BERLIN — Hugo Boss AG is in a party mood — and has lots to celebrate.
With Boss Black women's wear sales expected to break the $100 million barrier this year, the Metzingen, Germany fashion group recently turned Berlin into Boss town, presenting a launch triple-header of Boss Orange Woman, a new retail format for Hugo and the men's skin care range, Boss Skin.
Never a company to do things on a small scale, Boss took over the entire Deutsche Oper (German opera) for the Orange debut. Globally, Boss throws a party about once a week, and "The Night at the Opera" was definitely the hottest ticket in town during the Bread & Butter and Premium fairs here late last month, not to mention Boss' "blockbuster of the year," according to chief executive officer Bruno Sälzer.
"Or it should be, if you look at the costs," he quipped in the models' relaxation lounge a few hours before the event, politely declining to put a price tag on the proceedings.
However, he was quite willing to talk numbers when it came to Boss' growing women's business. This year should see Boss Black women's sales hitting 90 million euros, or $111 million at current exchange rates, up 30 percent from 2004. While that still represents only 8 percent of total Boss sales of 1.3 billion euros, or $1.6 billion (Hugo women is close to 10 percent), "we're coming from nowhere; plus we had a relaunch — we were dead," Sälzer said. "So it's a good performance."
And not all that small, he pointed out, noting that at 100 million euros, or $123 million, the combined Boss Black and Hugo women's wear businesses are larger than Strenesse or Jil Sander.
"At least we know the direction to go in. We're getting better and better in fit, overall quality and the needs of specific markets. Now it's a question of fine-tuning, and experience," he said.
And new categories, like Boss Orange for women.
The collection will be positioned similarly to the sportier men's Boss Orange line, with prices just below Boss Black. Leisure or casual looks generate 42 percent of Boss men's sales, and half of that is Boss Orange, Sälzer explained. "Our number-one product after suits is jeans. We sell 2.5 million pairs a year, and at least in Europe, we've more or less developed our own category. Retailers talk about the Orange segment," he said.In women's, he continued, "this segment is much bigger, because women have a tendency to keep the same level for business and leisure [wear].
"I think the potential is huge," he added.
Not that Boss Black women's doesn't already touch upon more casual styles, but Orange has "a completely different approach."
"It will have its own brand environment, like Hugo," he added. The collection is under the direction of Boss Orange head designer Andrea Cannelloni, who works completely independently from the Boss Black teams.
"Orange is a totally new world," said Lothar Reiff, the Boss managing board member responsible for creation and licensing. "It has nothing to do with the attitude or spirit of Boss Black women's wear. It's all about having fun, energy, being cool. It's more about the kids here, who fell in love with Orange during the fittings. It's their style."
At the show late last month during Bread & Butter, some 950 guests got a guided tour of the cavernous ateliers of the Deutsche Oper before taking their seats on what turned out to be the stage of the West Berlin opera house. First, a circular stairway came down from the ceiling; Boss Black women descended in light-as-air dresses or skirts and tops of tinted silk, chiffon or tulle. The next dramatic prop was a huge, zigzag, floor-to-ceiling ramp. The models wore a daywear mix of khaki and flirtatious sheers, plus fetching platform sandals in strong colors, and carried bags that shone in snakeskin or satin. Silver mylar gates framed the Boss Black finale, which featured neo-Grecian gowns, supersharp pantsuits and lacquered baby-doll dresses.
After a new round of champagne and a bite of stuffed tulips and other unusual delicacies, the beat changed, the sound was turned up and the Boss Orange guys and gals broke out of the cages in which they were lowered onto the scene. The new Orange girls wore a bit of everything — boy- and girl-style jeans, savaged leather jackets, tie-dyed Ts, ruffled layered dresses, cropped motorcycle jacket hybrids, flop-down boots, printed wedgies, studded belts, stone bracelets and necklaces. It was all a highly detailed and multicultural mix. As one fashion observer noted, "If Boss Black Woman is about style, Boss Orange Woman is all about styling."Every piece has a three-piece hangtag comprising a frayed, hand-cut, orange silk label on a suede cord; a distressed manila paper tag on a purple silk ribbon with the scripted message, "You have chosen an exceptional product from Hugo Boss ...," and then a tiny canvas pouch containing "Our gift — the Orange Stone" and an explanation from "Your Creative Team" of the qualities of orange, the second chakra.
"It's like a message in a bottle and was the starting point before we began developing the collection," said Orange design chief Cannelloni. He had a clear picture of the Orange woman or girl — she can be both, "for the target isn't about age but attitude."
"It's a melting pot. This girl or woman is international, open-minded and not stuck in her culture. And there are secret details in every piece, something to discover step by step, and that's the intention," he said.
The launch plan calls for Boss Orange Woman to be introduced in 300 doors worldwide, including Hugo Boss stores, shops-in-shops and freestanding Orange stores. In the U.S., it will be carried by 17 company-owned Hugo Boss stores. At retail, prices will range from $55 to $295 for knitwear and jersey pieces and $175 to $350 for denim items; leather jackets, for example, will go as high as $1,500.
Also late last month, the company celebrated Hugo's revamped retail look at its brand-new store on Rosenthaler Strasse in the trendy Hackesche Markt neighborhood in Berlin Mitte. The 3,800-square-foot store houses the entire Hugo collection, including accessories, for women and men.
The huge walk-in window, which is 600 square feet, is the first eye-catcher, and indeed one that stopped passersby in their tracks, according to Sälzer. "We saw lots of people standing outside at 2 a.m., wondering what was going on. The eye doesn't expect it," he said, of the 15-foot-deep space with its parade of 20 headless glass mannequins, all wearing black and white.
The entry is long and narrow, one wall raw and unfinished, the other in dark, mirrored, spyglass, a running design motif, with roughly hewn wood display cases holding shoes and bags set in a crevice-like inset.Developed under the direction of Hugo designer Volker Kächele, the store then opens into an expansive sales space, the 10- to 12-foot raw black concrete ceiling dotted with small lights hanging on coiled cables that switch from Hugo red to cool blue and white. There are graphic stainless steel racks holding Hugo for women on the left and Hugo for men on the right, separated by a sprawling distressed leather and metal lacquered banquette that doubles as storage for the expanded accessories range.
The entire right wall is covered with a concrete, aerial-view model of Berlin's city center, with a scanner that constantly moves back and forth over the space. To the left: a giant fishbowl window, with a view of the interior courtyard, a typical Berlin feature, though atypically planted with two-story-high bamboos imported from France and Italy. The dressing rooms are hidden behind spyglass that (like the high-tech bathroom, with its rain-spray sink and video screen — showing cows — opposite the loo) opens at the touch of a button, and quickly closes again.
The overall look is cool, but not cold, and one which Sälzer believes could be picked up in "perhaps 10 big cities like London, Los Angeles or Tokyo," but not the 65 Hugo stores worldwide.
"This is very special, but perfect for an area like Rosenthaler Strasse in Berlin," he said.
With sales exceeding 100 million euros, or $123 million at current exchange rates, in 2004, Hugo is expected to grow substantially in 2005, both in men's and women's, which currently generates 25 percent of Hugo sales. And the edgy urban brand is "moving into some crazy accessories, which is something this segment needs," Sälzer said.
Indeed, Boss is stepping up its accessories business in general and will open the first freestanding Boss accessories store in Amsterdam in the next few weeks and a second accessories store in Frankfurt this month. By the end of 2006, Sälzer expects 20 to 25 Boss accessories stores to be in operation.
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