MILAN — Brooks Brothers has big plans for Italy.

After a successful presentation during the men’s collections here this week, the retailer of classic American men’s and women’s wear is ready to test the Italian market with the imminent opening of its first freestanding store in the country. Come September, the brand will open its first European boutique here on Corso Matteotti, not far from Via Montenapoleone.

Manlio Massa, the brand’s general manager for Europe, said Brooks Brothers chose Italy because it already has a wholesale presence in the country.

“In general, something that works in Italy normally works in the rest of Europe,” Massa said in an interview. “Italian customers are the most selective in Europe because they have so much choice.”

Massa said it’s not yet clear which other European markets Brooks Brothers could enter, but the two most likely candidates are Spain and France, with the United Kingdom a less likely option. This is a complete change in strategy since Brooks Brothers was acquired by Claudio Del Vecchio’s Retail Brand Alliance in 2001 from Britain’s Marks & Spencer plc, which had talked of opening a Brooks flagship on Bond Street in London.

“In a year, a year and a half, we’ll look at a new country such as France or Spain,” said Massa.

For about 18 months, Tod’s chief executive Diego Della Valle held a license to distribute Brooks Brothers in Italy. Retail Brand Alliance terminated the Della Valle license earlier this year to control distribution in-house.

Brooks Brothers has been gradually building up a wholesale presence in Italy. Massa said Della Valle continues to be an important buyer of the brand, which is distributed in Della Valle’s DEV multibrand stores carrying the Tod’s, Hogan and Acqua di Parma brands. The brand is also carried by select retailers such as Davide Cenci.

Massa said that currently the brand counts 70 doors throughout Italy and he would like to increase it to between 150 and 200 over the next two years. In 2002, Brooks Brothers in Italy generated wholesale sales of about $2.88 million. Massa said the goal is to raise wholesale revenue to between $6.91 million and $9.21 million next year and to the $13.82 million to $20.72 million range in 2005.Dollar figures have been converted from the euro at current exchange rates. In local currency terms, 2002 wholesale sales were 2.5 million euros.

Massa said that while Italians know Brooks Brothers for its shirts, he hopes they will eventually see it as a complete lifestyle brand. “Everything depends on the Italians’ perceptions,” he said. “Their impression is that we’re only a shirtmaker but there is an infinite amount of history behind the brand.”

But when it comes to diversifying the brand into the women’s market, Massa said Brooks Brothers is taking it slowly — at least as far as Europe is concerned. He said Brooks Brothers may eventually introduce women’s wear, but that’s not the priority for now.

“When the men’s business is in place, we’ll think about women’s,” he said.

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