TREVISO, Italy – Provocative images that showed heads of state in a photo-shopped lip lock may have garnered worldwide attention for the Benetton Group, but it didn’t necessarily boost revenue. After half a decade of flat sales performance, the 50-year-old company said it will be linking its ad campaigns more closely with its apparel, which for years lived two parallel but separate lives.
“We are working on being more emotional. We want to avoid using people’s tragic events to build business,” John Mollanger, the firm’s newly appointed chief product and marketing officer, told WWD at the launch of the “A Collection of Us” line, which includes four capsule collections that celebrate the company’s knitwear heritage.
The first capsule, dubbed “Archive,” features pieces that resurrect and modernize five decades of knitwear. The collection is part of Benetton’s new managements plan to inject more of the brand’s knitwear heritage back into its apparel. The Archive collection’s ad campaigns feature models of all different ages and races, facing their own unique personal struggles.
Former art director Oliviero Toscani’s controversial ad campaigns helped Benetton rise in fame during the Eighties and Nineties by raising awareness of issues such as AIDS, gay rights and racism. In the early Nineties, Toscani and late-graphic designer Tibor Kalman also created the Benetton-backed magazine Colors, which used photography as a tool to tackle social issues and injustices worldwide. A book about the duo’s work, “Colors,” is due out from Damiani later this fall.
“The Eighties and the Nineties were about pointing a finger… We want to select fewer causes like women and actually do something about it,” Mollanger said.
Benetton said it is investing 2 million euros, or $2.25 million at current exchange, toward improving the lives of women who work in garment factories worldwide. The Italian company earlier this year gave $1.1 million to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund to aid victims of the Bangladesh disaster. The amount was double that recommended by independent organizations, but Benetton continues to face criticism that it is not doing enough to aid the victims or help women working in the Bangladesh apparel sector.
After Alessandro Benetton stepped aside as chief executive officer in 2014, Benetton brought in Marco Airoldi, the company’s first non-family ceo. In January, they brought in a trio of new management: Mollanger, who has held leadership positions at Asics Co., Nike and Puma; chief distribution officer Marco Messini, and retail director Piero Maldini.
Prior to that, the Benetton Group laid the groundwork for the “On Canvas” store design concept that was launched in April 2014, involving the refurbishment of some 70 stores in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Russia, India and Mexico. The plan offers a more modular, flexible framework for the core collections, designed by creative director and head of design Valentina Soster.
Benetton, which was de-listed in 2012, said it has about 5,000 stores. The company confirmed that it no longer has directly operated stores in the United States and closed its last U.S. store earlier this year.
Now that the dust has settled from the financial crisis and fast fashion retailers like H&M and Inditex’s Zara continue to alter the retail landscape, Benetton continues to struggle to distinguish itself in terms of brand positioning.
“We need to bring the codes of luxury back. We need to bring back the pride in craftsmanship like that of Giuliana Benetton, who started knitting sweaters when she was just a girl,” Mollanger said.