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Italian Men’s Brands Tout Their Heritage

The outlook for Pitti Uomo is positive with many brands routing the attributes of Made in Italy manufacturing and savoir-faire.

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MILAN — Men are catching up to women on one of their favorite activities: shopping.

According to a Fondazione Altagamma and Bain & Co. study, men’s spending on luxury goods grew at a faster rate than women’s in 2012 — 12 percent versus 10 percent, respectively. As a result, lifestyle brands have been heavily investing in men’s-only concepts, mainly in the U.S. and Asia, in their effort to attract a discerning and demanding male customer.

According to Raffaello Napoleone, chief executive officer of Pitti Uomo organizing body Pitti Immagine, men are increasingly more sophisticated, drawn by quality and more contemporary designs. “Tailor-made continues to be in strong demand, as well as more creative, urban-technical sportswear,” he said. “Men’s wear companies are obliged to innovate because what passed the test before is no longer enough.”

Napoleone said that so far in 2013, figures show an increase in exports around the world and a drop in imports from countries such as China, Romania, Tunisia and India. He pointed specifically to a 19 percent gain in exports in the U.S. “Markets with a growing GDP are strong export countries for Italy,” he added, lamenting poor local spending.

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With that as a backdrop, Napoleone said that based on the number of projects, exhibitors and preregistrations, the outlook for Pitti Uomo is positive. And many Italian brands will be touting the attributes of their Made in Italy manufacturing and sensibility at the four-day show, which kicks off in Florence on June 18.

Umberto Angeloni, chief executive officer of Caruso, touted Italy’s “manufacturing Renaissance,” noting how consumers around the world are increasingly “asking about the origin of the product and the nature of the manufacture. And they want its value and price explained.” Angeloni said that in addition to a Made in Italy label, he urged people to “discover its added value. It’s not only about production, but it’s about the research and development of fabrics and shapes. Production used to be seen as an afterthought — a fixed cost — now it’s one of the strategic factors of success. Made in Italy should not merely be used as a designation of origin. Manufacturing is not merely about making, it’s about creativity.”

Angeloni believes the second half of 2013 will be stronger than the first, which has been hurt by concerns over the euro currency. “Orders for fall 2013 are showing a single-digit gain compared with fall 2012. This is an important signal as it marks a change in trend,” said Angeloni. “The U.S. and Japan have restarted, and Europe is no longer caught in the vicious circle of the austerity measures of the past 12 months. Luxury is connected to economic cycles — if GDP growth slows, luxury spending slows.”

Equally encouraging, Gian Giacomo Ferraris, chief executive officer of Versace SpA, said men’s wear accounts for more than 40 percent of group sales and, despite a “cloudy” outlook and “swings” in the economy, he expects the brand’s men’s business to “continue its strong double-digit growth” in 2013. A sign of the company’s belief in the strength of the category was the opening at the end of April of a standalone men’s store at Shanghai’s IFC Mall. This is the first prototype for Versace and covers 1,080 square feet. The company, which cited accessories, including shoes and jewelry, as the fastest-growing categories, plans to roll out additional men’s stores in Hong Kong and the U.S.

Brioni ceo Francesco Pesci described 2013 as “looking better than last year.” Pleased with customer feedback to the designs of creative director Brendan Mullane, tapped last year, Pesci said an increased and “strong” tourist flow in Milan and Rome is lifting performance in its home country, which continues to see crimped spending from locals.

“This is a serious issue and it’s not encouraging. Italians and their lifestyle are looked at as a source of inspiration, and credibility should also come from local use. This may become a weakness in the long term,” said Pesci.

To offset the weakness in Italy, Brioni is buying back its franchised stores in China and expanding in the area, as well as increasing its reach in the U.S., its main market, with new stores in Costa Mesa, Calif., and Chicago.

While the Italian market may be struggling right now, Pesci believes its history and reputation will help in the long term.

“Made in Italy is the third-most famous brand in the world and it’s associated with superior quality, social respect and dignity of work. For young luxury customers, this is very important,” said Pesci, noting that Brioni is completely produced in its home country. “The new government should be daring in making decisions, putting manufacturing activities at the center of development and focusing on tourism. Culture for Italy [is like oil] for Saudi Arabia — it’s not normal not to invest in it.” Brioni’s parent company Kering is setting aside money for distribution, communication and computer technology for increased reliability and efficiency — investments that are reducing errors and delays in its special Su Misura project, among others.

Enrico Libani, ceo of Cesare Attolini North America, also touted the artisanal craftsmanship of the company and its 160 Neapolitan tailors. Posting 20 percent yearly growth over the past few years, Libani said the only limiting factor is the maximum amount of pieces — 40 — produced every day. “We are the Bugatti of apparel,” said Libani, adding that the company is laboring to keep up with the demand. Japan, Germany, The Netherlands and Italy are the firm’s main markets, although Libani acknowledged a recent slowdown in Italy as well.

Libani said he was very pleased with the performance in the U.S., where in March 2012, Attolini opened its only global flagship on Madison Avenue. “This unit is providing results that are beyond our expectations. In 2013, the store will generate sales of about $10 million, turning the U.S. into the brand’s [biggest] market,” Libani revealed.

Boglioli ceo Giovanni Mannucci, who joined the company a little more than two months ago, said the brand is returning to its core products: jackets and suits. “Boglioli had strayed, venturing into total looks, for example, but I believe success stems from being credible,” he said. “Men are knowledgeable and discriminating, they turn to specialists — they don’t rely on one supplier.”

Mannucci is also very much focused on Italian production, and noted that 95 percent of Boglioli fabrics for spring are exclusive. “Transparency is fundamental for customers, who want to be aware of what the company is doing,” he said. Boglioli is controlled by Italian private equity fund Wise SGR.

Despite a slowdown in China, brands continue to see the area as one of the most relevant for development. “China is surely crucial and we continue to invest in retail in the region,” said Cristiano Corneliani, global sales director at the family-owned Corneliani firm, which in April celebrated the opening of a store in Shanghai with a fashion show and an extravagant event. By the end of this year, Corneliani will open 50 stores in that country, including the first unit in Hong Kong, slated to open in September. That same month, the firm will also open a corner in Selfridges in London.

“We are also seeing positive signals in the Middle East and the U.S. and a stable market in Europe, where France, Germany and the Benelux countries are growing, as well as the former Soviet Union countries. We don’t expect strong changes in 2013,” said Corneliani.

Brunello Cucinelli is also looking overseas for growth. “Internationally, this will be another important year in the men’s luxury arena,” he said, noting that the company is paying “increased attention to quality, creativity and artisanal product.” He said he was “very happy with the reawakening of the U.S.,” the brand’s largest market, which accounts for 30 percent of sales, and also noted that business in Italy is picking up. “Italy is important in terms of positioning and taste — yes, sales are slow here but people are still very elegant.”

Cucinelli said he sees a return of the jacket, in innovative fabrics or prints — tartan, micro-patterns and pinstripes — or leather, also worn easily over a T-shirt or denim pants. Suits are “younger and captivating, elegant and sophisticated, but not classic, with shorter and slim pants.” The entrepreneur also pointed to the color palette, based on earth tones, that ranged from brown to chocolate and wood, as well as a range of blues, black and burgundy. “Never too vivid, they are blended with gray and dusty hues,” he said.

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Stefano Canali, general director of the family-owned Canali firm, said May marked a turnaround with an uptick in business, due to a “general improvement in consumer confidence based on political evolutions, improved financial markets and a return of an optimistic mood in Greater China.”

For example, like-for-like sales in the brand’s Hong Kong stores are up 17 percent, 15 percent in India and 9 percent in Italy. He was upbeat about the American market, which accounts for 25 percent of group sales, noting the solid performance of the brand’s new units on New York’s Madison Avenue and in Bal Harbour, Fla. Canali will open a boutique in Atlanta in the first quarter of 2014. “We are very focused, this region is destined to grow,” said the executive.

In terms of trends, Canali touted the ongoing success of the brand’s Kei jacket, which is entirely unlined yet maintains a sartorial look. “It’s in sync with the general trend, which is veering towards softer designs,” he said.

Retailers planning to attend the Pitti Uomo show are also upbeat and will shop the show to capitalize on hot categories such as accessories.

Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear at Barneys New York, said the store just completed the renovation of the ground-floor men’s accessories department at its Madison Avenue flagship, which underscores the strong focus on this category. “This is one of the strongest trends and we are excelling with accessories from designers,” said Kalenderian. Designer branded footwear is similarly strong, in particular designer sneakers, he added.

In terms of apparel, Kalenderian said, “The most interesting trend is more avant-garde than classical and there is heightened interest in concepts that emerge from pop and music culture.”

He noted a “tremendous reaction to camouflage and printed fabrics that will continue for spring-summer.”

Overall, Kalenderian said he will work to find “rare and more exclusive” merchandise. “There is a casualness in attitude, which is not too relaxed, and a focus on special fabrics and beautiful workmanship. This is the moment for interesting and unique artisanal craftsmanship,” he said, adding that this will work well for Italian and French brands, which also have “strong suppliers in Italy.”

Tiziana Cardini, fashion director of Italy’s high-end La Rinascente department store, will also be on the hunt for accessories and shoes, which are leading categories for the company, as well as luxury sportswear, which continues to show solid performance. La Rinascente’s crown jewel in Milan, overlooking the city’s cathedral, opened a men’s shoe area earlier this year. “It’s working really well, there is an interesting and diversified offer, and sneakers continue to be a hit,” said Cardini. La Rinascente has been “rationalizing its men’s wear assortment, in order to focus on a precise brand mix,” said Cardini. “Editing has increasingly become a requirement for our customers.”

Jason Broderick, general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Harrods, said he was “very encouraged by the performance of our men’s wear business.” Sales have been running at a double-digit increase over last year, he said, and the retailer recently expanded its Men’s International Gallery. “The department was built as a versatile environment to showcase a clear and concise edit of the best offering from highly desirable international designers. The space currently holds 25 brands across 4,700 square feet, including boutiques from Lanvin, Givenchy, Balmain, Moncler, Balenciaga, Vivienne Westwood and the world’s first Valentino men’s shop-in-shop.”

Overall, Broderick said, Harrods’ men’s customers “are incredibly savvy and discernible in their shopping habits but will invest more in high value, luxury items. They are increasingly asking what materials garments are made from, along with their country of manufacture, in order to gauge the true value of an item.”

Even if the price is high, customers will take the plunge if they believe the piece is special. Broderick pointed to a brown leather and gold embroidered jacket from Balmain, “which was undoubtedly the hero piece from the collection,” that the retailer purchased for fall. “The jacket will retail for 16,000 pounds [around $25,000] and its price reflects the couture-level of workmanship. Harrods will be the only retailer globally to carry this exclusive piece.”

He also pointed to colorful suits from designers such as Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Jil Sander and Paul Smith as strong performers. “As a premium men’s retail destination, we always buy into items that our clients value greatly.”

Rosi Biffi, owner of the Biffi and Banner stores in Milan, said that current business is being impacted by the economy and the weather, “however, choosing to focus on research and a strong attention to the quality-price ratio has allowed us to maintain a positive trend.” Shirts with Seventies inspiration and shoes are among the bestsellers.

In all categories, however, Biffi said men are increasingly looking for innovative products — pieces that are casual chic and offer real quality.”

 

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