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Armani’s Big Underwear Push

Emporio Armani will unveil a men's underwear collection for exclusive wholesale distribution at Macy's.

NEW YORK — Watch out, Calvin Klein, Armani is eyeing the domestic underwear market. 

Emporio Armani, the younger and somewhat trendier sibling to Giorgio Armani, will unveil a men’s underwear collection for exclusive wholesale distribution at Macy’s this February. The launch will mark the brand’s first non-licensed product agreement with the department store—which currently carries licensed jewelry, watches, sunglasses and fragrance under the Emporio Armani label—and signals Giorgio Armani’s continued commitment to substantially bolster his U.S. business. 

“I am naturally delighted that Macy’s has received my new line so enthusiastically as it will immediately provide a unique presence for Emporio Armani underwear in the United States,” said Giorgio Armani.

The underwear collection, which consists of 62 different styles, including a basic replenishment and seasonal fashion line, will be sold exclusively at Macy’s nationwide and will reach 161 doors, including Bloomingdale’s, come February. Product will be available as part of a soft launch this December at Emporio Armani stores and the recently launched virtual EmporioArmani.com, and by January the company expects to have underwear available on the Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s Web sites. Unlike the traditional licensee model for the men’s designer underwear business, Emporio Armani’s line is a fully integrated product category, meaning that from design through production, distribution and marketing, Armani is in control. 

Company executives are betting that the bridge line’s strategic partnership with the 850-unit, $27 billion Macy’s Inc. will not only help extend Emporio Armani’s geographic reach—key cities include New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles Chicago and Miami—but also drive brand awareness.

“The partnership is attractive to us because Macy’s owns 51 percent market share of the men’s underwear business in the department store channel,” said Carlos Serra, who, as Armani’s vice-president of men’s intimates, is overseeing all aspects of the Emporio Armani men’s underwear launch. “They’ve also seen phenomenal success and little price resistance from the 18- to 25-year-old audience.” 

And that aspirational audience—the young man who may be unfamiliar with the world of Armani—is exactly whom the Italian fashion house is hoping to capture through underwear. “The underwear category gives a customer an approachable way to step into the brand and experiment with it,” said Serra. “We’re really trying to drive brand awareness and segue into other categories with underwear.”

Serra, however, stopped short of saying the underwear launch was a foray into an Emporio Armani apparel rollout at Macy’s, maintaining that it was too soon to tell. “They would love the opportunity to do something on a larger scale, and they understand this could be a bigger entry into men’s apparel under the Emporio Armani brand, but we simply cannot say at this point that this is stage one of an apparel rollout,” said Serra. Confirmed future launches for Emporio Armani here in the U.S. include men’s hosiery and sleepwear, as well as a similar venture into women’s underwear. 

Market experts predict Emporio Armani men’s underwear sales at Macy’s to be in excess of $4 million in spring 2008, with that figure doubling in fall ’08. They also expect the line to capture 5 percent of the department store market share in 2008 with a target growth plan of 10 percent for 2009. 

“This is an opportunity to challenge the men’s matrix in terms of designer underwear,” said Serra. “We are setting our sights on the number-one vendor knowing that we will not be on par with them in 2009, but we would like to have a noticeable and recognizable place.” 

In anticipation of the launch, Emporio Armani has embarked on an aggressive marketing and advertising campaign with Macy’s, and although details of the campaign have not been disclosed, there is little doubt that Emporio Armani’s commitment to the department store giant will pay off in the form of preferential floor treatment and window displays, as well as Macy’s $1 billion annual advertising budget. “They have an enormous capacity to convey a message and generate celebrity buzz,” said Serra. In September, Macy’s allegedly spent close to $100 million on its star campaign, which touted products backed by celebrities like Usher, Donald Trump, Jessica Simpson, Martha Stewart and Diddy. 

A celebrity of similar caliber will be unveiled later this month as the official face and body of the Emporio Armani men’s underwear campaign, which will include print, outdoor and Internet advertising. Although keeping mum until the testimonial is finalized, Serra said that “it is a great association and will definitely resound.” 

The underwear collection adheres to the sensual aesthetic of the Emporio Armani brand and is an expansion of the Emporio Armani men’s intimates’ assortments currently available in Europe and worldwide. The size and packaging, however, have been specifically designed to appeal to the American male sensibility. Sizes are identified as small, medium and large, as opposed to the standard European sizing system of 48, 50 and 52. Underwear features include no-fly construction, low-rise trunks, oversized-logo waistbands and lean silhouettes. 

Over the next three years Armani will spend up to $100 million to significantly expand his company’s U.S. wholesale and retail operations, which currently account for 25 percent of its worldwide volume. The Emporio Armani business, which had until recently been somewhat dormant in the U.S., is a large part of that focus. The underwear launch comes on the heels of the September debut of EmporioArmani.com, as well as the Beyoncé-backed Diamonds fragrance for women, both of which have dramatically increased Emporio Armani’s visibility in the U.S. 

“This is an important moment in time for the overall Emporio Armani brand in the United States, which has been disproportionately underrepresented in this market compared with other markets around the world,” said John Hooks, deputy CEO of Armani Group. Internationally, Emporio Armani has doubled its underwear business in the last two years and it continues to grow. “We are not only ready to take on the United States, but we are also very optimistic that we will see the same momentum here as we are seeing for our business in Europe.”