By  on August 27, 2009

MILAN — Italian shoppers are turning their attention back to the tradition and know-how of historic brands after spending seasons chasing the latest up-and-comers.

“This new sobriety is surely a trend that is rewarding a brand such as Levi’s,” said Marco Gaiani, general manager of Levi’s Italia. “The Italian market feels the crisis in an emotional way, and more than proportionally compared to other European markets. This is reflected in a general slowdown of store traffic and in a careful evaluation of purchases that in the past would have been made on impulse,” said Gaiani.

Karl Heinz Salzburger, president of VF International, the corporate parent of the Wrangler, Lee and Seven For All Mankind brands, agreed. Salzburger said in uncertain times, customers turn to the safety of heritage brands because they offer a wide assortment of merchandise and “authentic values.” Consumers also tend to perceive getting greater value when purchasing more established brands, a priority for customers watching their spending, said Salzburger. Lee will mark its 120th anniversary this year with a special collection for fall.

“We are relaunching Lee’s original workwear models, revisiting them with contemporary fits and washes,” said Salzburger.

Gaetano Sallorenzo, chief executive officer of Replay, said being competitive means offering a wider range of price-friendly models, and not necessarily merely lowering prices. “Historic brands are better equipped to experiment with washes, treatments and bleaches, compared to fashion designer’s brands,” said Sallorenzo.

Augusto Romano, general director of Puglia, Italy-based Meltin’ Pot, said “it’s not really an issue of lower prices, but of a more industrialized” product. “The value perceived must be higher than the price paid,” said Romano. To achieve this, a company must invest in new techniques that allow “the same aesthetic result” with different methods.

“It’s a problem today to sell jeans that retail at more than 120 euros [$162], although it’s temporary,” said Romano, who added that there’s been a drop in demand of between 30 and 40 percent.

At Miss Sixty, co-founder and creative director of Sixty Group Wichy Hassan said for the fourth season in a row he has focused on the concept of volumes, such as harem pants. The designer said he felt confident in pushing the envelope.

“In dark times, we shouldn’t offer low-profile, basic styles, but react with colorful, fun designs,” said Hassan.

Stefano Rosso, brand manager of Diesel’s 5-pockets label, said Diesel will focus on “strong treatments” for men’s looks for fall, while construction details, buttons and embroideries are increasingly more important for women’s superslim looks.

“Innovation in treatments, fabrics and make up are our strongest resources,” said Rosso. For fall, the company is developing a type of denim that uses paper in the weft. Rosso expects the end of the year “will not be easy,” but said the fall collection will be “without doubt one of the strongest ever created by Diesel in denim.”

Levi’s is also continuing to invest in expanding its retail network in Italy.

“We want to invest to overcome the crisis and accelerate our growth for when the crisis will be over,” said Gaiani. Following the opening of the Milan store in December, the company opened a flagship in Rome in June and is investing in merchandise dedicated to the Italian customer.

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