Q&A: Federica Marchionni

Italian-born Federica Marchionni left her high-end roots to become CEO of Lands’ End, which means lots of visits to its HQ in tiny Dodgeville, Wis.

Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images.
Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images.

What did you know about  Lands’ End before becoming its CEO?
When I moved [to New York City], my son started to go to a school where they wear uniforms. I never knew how to do it. It’s not in the Italian tradition. Lands’ End makes it so easy. I loved the customer service. Then I started to receive the catalogue, and I started to shop some more. When I got the news of considering Lands’ End as an opportunity, and I was asking people what they think about Lands’ End, the first answer is, “Oh, I love Lands’ End.” It’s really like love at first sight.

You still live in New York full time. The first time you were in Wisconsin, what were your impressions?
My first day [on the job], Feb. 17 [of 2015], I felt immediately at home because it’s a community. I grew up in a place with people that know each other. We are even less than Dodgeville as a population. I knew the entire village. I found the same kind of warmth and integrity and value. It’s a blessing to work in a company that feels like my family.

As a woman leading a major company at age 43, how big is the fight to be taken seriously?
I have had that kind of tragedy, if I can call it that, since I started working, because I graduated early by Italian standards. You get the MBA degree at 25, and I was 23 1/2. I was working in a male environment, meeting the owners of distribution companies in Japan and Russia. They were all men, and I was a young girl. I got full respect by the end of any meeting. I used to be younger than any person I had as my employee.

How often do you wear Lands’ End?
Always. I have 28 collections from Dolce and Gabbana because I worked for them for 14 years. But people need to see Lands’ End the way that I see Lands’ End. When I show up at meetings or dinners, I’m very proud to say, ‘I’m in Lands’ End.’ I can be a very good brand ambassador. If I were a male CEO, nobody would care what I was wearing. I like to show women that they can look very good in Lands’ End.

You’re trying to attract younger, more fashion-conscious shoppers. How?
I’m loyal to our long-term customer. I want to make our strengths stronger. The cashmere sweater needs to be better, but not changing the classic, timeless product. Mothers shop for their kids, and they don’t shop enough for themselves. It’s vital for the company to get this new customer.

What else is challenging about the clothing business these days?
You do a lot of effort with the outerwear, and then there is such warm weather. That’s the biggest challenge. That is something I can’t control. The only thing you can do is get even better.

What do you find interesting about Wisconsin culture?
I like the open way that people embrace newcomers. I like the lakes and all the land I admire going in to work every day. It was fall [during one of my visits] when the trees were changing color. I saw the house [Taliesin in Spring Green] of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

‘Point of View: Federica Marchionni’ appears in the January 2016 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the January issue on newsstands beginning Jan. 4. 

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A seasoned writer, and a former editor at Milwaukee Home & Fine Living, Kristine Hansen launched her wine-writing career in 2003, covering wine tourism, wine and food pairings, wine trends and quirky winemakers. Her wine-related articles have published in Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier Journal, Uncorked (an iPad-only magazine), FoodRepublic.com, CNN.com and Whole Living (a Martha Stewart publication). She's trekked through vineyards and chatted up winemakers in many regions, including Chile, Portugal, California (Napa, Sonoma and Central Coast), Canada, Oregon and France (Bordeaux and Burgundy). While picking out her favorite wine is kind of like asking which child you like best, she will admit to being a fan of Oregon Pinot Noir and even on a sub-zero winter day won't turn down a glass of zippy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.