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BERLIN — Getting ready to celebrate its 20th anniversary this summer, Hugo — the most progressive brand in the Hugo Boss Group — has continued to sharpen its fashion edge while steadily advancing on a double-digit growth path.
This story first appeared in the March 25, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Hugo waved a red flag from the start. The then-men’s only label was launched in 1993 as part of a new tri-brand strategy to augment the core Boss collection and to open the door to a younger target group. It was also used to demonstrate that the solid suit-making giant from Metzingen, Germany, could innovate, and even aggravate.
“We are very contemporary, edgy and extreme, which was completely new for Boss at the time,” said Peter Deirowski, director of Hugo Menswear and a long-time Hugo team member. “Boss is much more modern now,” he added, but a clear stylistic line of demarcation remains between the house’s “bad boy” and “cheeky girl” brand and its main Boss business.
“Tiny at the time, we grew step by step till now we’re on a successful growth path,” Deirowski continued. Boss doesn’t break out division sales, and is in a silent period pending the release of final 2012 figures on March 14. A group spokeswoman said Hugo (including eyewear, watch and fragrance licenses) contributed 10 percent of group sales in 2011, which would amount to a turnover of about 205.9 million euros, or $287 million at average exchange.
The contemporary men’s and women’s collection is carried in 1,500 doors, including 10 Hugo stores in Berlin; Düsseldorf; New York; Los Angeles; Miami; Amsterdam; Lisbon; Barcelona; Nantes, France, and Osaka, Japan, and in another 84 directly operated Hugo Boss stores globally. Germany, the U.S., Benelux, France and Scandinavia are the brand’s major markets. Men’s still outpaces women’s, and though the company would not disclose the precise breakdown, Deirowski said, “Women’s is growing really fast. We’re really happy with the development over the last two to three years.”
To jump-start the anniversary celebrations, which will get going in July, the brand has pulled together a special core collection of 20 Hugo icon pieces for men and women in a predominantly tricolor palette of black, white and signature red. Slated for July delivery in all Hugo stores as well as to key wholesale partners, the aim is “to show the essence of what Hugo is. Now. We didn’t want to look back too much. Hugo is a zeitgeist brand,” Deirowski said.
The pieces in the special core collection are meant to be timeless, lightweight enough to bypass seasonal restrictions, and while stylistically pointed, flexible as well. “The Hugo person, whether male or female, likes a 24-hour look,” said Deirowski, while men’s designer Bart de Backer pointed to today’s urban nomads. “Many people have their jobs in one place, their private lives in another,” which calls for garments that can effortlessly function in both.
Reflecting the brand’s suit-centric DNA, the men’s starter kit is led by a very slim, two-button, black wool suit worn with a white shirt accented with a skinny black placket that looks like an integrated tie. “It’s not a rocket-science piece but very fashionable, and what men want to wear today: clothes that make you look cool but not complicated,” said de Backer. “But there are extra details, that little touch that makes a difference,” like the suit’s double-dyed deep black fabric, or the black shoulder insets on the modified Brando motorcycle jacket, paired with Japanese denim jeans in signature red.
For women’s creative director Eyan Allen, Hugo has always been about unusual twists in tailoring, and so the female icons also kick off with a sculpted red pantsuit cut lower at the neckline, narrow at the waist and sharp in the shoulder.
The women’s icons include a streamlined zip-front jacket and lean pencil skirt, a hybrid cocoon/reefer coat, two-tone dress, black-and-white shirt and skinny black pants. Women’s back zip ankle boots sport a red stripe down the narrow heel, plus there’s a polished black leather city shopper. The men’s icons further feature a photo-printed T-shirt and scarf, black polished oxfords with red leather laces and a black leather carry-all, and for both Hugo men and women, there’s a black-and-red wristwatch, black sunglasses, black headphones, and lastly, the Hugo Tracks compilation CD.
The Hugo team sums up the brand’s positioning as “understandable designer wear at an affordable price,” with the icons topping off at $995 for the men’s suit and winding down to $95 for the T-shirt.
Aiming to make a little more anniversary noise in July, Hugo has embarked on a global search for 20 “urban creatives” whose artwork mirrors the brand’s unconventional spirit, and which will then be featured in its 20 years marketing campaign.
Under the banner “Red Never Follows,” the call for artist recommendations in the categories of stencil art, sculpture, intervention, media art, photography, video, graphic design and music is now going out to Hugo’s public via the brand’s microsite, and assorted online and print media channels.