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Pete Nordstrom of Nordstrom Inc. speaks with Domenico De Sole of Tom Ford International at NRF 2023

By Peter Johnston, NRF Contributor

In early 2022, Nordstrom launched The Nordy Pod, a podcast hosted by President and Chief Brand Officer Pete Nordstrom. It takes listeners behind the scenes of the business and highlights conversations with notable figures such as Mickey Drexler, Steve Madden, WNBA star Sue Bird and Levi’s Chip Bergh. Attendees at NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show were treated to a live recording of the podcast featuring a discussion with Domenico De Sole, chair of Tom Ford International, about a lifetime of business lessons.

De Sole was born in 1944 in Rome, the son of a general in the Royal Italian Army. He graduated with a law degree from Sapienza University, then received a scholarship to Harvard Law, where he received an LLM degree in 1972. After working with several firms, he settled at Patton, Boggs and Blow in Washington, where he specialized in tax law.

One of his clients was Gucci, where he helped with corporate restructuring. In 1984, Rodolfo Gucci, a son of founder Guccio Gucci, persuaded De Sole to join his company as CEO of Gucci America. Ten years later, De Sole became president and CEO of Gucci Group; during his tenure, De Sole built what he described as a struggling company into a luxury conglomerate comprised of Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Sergio Rossi.

Meanwhile, Tom Ford of Houston, Texas, had appeared on the scene, determined to make his mark in high fashion. After working for a variety of designers including Perry Ellis, Ford became head of Gucci’s women’s ready-to-wear operation and moved to Italy. Ford remained with Gucci in various capacities until 2004, when he left to establish his own brand. Along the way, he and De Sole established a strong, close working relationship. “We worked out a deal,” De Sole said. “I said, ‘You design, I’ll run the company.’”

“So now you’re a former tax attorney running this whole complete business. How did you do it?” Nordstrom asked.

“I was able to balance,” De Sole said. “We bought a lot of companies — it became a large group. The business was solid, it was worth three billion dollars.” As to his being a former tax attorney, he reminded Nordstrom — and the audience — about the “you design” part of his arrangement with Tom Ford.

“You can’t make yourself creative,” he said. “You’re creative or you’re noncreative. But if you’re watching people be creative, and you’re smart, and you pay attention, you can learn a lot. If I see a collection, I can tell if it’s a good collection.”

Toward the end of the podcast, Nordstrom said, “You’ve had an amazing run. I have one last question, and it’s a selfish one. What advice would you have for me, for Nordstrom? We’re deeply involved in this world, it’s a competitive industry — what advice do you have for me?”

“For any business, you ask what is the background,” De Sole said. “What makes you special? In your case, it’s the service — your service is legendary. What you are doing now with elevating the customer experience is great. One area for you to work on is visual merchandising, putting a sense of elegance in the way the store looks. To combine that with the service and the customer experience is an unbelievable formula for success.”

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