MILAN — Change is afoot at Brioni: Gianluca Flore is exiting the Italian men’s wear company, WWD has learned.Parent company Kering Group confirmed the departure, effective Feb. 28, and said that a successor will be "announced in due course.”According to market sources, Fabrizio Malverdi, chief executive officer of Agent Provocateur, is expected to succeed Flore.Whoever will lead the storied firm going forward will be tasked with repositioning the brand and has a number of challenges to tackle. The company has been in a state of flux after going through two creative directors in less than a year, confusing customers and retailers. Issues linked to positioning, pricing and communication also weighed on the brand, as did a rationalization of its workforce at its Penne, Italy, headquarters.Flore, a former Bottega Veneta executive, joined Brioni in November 2014, succeeding Francesco Pesci. Flore handpicked Brioni’s former creative director Justin O’Shea, an appointment that proved to be a major misstep. O’Shea, who had no design experience, abruptly departed the company last October last year, after only six months.Numerous sources said O’Shea was fired, with observers speculating the reason was that the changes he initiated were not in sync with the brand. The general consensus is that Brioni now needs to take a look back to its history instead of trying to push too hard to become edgy and cool, as O’Shea did by signing the members of Metallica as the faces of the brand’s fall 2016 ad campaign.Observers questioned the decision to drastically steer Brioni away from its heritage, with the risk of losing ‘traditional’ customers, without gaining new ones.O’Shea was previously global fashion director at Mytheresa.com with a focus on women’s wear and not men’s wear. While at the e-tailer, he was known for wearing Brioni suits. O’Shea had succeeded Brendan Mullane. Heavily tattooed and prone to the use of expletives, O’Shea had candidly spoken about wanting to create styles that would appeal to gangsters.Indicating his eagerness to immediately shake things up, he skipped the men’s shows in Milan in June last year and instead showed his first effort for the house last July during Paris Couture Week. It was a see-now-buy-now collection that was immediately available in Brioni flagships, at the brand’s online store and at selected retailers.Last year, Malverdi took on the role of ceo of luxury lingerie firm Agent Provocateur. He was previously senior vice president at Dior Homme.An Italian national, Malverdi has an international profile. He assumed the helm of Dior Homme in 2011, marching the brand further upscale; ramping up selections of formalwear, leather goods and shoes, and expanding the brand’s store network.He spent a decade at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, recruited from the Mariella Burani Fashion Group to become managing director of John Galliano. Malverdi left John Galliano to become ceo of Givenchy, which logged strong sales and profitability under his leadership, before returning to Dior.An ebullient and driven executive, Malverdi started his fashion career in Italy working with brands including Vivienne Westwood, Martin Margiela and Calvin Klein Collection at Staff International.To say he's been a trouper at Agent Provocateur, which is owned by the private equity firm 3i, would be an understatement: Malverdi arrived at the troubled brand last year and immediately started making plans to steady the business, closing down underperforming stores, laying off staff, and phasing down its diffusion line, L’Agent. He's also been helping to spearhead the search for a new owner, which began earlier this year.According to sources, a sale could be wrapped by the end of this week, with Lion Capital and Sports Direct among the front-runners. An industry source familiar with the negotiations said Agent Provocateur will most likely be put into what is known in the U.K. as pre-pack administration, which would give it protection from some of its creditors.According to British press reports, Lion has been working with Bendon, the Australian lingerie company, on the bid. The report said that billionaire Mike Ashley, whose holdings range from the downmarket Sports Direct to the multibrand fashion retailer Flannels, has offered 27.5 million pounds, or $34.2 million, for the business.Private equity firm 3i, which acquired a majority stake in Agent Provocateur in 2007, has over the past year been grappling with accounting irregularities that made the brand appear more successful than it was. Following Malverdi's arrival, 3i confirmed it would invest a further 4 million pounds, or $5.4 million, in Agent in the quarter to Sept. 30, 2016, and wrote down the value of its stake in the company by 39 million pounds, or $53 million, in the first half.
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