MILAN — Benetton Group closed a year of transition with a 10 percent drop in sales, which actually was a pivotal part of establishing the foundation for future growth.
Chief executive officer Biagio Chiarolanza on Tuesday presented the first steps in the changes ahead with the official unveiling of the new United Colors of Benetton concept store at the historical and central unit in Milan’s Piazza Duomo, overlooking the Gothic cathedral. “This concept we called ‘On Canvas’ is fundamental; it was developed in-house and it’s like a theater [stage] for the brand,” said Chiarolanza, noting that Benetton will now start to increase its focus on the women’s category.
The flagship offers expanded apparel collections, as well as a new comprehensive range of footwear and handbags; gift ideas, from watches, vintage telephones and headphones to mugs and candles, and the introduction of new categories such as costume jewelry, and, visually, a “color room.”
In a walk-through of the 16,200-square-foot store, new creative director Valentina Soster acknowledged that the women’s collections “had been suffering — we had a Ferrari, it just needed to be driven.” The restyling, she said, follows the identification of the brand’s customer, “a normal woman who works, is busy, dynamic, has different passions and interests, is informed, and knows about fashion and technology. These pieces are meant to solve these women’s days — and evenings.”
Although all ages are taken into account, the main focus is on women 25 to 35. The collections are displayed by theme, ranging from urban to sophisticated, in airy and flexible structures hinging on rosy colored metal poles and canvas curtains that can be rearranged depending on the need.
Soster said the store “sold thrice as much compared with last year,” and pointed to a best-selling item, a printed cotton shirt available in 10 different patterns retailing at less than 20 euros, or $27.60 at current exchange. The store sold 520 units of the shirt in two-and-a-half days, following its unofficial opening on April 4.
Commenting on 2013 sales, which totaled 1.6 billion euros, or $2.1 billion at average exchange, Chiarolanza said the company invested 80 million euros, or $105.6 million, in its commercial strategy and that it plans to annually invest 100 million euros, or $138.3 million at current exchange, over the next three years to refurbish and open new stores.
The executive was upbeat about the first quarter of 2014, which showed “traffic was up 10 percent, even without this new concept.” The company has seen 17 percent growth with the spring collection in its 131 most representative stores, “and if these work, we know the path is the right one,” said Chiarolanza. Debt last year was halved to “below 300 million euros,” or $396 million, improved by the sale of a number of real estate assets, and “if 2014 continues like this, there will be another reduction in our debt and we will be able to generate cash to invest in the renewal of our stores,” he remarked.
Recently completed new and restructured units include doors in Florence; Verona, Italy; Nice, France, and Moscow.
Europe is “working well,” added Chiarolanza, noting that Benetton is focusing on the Italian and other European markets, “without neglecting India, Korea and Mexico.”
The company’s new strategy is to focus on the United Colors of Benetton label and the bridge, more-fashion oriented Sisley brand, divesting the Playlife and Killer Loop monikers. Chairman Alessandro Benetton, who has been instrumental in setting in motion all the changes, is said to be increasingly stepping back from his role — sources speculate even as early as May 19, when a board meeting is to take place. In December, Benetton underscored to WWD that it was “evident that I have done a big part of my job. I have put in motion a change to have a management independent of the family.”
Starting Jan. 1, the group will effectively be differentiated in three new areas — managing brands, manufacturing and real estate. All three entities are directly controlled by Edizione Srl, the holding company of the Benetton family. This step, revealed in November, is part of a three-year plan to restructure Benetton operations with a focus on its brands in an effort to improve profitability.
On Tuesday, Marco Picone, director of the United Colors of Benetton business unit, said the company is newly engaged with its customers. “We had left the relationship with consumers to our commercial partners, but now they are once again at the center of our strategy,” he said, adding that the company has been working on shorter time-to-market, moving from a sell-in to a sell-out model. “Our competitors are either about fashion or function, but we are about both. And we are the most authoritative to represent Italy in the world through our Italian essence.”
Also, for the first time in Italy, United Colors of Benetton is bringing e-commerce into the store, using a combination of tablets and vertical monitors for an easier and more accessible customer experience. The mini iPads in the store contain a dedicated app that is connected to the brand’s online store and this interacts with the monitors, allowing staff to help customers select the clothes they want. The 16 screens, which show the collections in short videos, are also a tool for shoppers, who can buy a product even if it is not in the store.
@fearofgod and @maxfieldla have teamed up on a pop-up installation. The store, located in the gallery space across from Maxfield’s Melrose Ave location, is the site of the brand’s House of God pop-up in which Fear of God founder @jerrylorenzo has created a church-inspired installation. A dozen vintage church pews sit in front of an LED screen playing 90s gospel singers in an effort to re-create an environment akin to a Southern Baptist Church, Lorenzo explained. Read more about the pop-up on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Jennifer Johnson)
Known for his sleek, sophisticated American glamour, Norman Norell is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at @fitnyc. “Norell: Dean of American Fashion,” which runs from February 9 through April 14, will feature approximately 100 ensembles and accessories. His best work is exemplified by the designer’s glittering “mermaid” gowns frosted with thousands of hand-sewn sequins – like the one pictured. (📷: William Helburn) #wwdfashion
For pre-fall 2018, @balmain didn’t let go of the glitz. A crystal embroidered baseball jacket priced at around $40,000 hangs in the “couture” section of the brand’s first men’s pre-collection. Sporting the words “Balmain Army” across the back, the item took around two months to make. “When it was completed, it was like Christmas, it was like, ‘It’s done, it’s exactly what I wanted,’” said Balmain’s creative director @olivier_rousteing during a tour of the collection in a Paris showroom on Monday. #wwdfashion
Eighty degree temperatures and outdoor installations at the annual Art Basel Miami Beach called for bright, elevated beachwear. See more street style pictures on WWD.com. #theyarewearing #ABMB (📷: @lifeinreverie)
Following September’s emotional tribute to her brother Gianni, Donatella Versace wanted to bring the spring show’s deep sense of intimacy to her @versace_official pre-fall collection. Donatella found inspiration in Versace Palazzo in Milan and from Gianni’s opulent apartment. Archival patterns and new motifs were splashed on silk shirtdresses and fitted jersey frocks. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com. #wwdfashion
Demna Gvasalia continues to shake up the Paris fashion calendar — and experiment with new runway timetables for his @vetements_official brand. WWD has learned that Vetements plans to stage its next coed show for the fall 2018 season on January 19 during Men’s Fashion Week in the French capital. Details about the timing and venue have not been confirmed — stay tuned on WWD.com to catch the latest. #wwdnews (📷: @giovanni_giannoni_photo)
@zacposen's go-to holiday gift? Cookies! "I'll usually bake cookies and send them as a gift," said the designer, who recently released his cookbook "Cooking With Zac: Recipes from Rustic to Refined." Get the recipe for his Brown Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies via link in bio 🍪🍪🍪 #wwdeye #cookingwithzac
For @monsemaison’s pre-fall 2018 collection, Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim honed in on the brand’s many signatures — men’s wear, which was tweaked and feminized through deconstruction, proportion play and lots of bare shoulders. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: George Chinese)
On Friday night, @yohjiyamamotoofficial received the Design for Asia Lifetime Achievement Award in Hong Kong. The 75-year-old designer has been celebrated for many years and is best known for his dark and avant-garde tailoring. “In my long career, in design, architecture, [I’ve been to] so many parties, this is the very first time that I have such a warm feeling, I really appreciate this,” Yamamoto said. #wwdfashion (📷: @dominiquemaitre)