVIAROMA
L’Officiel: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with L’Officiel regarding your first Winter edition of LuisaViaRoma for UNICEF gala benefit here in St Barth taking place tonight at the end of 2021. Launched in 2018, previous Summer galas over the past four years have taken place in Porto Cervo and Capri. We are happy that you have chosen St Barth as your Winter home for the event.
Can you tell us a little bit of insight into this year's gala here in Saint Barth and how it came about?
Andrea Panconesi: It’s my first time visiting Saint Barth, and it’s our first time doing the gala here, let alone during the Winter months. Isn’t it just so fantastic how beautiful our world is? You can have Summer all year round. We have Summer in August in Capri, and then we take a few flights to St Barth in the middle of the cold December and suddenly we have the warm weather, blue skies and sunshine again for our Winter edition. This makes us appreciate how beautiful our world is: we just need to open our eyes or get on a plane to see just how lucky we are. Trying times like the pandemic these past two years have been difficult, but times like these provide good lessons. The most important lesson being to appreciate our lives, what we have, and to appreciate and not take for granted the fragile world around us.
L’Officiel: Can you tell us more about how the collaboration with UNICEF came about?
Andrea Panconesi: It is one of the best things I've done in my life, next to having my children. It came out of the blue by chance out of nowhere, never planned, inspired by my daughter. Luisa who is my first daughter- she said out of the blue “I would like to make a foundation for children in need.”
This was a big request as I like to please my children and to make them proud of their father as much as I can.
I did not know where to start as I already had a full plate with running a company, wearing a lot of hats, doing a lot of jobs. At that time, four to five years ago, we were not as organized as we are now. I had a long think, and then had an “aha” moment. I said to her: “You know, my love, perhaps we should join forces with someone who already has an existing foundation for children. Someone who already has infrastructure in place and knows how to do it better than we can alone.”
That is how we connected with UNICEF and the rest is history. I am so proud about it. Firstly because I love children. Children are the future. Secondly, I really believe that it's a must for a company to do good in the world, now more so than ever. Younger generations are so tense in their day-to-day lives. They are so careful and conscious about what they do, how they live, what they eat, where they buy from.
More and more they are increasingly aware of not only what they buy but who they buy from.Getting increasingly more conscious about what they consume, I know if they have a choice to buy the same handbag from one company versus another, they would rather buy from a company that is not only a good and trusted brand with quality products, but also a company that does good for the planet and the future of the world.
L’Officiel: Both on a personal and business level, you have a belief in doing good with your fortune. In three years you have raised 13-million Euros through this initiative with UNICEF. What was your target for this year's gala?
Andrea Panconesi: To double the amount that one event brings in. Think big. In Italy, it's very hard to raise money because fundraisers are not deductible. I believe it can be a better opportunity than previous galas.
L’Officiel: People in this moment are even more conscious and sensible about where the money raised is going and how much is actually going to the people in need.
Andrea Panconesi: I believe that a little effort makes good for yourself by doing good to others. It gives you more perspective and makes you understand better why holy individuals in the world are dedicating their whole lives to others. I have heard that there have not really been any big benefits such as ours this week in Saint Barth.
The world is changing incredibly fast. I see it, I feel it and I'm excited. For the last 15-20 years, things did not move as quickly as they do now.
But at the same time, 20 years ago was an exciting moment because it was the beginning of the Internet on a large scale and everybody was adopting suddenly participating in it.
L’Officiel: What were you doing 20 years ago?
Andrea Panconesi: 20 years ago I started into eCommerce.
L’Officiel: You were a pioneer then. At that time it must have been hard to explain your vision to people, to make them see how big eCommerce would grow.
Andrea Panconesi: Well, funny enough, I didn't know anything about it either. It was December 1999 when we registered our “Dot Com.” Nobody used it in Italy. Nobody knew what it was. Even I didn’t know what it was. All of our clients were Americans as the United States was ahead of the game adopting the internet earlier. So American clientele prompted us to start.When they came to the store we would ask for their email addresses so as to to get in touch with them once they arrived back in the UDS.
Before adopting the internet I was doing everything by myself: the curation of the collections and clothing, the photo shoots with the models, doing the orders. Things were not so technologically advanced and efficient. I was sending the orders.
Then when the internet arrived, I realized the power of this new technology as a tool. With the click of one button (“Send”) I could distribute collection photos to many people at once in an instant. We were early adopters of this.
L’Officiel: Is LuisaViaRoma working with NFTs?
Andrea Panconesi: Actually we first dove into the technologically-driven consumer interactive space starting with gaming two years ago.We launched our application and game, Mode Four. NFTs are the smaller details within the grander context of the gaming business.Gaming is proving to be highly successful with respect to consumer products and luxury brands.We are in heavy development at the moment, hiring a lot.We have 20 people already, and we will likely need 40 more to develop this technology vertical that we are growing.
We are selling LuisaViaRoma physical merchandise - actual luxury clothing items or handbags from Gucci, etc…. - with a digital twin via the virtual experience.
For example, a mother buys the physical bag for 2,000 EUR, while her daughter trades the digital twin online for 1 EUR with friends. The online experience is a second, parallel world to interact in with brands and with others in a heightened virtual environment.
L’Officiel: Another cause dear to Luisaviaroma’s heart is the environment.
Andrea Panconesi: Yes, children and the environment are two topics of high priority to us. We have a section on our e-commerce platform focused strictly on sustainable and socially responsible fashion, luxury and beauty products and brands.Our goal is to set them apart from competitors for their fundraising and their social impact and sustainability efforts.
We also joined forces with Formula E Extreme, entailing racing in particular areas of the globe where the negative social and environmental impact of human beings is on display, in an effort to raise awareness about this. For instance, in Senegal the Mangrove is an endangered species. Also, our first initiative took place in Saudi Arabia, to raise awareness about the impact of humans on sea turtles:there is a place there where where sea turtles used to migrate every year to lay their eggs.The eggs hatch, the baby turtles crawl into the sea, they come back 20 years later within 100 meters of where they were born to lay their own eggs. Unfortunately, all of a sudden a wall was built to protect the cement factory there. With this project we wish to finance the removal of this wall. For this project we created a photo collection with two National Geographic Photographers. Through their imagery we had them document the problems at hand and the corresponding solutions for each.For the Mangroves in Senegal we captured how the Mangroves help the environment to survive.
The end product of the project is a set of 40 powerful images that we will do a traveling exhibition with, perhaps starting in Florence and then moving on to other galleries and museums in line with the various fashion weeks.
The goal is to inform the world, especially younger people. We aim to raise awareness and literally make them see with their own eyes the problems at hand in certain pockets of the world. Problems that ultimately impacts all of us, but also that the human race is responsible for in the first place.
L’Officiel: Dua Lipa performing at the Winter edition of LuisaViaRoma for UNICEF gala benefit here in St Barth. How did that come about?
Andrea Panconesi: I met her in Paris a few months ago. We were at Caviar Caspar discussing it, and she was very happy to perform. St Barth is already quite the trek for her to travel to from London. Add on top her hectic schedule, everything that is occurring in the UK including Brexit and the pandemic, which makes it even tricker for someone as busy as her. But she made the effort, and we are thrilled.