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Elite World Group CEO on Fashion Weeks, Diversity, Model Avatars – WWD

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MILAN — Elite World Group has been under the spotlight ever since the divorce between owner Silvio Scaglia and “My Unorthodox Life’s” Julia Haart became public and hit the gossip columns. But chief executive officer Paolo Barbieri wants to turn attention away from the juicy personal drama and back to the agency’s business, including its successful run throughout the fall fashion weeks.

“This was a strong season and the fashion weeks went extremely well for our talents and our agencies,” Barbieri told WWD. “We had over 350 models walk the runways globally, with over 120 walking in the Milan shows alone and 100 in Paris. We saw a major comeback season for Women New York,” the agency under the Elite World Group umbrella. “The business is coming out of the pandemic.”

Vittoria Ceretti, Mariacarla Boscono, Kendall Jenner, Majesty Amare, Adut Akech, Isabeli Fontana, Pleun Keijers and Loli Bahia are only some of the models represented by the agencies of the Elite World Group.

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He was pleased to see that casting a diverse group of models has become a must across the board. “We’ve seen an incredible request for ethnic diversity and we are thrilled to see stars like Yumi Nu have a breakout season, walking for Altuzarra and appearing on Vogue Japan’s cover as the first Asian curve model. América González and Caren Jepkemei, from Venezuela and Kenya, respectively, were two of the season’s top walkers, gracing over 30 runways each.”

Barbieri cited Anyier Anei, from Sudan, who made her exclusive debut with Versace and Chu Wong, “one of our most prolific appearances,” walking Loewe, Balmain, Isabel Marant, Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Chanel, among others. Avanti Nagrath, from India, debuted, opening Versace and walking for Bottega Veneta. Mamuor Majeng, from South Sudan, who’s signed across Elite globally, emerged as the top male model of the season, with 25 shows.

Avanti Nagrath

Inclusive sizing, however, is in most cases still perfunctory and asked to address this, Barbieri admitted that this remains “a technical issue for many brands” because of the cost of prototypes and samples that have to be created specifically, which is expensive.

Under the Elite World Group umbrella, which counts 4,000 talents under contract, are the following agencies: in Milan, Elite Milano and Women Management Milano; in Paris, Elite Paris, Women Management Paris and PGM Fashion and Brands; in New York, The Society Management, Women Management NY and EWG Management; in Los Angeles, Women Management LA and EWG Management. In Europe, in addition to Elite Milano, there are Elite agencies in London, Madrid, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Prague and Bratislava. In Paris and New York there are also the Supreme and Women 360 agencies.

The minimum age limit set for models is 16 years old.

The group counts many Russian and Ukrainian models, and, asked about the steps taken in the wake of the war, Barbieri said the agency has been supporting them individually on a personal level, “given the strong relationships that are developed with the agents” and other key team members, and by making donations to specific charities.

Barbieri himself has developed strong relations with the Elite World Group over the years, first joining in 2013. As reported, when Haart was dismissed in February, he once again took on the CEO role, which he had passed on to Haart in 2019 to become deputy chairman. Haart rose to the CEO position from that of chief creative officer of Elite.

During his career, Barbieri held executive roles at Banca Akros, Pioneer Alternative Investments, MondoBiotech AG and Pacific Capital.

He has also served as a director of several fashion companies, including La Perla and luxury footwear brand Giuseppe Zanotti.

His objective is to return Elite World Group to profitability by the end of the year, after the bottom line was impacted by Haart’s alleged “crazy personal expenses in the millions.”

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization went from $6 million in 2018 to a loss of $6.1 million in 2019, the first year of Haart’s tenure as CEO and before the pandemic crisis; a loss of $20.5 million in 2020, and a loss of $10.4 million in 2021.

Barbieri expects revenues to total $200 million in 2022, “a little more than before the pandemic,” he said.

A Delaware judge is expected to deliver a final decision on the ownership of Elite World Group around April 20, and  Barbieri expressed confidence in the outcome.

He related that on March 25, the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware issued a “status quo order” maintaining that Scaglia is the sole director of Freedom Holding Inc., which owns the international model agency and that Haart “holds no positions at either Freedom or EWG.”

Scaglia, who had donated some shares to Haart, continues to own more than 99 percent of the voting stock, and Haart less than 0.01 percent, Barbieri said. This contradicts a false claim made by Haart in a variety of public filings and media reports, he contended.

Paolo Barbieri

Haart was also meant to build a digital business during her tenure. However, digital revenues were nil in 2019, rose to $1.6 million in 2020 compared with a budget of $17.9 million and to $8.8 million in 2021 versus a $16.5 million budget, never reaching breakeven, despite an exceptionally positive trend in digital marketing expenses fueled by the pandemic crisis, he said. The digital division represented only 5 percent of the group’s revenues in 2021.

“Of course I believe in digital, but it cannot kill our core business, and it must be focused, celebrity-driven, and we can tell you what talent fits with your brand,” said Barbieri. “We are rebranding with a mission, using our talents and adjacent sectors, not merely shelling out data.”

He is also “convinced of the power of the metaverse, the development of hyper-realistic avatars in 3D. If I bring the models and talents in that world, we will always have an edge. New trends are always risky, but to pretend they don’t exist is to die. We can be leaders if we use our competitive advantage.”

Also, the E1972 fashion brand initiative launched by Haart has been terminated, failing to produce any result at all, Barbieri contended, while generating costs of around $5 million a year.

The group is also revisiting the Elite Model Look contest, a key element for brand awareness, he said. The agency receives 40,000 applications for the contest each year.

“It must be revitalized and revolutionized, adding new luster to it,” he claimed. “We are still mulling the future of the contest, but I’m thinking more in terms of a container of creativity, dealing with wannabe stylists and photographers, educating on mental health, well-being, correct eating habits.”

While applications and casting will continue to be digital, if the COVID-19 pandemic does not worsen the final is expected to be IRL later this year.

This content was originally published here.

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