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Luxury Unfiltered: Stefano Ricci’s ‘Explorer Project’ is a bold departure from brand norms

June 5, 2024

Daniel Langer is the founder and CEO of consulting firm Équité


By Daniel Langer

Stefano Ricci, a name synonymous with Italian luxury, has once again redefined the boundaries of fashion and exploration with the latest chapter of its extraordinary Explorer Project.

This visionary initiative, a testament to the Ricci family’s spirit of adventure, has taken the brand on a remarkable journey across the globe.

The fifth mission, set against the captivating backdrop of Cambodia, is a profound chapter in the story of luxury, heritage and emotional connection.

The power of storytelling: luxury as pure emotion
Niccolò Ricci, the CEO of Stefano Ricci, and his brother Filippo Ricci, the creative director of the group, invited me to Cambodia to be part of the exploration to understand the ethos and the passion for elegance, culture and discovery behind the initiative.

As I regularly advocate, in today’s luxury market, creating exceptional products is no longer enough. Brands must have and communicate a compelling brand story that resonates on a deeply emotional level and creates cultural capital, and Stefano Ricci has mastered this art.

The Explorer Project is a brilliant example of how a brand can go far beyond traditional marketing and create a rich, immersive experience that speaks to the heart of its audience.

Image courtesy of Steve McCurry for Stefano Ricci Image courtesy of Steve McCurry for Stefano Ricci

I have often emphasized the importance of storytelling in creating pure emotion. True luxury is not just about the product but about the emotions it evokes through the story a brand tells.

Stefano Ricci’s latest venture embodies this philosophy, transforming a fashion collection into a journey of discovery, thus creating extreme value for the audience.

Cambodia: land of ancestral emotions
The fifth mission of the Explorer Project took Stefano Ricci to the enchanting land of Cambodia, a country with an extraordinary history and cultural richness.

The brand invited the legendary photographer Steve McCurry to capture the essence of its latest collection amidst the ancient Khmer temples, lush jungles, and the serene waters flowing into the Mekong River.

McCurry, who traveled to Cambodia for the first time in the late 1980s, comments that “it was like going back in time.”

Image courtesy of Steve McCurry for Stefano Ricci Image courtesy of Steve McCurry for Stefano Ricci

He further states, “With Stefano Ricci's team, I had the opportunity to relive these memories and work in complete tranquility thanks to reserved access, surrounded by the peaceful faces of the Bayon temple, a place that evokes a great sense of serenity and compassion.”

Filippo Ricci shares, “This was more than an experience; it was a main chapter of life.”

“Photographing our collection in such a historically and culturally significant landscape was a journey made of emotions,” he says. “It was a rediscovery of the Khmer culture, which, despite dating back to the Middle Ages, continues to speak to us through its architecture, sculptures, and the extraordinary world where nature is reclaiming the ancient stones.”

The spirit of exploration and authenticity
The Ricci family has always been driven by a spirit of exploration, a trait that is reflected in every aspect of their brand. This authenticity is what makes the Explorer Project so powerful.

Unlike many other luxury brands that create superficial experiences or inauthentic marketing-driven stories, Stefano Ricci’s initiatives are deeply rooted in the family heritage, genuine passion and respect for the cultures they explore.

Image courtesy of Steve McCurry for Stefano Ricci Image courtesy of Steve McCurry for Stefano Ricci

In Cambodia, the Explorer Project extended beyond the temples to the Kulen Elephant Forest, a sanctuary for elephants retired from labor. McCurry describes photographing these majestic animals as one of the highlights of the mission and a deeply moving experience.

For myself, being part of the exploration, interacting with the elephants and getting a sense of how intelligent and captivating they are, will be a moment I will never forget.

Exploring the spectacular nature, the wonderful temples with their unique historic relevance, and the exceptional art they display in every corner opened my eyes to a culture that we are only now starting to truly discover.

I am constantly traveling to many places all over the world, but Cambodia was one of the few that left a deep and lasting impression.

A collection inspired by nature and heritage
The latest Stefano Ricci collection draws inspiration from the rich Cambodian landscapes and culture.

The colors reflect the natural tones of the earth, the vibrant greens of the forests, the ancient greys of the Angkor temples, and the tranquil blues of the Mekong River. The garments, crafted from natural fibers such as cotton and cotton-linen blends, embody a wonderful blend of elegance and functionality.

The collection showcases the seamless fusion of tradition and innovation, with all items crafted in Italy with the highest level of detail. Evening outfits, for instance, feature exclusive textiles from Antico Setificio Fiorentino, underlining the level of craftsmanship.

Image courtesy of Steve McCurry for Stefano Ricci Image courtesy of Steve McCurry for Stefano Ricci

The commitment to sustainability is a cornerstone of the Explorer Project. The brand has planted 5,000 trees to help restore parts of the Cambodian forest, encouraging the return of natural wildlife.

This effort is complemented by educational programs aimed at ensuring future generations appreciate and preserve their heritage.

A call to action for the luxury industry
Stefano Ricci’s Explorer Project is a bold departure from the norm.

Image courtesy of Steve McCurry for Stefano Ricci Image courtesy of Steve McCurry for Stefano Ricci

It sets a new standard for how luxury brands can create extraordinary stories that resonate on a profound emotional level. The Ricci family’s dedication to exploration and authenticity serves as an inspiring example for the entire luxury industry.

Stefano Ricci is a great example that extreme value creation is about emotion and the stories that connect us to something greater than ourselves. It is a call to action for other brands to embrace this philosophy, to create not just products, but authentic brand-specific stories that leave a significant mark on the hearts and minds of their audiences.

Stefano Ricci’s Explorer Project in Cambodia is showing the transformative power of a brand when it is rooted in genuine passion and respect for the world’s rich culture.

Luxury Unfiltered is a weekly column by Daniel Langer. He is the CEO of Équité, a global luxury strategy and brand activation firm. He is recognized as a global top-five luxury key opinion leader. He serves as an executive professor of luxury strategy and pricing at Pepperdine University in Malibu and as a professor of luxury at New York University, New York. Mr. Langer has authored best-selling books on luxury management in English and Chinese, and is a respected global keynote speaker.

Mr. Langer conducts masterclass management training on various luxury topics around the world. As a luxury expert featured on Bloomberg TV, Financial Times, The New York Times, Forbes, The Economist and others, Mr. Langer holds an MBA and a Ph.D. in luxury management, and has received education from Harvard Business School. Follow him on LinkedIn and Instagram.