Article first published in Forbes Monaco September/October 2020 issue.
PR pros Valentina and Silvia Cangiano supply the narrative for luxury brands in Monaco.
Storytelling comes naturally to the Cangiano sisters. Their grandmother, the Sophia Loren of Naples, fled the city’s poverty and social unrest by moving to the north of Italy in the Sixties with her eight children.
Grandpa Cangiano was a World War II veteran who had been captured by the Nazis but escaped with the help a young lady, a certain daughter of an S.S. General.
“How do we know this story?” asks Valentina Cangiano. “Well, our nonna told it to us repeatedly since when we were little. She discovered a photo of the woman in the pocket of my grandfather’s military uniform and decided to name her youngest daughter—one of my aunts—after the lover.”
No wonder that at age 14, Valentina told her mother she wanted to be a war correspondent. “My idols were Lily Gruber and Tony Capuozzo, two leading Italian TV journalists, and controversial media mogul Rupert Murdoch.”
An accomplished pianist, Valentina also aspired to play for the Monte- Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra. Instead, she and her younger sister Silvia transformed the art of telling stories into the Style Lab, a boutique PR agency for luxury and lifestyle brands in Monaco and London.
“We know how to pitch,” says Valentina, 37. “We have mastered the ultra-luxury sectors with brand names and own the media spectrum globally from digital to print.”
Silvia, 34, adds, “Most consulting firms have a cookie-cutter approach, and think of billable hours whereas we truly tailor the approach, spending a lot of time up front to understand the needs of a client. We believe in results, that our compensation should be linked to that of the success of the client.”
Founded in 2012, Style Lab’s client-focused bespoke communication and marketing strategy has built an impressive international client portfolio, including Monaco Boat Service, the exclusive dealer for Riva France & Monaco and the Riva family. “The Monaco market is not easy but it has great growth potential, especially the Millennial community,” admits Valentina, who was the first person in her family to graduate with a university degree, a BA from Cattolica University in Milan.
The modelesque siblings inherited much of grandma’s “man of the house, strong, beautiful and independent” spirit. They both left their hometown of Bordighera in their early twenties and moved to London. After two years of working as a freelance PR consultant (and spending time in LA), Valentina had the idea to create a pop-up concept boutique, which was unheard of in 2007.
At the same time Silvia, who studied marketing at King’s College and then business Mandarin at LSE—“because I could see the world of marketing being more and more intertwined with Asia”—was in Brazil for a year working in the fashion industry with Rosa Chá and GIG Couture Brazil, as well Vogue Brazil. One day she got a call from her sister.
“When Valentina phoned me to tell me to get back to London, that she had found some investors for a business concept, I was thrilled,” says Silvia. “The opportunity to start a business had always been one of my key ambitions. And to do so with my sister made it all the more exciting, it felt like something I was supposed to do in my life.”
They launched Milletre, a pop-up boutique in a residential location serving coffee and croissants—“we had a real Gaggia espresso machine behind the counter”—for breakfast and Prosecco in the evening. They had VIP clients from all over the world, from princesses to Far East Sultanas, and designers.
“Jade Jagger chose us for the launch of her jewelry collection and we ended up with 500 people at the event and were featured in Vogue. We realized the power of the media to promote brands and tie this into retail,” recalls Valentina.
Their business took off. Vogue UK voted Milletre Britain’s Best Boutique 2010 and they were featured as an Innovative Cult Shop in the Financial Times’ “How To Spend It.” The fashionable sisters even shot a TV pilot for NBC Universal about an SOS styling service but it didn’t get off the ground. “Our strong Italian accents at the time didn’t come across well on television. But we had fun filming, driving around in a red Vespa in Kings Cross in the rain. It was hilarious, even though we were completely soaked we had perfect style,” Valentina describes.
The sisters decided to sell Milletre to one of their investors and set out scouting brands for their new business, Style Lab. “As sisters, there is a fundamental trust that you do not need to question, and unconditional support that you don’t need to ask for,” says Silvia. “And in a world full of sharks and, in particular, in a start-up environment I feel blessed to be able to rely on that.”
Simultaneously Valentina was starting the Executive MBA program at Hult Business School in London. She went on to get a PhD in Media and Development and is now teaching courses for the Master in Lux Management Program at the International University of Monaco.
She is currently branding her name with a business operation in Dubai Media City and is launching a talent and Influencer PR and management bureau next quarter in London. Her dream is to expand to the U.S.
For Valentina, Style Lab’s success is about applying the values and ethics instilled by their family along with their Italian passion and Anglo-Saxon work ethic.
“We focus a lot on heritage and storytelling for our brands,” says Silvia, “what we see as an under leveraged aspect of most brands, especially in a world where the new premium currency is what money can’t buy.”
Grandma would have something to say about that.