We had the good fortune of connecting with Diego Abba and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Diego, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
Many don’t realize about the luxury industry that geography still plays a significant role in both the selection of styles available and the pricing of luxury goods.
We came up with the idea of italist while observing the queues of tourists outside some of the main luxury boutiques in Italy. The reason was the combination of products hard to find outside Italy, and lower prices at full retail vs. other countries—what we refer as the “Italian
retail price” in our storytelling.
Italian retail prices for luxury clothing, bags, shoes and accessories are up to 40% lower than the rest of the world. This is due to a mix of factors including the structure of the import and distribution of luxury goods, sales and consumption taxes, import duties, and regional price positioning set by each brand.
Hence, we decided to provide this buying experience, “as if on the streets of Italy,” to all our customers (with none of the physical and logistical barriers of going to Italy in person and shopping), leveraging technology and the internet, two things that have been historically separate from the luxury world.
Paired with this technological innovation, we also wanted to showcase the unique luxury curation experience of the Italian boutiques that have some of the most respected, trend-conscious buyers in the world and have developed unique relationships with brands over many years.
In doing so, we’re creating an innovative value proposition for the consumer in terms of curated selection of over 1,000 worldwide brands, great price, and convenience of ordering.
What should our readers know about your business?
Our aim is to combine the curatorial excellence of buyers from the best luxury multi-brand stores in Italy (which represent the bulk of Italy’s overall sales volume of luxury fashion products) with the convenience to buy from home or from your smartphone, at the best price in the world. Hence, no more queues at the airport for VAT refunds, no more complications on custom declarations and payments.
We’re very proud of this innovative model and of our ability to offer excellent deals to savvy consumers. We’re also very passionate about Italian fashion, design, and quality, and are proud to be the only online store dedicated to virtual shopping “as if on the streets of Italy.”
I have been in and out of the fashion industry for the past 20 years, starting from my time at Bain and Company. When I was not working on fashion, I have always focused on technology and media, as recently as my previous role as CEO for a technology company in Newport Beach that provided back-end solutions for some of the largest franchises in the video game industry and produced mobile games as well.
I am really enjoying being at the helm of italist, because it bridges two worlds that are completely apart and have difficulties to understand each other, both for Silicon Valley that has great difficulties in comprehending and investing in luxury and fashion and for the fashion industry that is still far from fully embracing technology. While we are bridging these two worlds we are trying to create an innovative value proposition for the consumer in terms of product selection, price and convenience of ordering. This is confirmed by the customers who regularly come back to buy on italist.com over and over.
One lesson I’ve learned is: execution is key. Ideas and brainstorming are important, but at the end of the day, done is better than perfect. I try to keep my team focused on doing an excellent job but following through on execution most of all, rather than nitpicking unimportant details.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
During a long week-end in Los Angeles, I recommend starting Friday with lunch at “The Restaurant” at the Getty Center. Food and some iced bubbles definitely enhance the visit of the Richard Meier buildings and the gardens from where the view of Los Angeles is quite unique.
After the visit I would go for some shopping at Melrose Place, where the boardwalks and the shapes of the buildings hosting the boutiques offer a resemblance of Avenue Montaigne in Paris but with an LA vibe. To follow and staying with the French/LA mood, I would head to Providence for dinner, still one of my favorites in LA due to the preparation of the fish, the design of the dishes, and the impeccable service.
After dinner, being in LA, either a concert or a comedy show is almost mandatory, with so many venues this might be the best city in the world to showcase emerging or famous artists.
I would recommend starting Saturday with a bike ride from Venice to Malibu, the view of the Pacific Ocean is always inspiring while cycling through the characteristic small stores of Venice and the Santa Monica Pier. To rest and have some refreshments I would head to the outside terrace of Moonshadows, in Malibu, facing directly the Ocean.
Coming back I would stop for some shopping in Abbot Kinney that combines NYC Soho with LA, and showcases some of the emerging designers that are hard to find. Unfortunately, my favorite restaurant of the street, Wabi, was destroyed by a fire, and re-open in a new location nearby.
For the evening and dinner, I would go to Vespertine, again an unique “LA atmosphere” in a beautiful building designed by Eric Owen Moss to try some non-traditional dishes.
Being born in Venice, Italy, I would start the Sunday with a lunch at Mr. C in Beverly Hills – spoiler alert, as it should (and Massimo Bottura agrees), forget the garlic here. The inside is a reminiscence of the Harry’s Bar in Venice. Unless, the Lakers are playing at the Staples Center then, of course, lunch there while watching the game
For the afternoon, I would head to Chinatown for a visit to some of the Art Galleries that usually exhibit young artists in the process to become established and then downtown that offers some gorgeous buildings such as the Broad and Disney Hall, before going to NoMad for dinner, the 1920 building, originally the headquarter of the Bank of Italy is now a hotel (a massive safe is still present) and the wine list has one of the best champagne selection in LA.