Patrizio Bertelli’s business acumen, merchandising savvy and unceasing drive, is as much a part of Prada’s global success as Miuccia Prada ’s designs. Bertelli has guided Prada’s evolution from a small Italian leather goods store, to a publicly listed global luxury group.
Bertelli’s relationship with Prada began with Mrs Prada herself. The couple met in 1977 at a Milanese trade fair, where Bertelli was in attendance representing his own leather goods company. Whilst at the University of Bologna, Bertelli discovered he could produce wide leather belts, then very much in fashion, at 4 percent of the retail price. The discovery led to Bertelli dropping out of Bologna, to start up Mr Robert, a leather accessories company. This venture represents Bertelli’s only employment independent of Prada.
Following their meeting, Mrs Prada engaged Bertelli as one of Prada’s suppliers. A personal relationship soon developed and the couple moved in together. When Prada inherited the business in 1978, Bertelli came on board as her business manager. As Prada began instilling her aesthetic into the house, Bertelli sought out wholesale accounts with prestigious department stores in order to build brand awareness. By the early and mid 1980s, Bertelli pushed Prada’s expansion into multiple retail spaces of its own.
Mrs Prada describes her husband as “far more of a provocateur” than herself. It was Bertelli that pushed her to design womenswear ready-to-wear, and it was Bertelli again who pushed Prada to design menswear in the 1990s.
The 1990s saw Bertelli buy Helmut Lang, Jil Sander , Azzedine Alaïa, as well as a stake in Fendi, in search of growth opportunities. The purchases were a consequence of his belief that fashion brands should not diversify into more affordable lines, an approach his competitors Versace and Armani had both adopted.
Bertelli eventually offloaded Jil Sander and Helmut Lang following reports of deteriorating relationships. The CEO says of it: “We made mistakes. With Jil Sander and Helmut Lang, I would say that it’s 50 percent our fault and 50 percent theirs.” Bertelli credits the experience in being instrumental in his realisation that there was “no reason to expand into new labels because there were so many growth opportunities in new markets.”
In 2006, Bertelli began to seek external funding for the company’s continuing expansion, initially by selling 5 percent of Prada, to Banca Intesa, an Italian bank. It would eventually lead to Bertelli reviving plans for the company's long awaited IPO. On June 23, 2011 Prada announced it would issue shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange at HK$ 39.50 a share, raising an estimated HK$16.7 billion. The public listing of the company has allowed Bertelli to continue his brand's expansion in emerging markets, confirming 70 to 80 new store openings at the Prada Group’s 2013 annual general meeting.
Bertelli has focused on the organic growth of Prada and Miu Miu in recent years, although the Prada Group still includes Carshoe and Church’s. He has also stated that his family would not sell its 80 percent stake in the group; instead his son Lorenzo may one day head the company.