MILAN — The COVID-19 pandemic has sharpened the tools of Italian fashion executives, who are facing the new year with renewed energy and confidence in the strength of the brands they lead, despite the challenging macroeconomic, social and political uncertainties, the ongoing war in Ukraine, rising inflation in the country, higher costs of energy and the scarcity of raw materials.
No matter, the opening of Chinese borders is seen as promising for business — despite the conflicting reports about rising cases or new variants of the coronavirus in the country, where investments in retail have never stopped for most brands.
Bright prospects contribute to lift the mood as Milan Men’s Fashion Week kicks off today with the return of Gucci to the schedule — sans Alessandro Michele — and runs until Jan. 17, with new entries joining the calendar, such as Charles Jeffrey Loverboy.
“The menswear segment has always been important for us, at least as much as the women’s in terms of strategy and business development. In fact, we have very rarely not been part of the men’s calendar,” said Giorgio Armani, who believes menswear loses some visibility paired with womenswear on the runway. The designer is holding his namesake show on Monday and Emporio Armani on Saturday.
“Consumer confidence is the fundamental element and until now at least the luxury sector has resisted better than expected to problems such as inflation, high energy costs and tensions linked to the war. But in the long term, this confidence is at risk and this is perhaps the main concern for 2023,” he continued. “We want to continue our medium long term strategy with consistency and without being conditioned by the market. In any case, these are moments that can be managed if tackled with intelligence, as the difficult COVID-19 period proved.”
“China remains one of the most important and dynamic markets in the world and we expect an improvement thanks to the reopening of the borders and the gradual reopening of our stores,” said Gildo Zegna, chairman and chief executive officer of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group. “We remain confident, although the situation in any case needs to be carefully monitored. In such a context it’s difficult to provide forecasts, but based on my current trip to Hong Kong and Macau after the opening on Jan. 8 three years after my last entry in China, we positively view a recovery of Greater China.” Barring negative surprises, Zegna believes the region will return to 2021 levels. “Surely we will return to being very active in this country after the forced pause last year.”
Serge Brunschwig, chairman and CEO of Fendi, also enthused about the reopening of China, expecting “a strong return, maybe with a few bumps on the way, but the market will be back just like the U.S.”
Fendi is planning an event in May in Beijing for the “Hand in Hand” exhibition celebrating the Baguette that will include Chinese artisans and Brunschwig will be in attendance. “I can’t wait to be back, to see our teams and realign. I haven’t been there for three years,” he said wistfully. The brand is expecting a number of Chinese guests at the show to be staged in Milan on Saturday, but he underscored that “the first key step is for the Chinese to return to shop in China.”
In the meantime, Fendi is kicking off the year with the opening in February of two important flagships in Asia, in Seoul and in Tokyo’s Omotesando.
China remains crucial to the luxury market, and is expected to recover between the first and second half of 2023, according to the latest Bain & Company Luxury Study in collaboration with Fondazione Altagamma, presented in November. The study reported that the global luxury goods industry overall is projected to achieve a market value of around 1.4 trillion euros in sales in 2022, up 21 percent from the previous year.
In particular, the personal luxury goods industry is poised to see revenues climb 22 percent to 353 billion euros in 2022 compared to 2021.
Carlo Capasa, chairman of Italy’s Camera della Moda, echoed the positive sentiment, saying that he expects several Chinese visitors to the fashion week, with 10 individuals from Shenzen already in town. “We really missed this cluster,” he said.
Capasa was also pleased about the increased focus on menswear, a segment that last year grew more than womenswear in percentage terms, he said.
The coed format has lost some of its appeal, as exemplified by Gucci, said Capasa, predicting “there will be even more returns in June. The perception is that investing in menswear through a dedicated show pays back and all brands are seeing strong numbers in this category.”
While it may be early days to comment on the change of government that brought Giorgia Meloni in October to become Italy’s Prime Minister — the first woman to hold that role — Capasa and the fashion association have been busy preparing a roadmap that will be presented in Rome at the end of January.
He admitted the government needed to deal with the higher cost of energy in the budgetary law that just passed, but expressed his hope that fashion could also be a focus going forward. That said, he believes there is a pressing need to deal with the reduced spending power of Italians, curbed by a rising inflation which national statistics agency ISTAT pegs at 5.1 percent this year. “We asked for a flat tax for those fashion companies that would offer a welfare of 1,200 euros, and for tax breaks related to the protection of creativity and intellectual property, but these requests have not been met yet,” Capasa said.
The Camera della Moda reported a 2022 turnover of 96.6 billion euros, up 16 percent compared to 2021, topping previous estimates of a 12 percent increase year-on-year, and this was “beyond our expectations,” said Capasa, confident 2023 will also be a positive year, “despite the many contrasting elements but leveraging the increasing relevance of quality fashion and made in Italy production, values that we must strengthen and preserve.”
Etro CEO Fabrizio Cardinali underscored that the company, which will present creative director Marco De Vincenzo’s first menswear collection for the brand on Sunday, is going through “a moment of great evolution,” and highlighted the increasing importance of the menswear segment and how the men’s show “is an important resource to quickly accelerate” its new path. To further develop the category, Etro is focused on the Americas, China and Japan, he said.
A new e-commerce site will be launched in less than a month, but there are also a series of investments in retail that include the restyling of the Milan, Paris and New York boutiques, a number of pop-ups globally and 15 new openings in cities such as Cannes, France; Montecarlo, Monaco; Atlanta; at Shinsegae Gangnam in Seoul, and Isetan Shinjuku, as well as new stores in China in the second half.
Cardinali admitted there are concerns regarding the increase of the cost of energy and raw materials. Also, he is looking at the Middle East and the Americas to help balance the Russian market, historically an important market for Etro.
Prada, codesigned by Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons, who shuttered his namesake fashion brand after 27 years in November leading to growing speculation about a potential increased commitment at the Italian brand, will hold its show after Etro on Sunday, as its parent group kicks off 2023 with a newly revised organization. This sees Lorenzo Bertelli confirmed as future leader of the group while Andrea Guerra is expected to join the company as CEO on Jan. 26. As reported, Patrizio Bertelli is expected to become chairman of the group, relinquishing his CEO role, as will his wife Miuccia Prada. Gianfranco D’Attis joined the company as CEO of the Prada brand earlier this month.
Beyond China, Gildo Zegna also touted the dynamism of the Middle East, “where you feel an energy that reminds me of China’s. I think it’s an area where the menswear segment will grow much both in apparel and accessories.” At the same time, he underscored the key relevance of North America, where the company plans new openings.
Indeed the return of American tourists in Europe and the importance of business in the U.S. have boosted top and bottom lines of most brands here. According to the Camera della Moda, the U.S. was confirmed as the strongest market for the sector, with exports there skyrocketing 54.1 percent in the first nine months of the year. This compares with lower-than-expected growth in China exports, which grew 18.8 percent, dented by the COVID-19 restrictions.
“Online, the U.S. and Japan are among the top five markets showing a double-digit growth,” said Dan Caten, founder of Dsquared2 with his twin brother Dean. “In general, Europe and the U.S. are the most interested in menswear,” he said. In particular the brand is eyeing growth in Germany, France, the U.K. and Italy. A new flagship will open in London this year.
Dan Caten underscored the growing significance of menswear collections for many brands, although for Dsquared2 these have long been “the most important part of our activity in terms of creativity and business. The history of Dsquared2 is founded on a clear message and in particular on the success of men’s denim. Authentic, powerful, versatile, this fabric reflects our Canadian roots and is woven in the DNA of Dsquared2.”
The brand has alternated formats between dedicated menswear shows and coed events, as is the case this season, with the fall collection to be presented this evening. “Men today are increasingly more sophisticated, looking for novelty, and buying more fashion,” said Dean Caten. “Menswear is evolving and for this reason all fashion brands are investing very much in the men’s universe, banking on this and creating dedicated collections. For this reason, Milan Men’s Fashion Week is increasingly more intense, marked by the arrival of several young designers and established, big names returning to the schedule.”
As for upcoming projects, the Catens cited the Honda x Dsquared2 capsule and the collaboration with the Bob Marley Foundation presented for spring 2023 that will be officially available starting this month. At the end of May, the brand will launch a capsule collection that celebrates its longstanding relationship with Manchester City, with which it has been collaborating for seven years.
“There is much more attention to menswear, men are more attentive to their dress code, they are more precise, becoming increasingly more similar to women in choosing clothes depending on the occasion,” concurred Antonio De Matteis, CEO of Kiton, which offered more relaxed leisurewear garments during the pandemic and now is smoothly responding to a renewed desire for more occasionwear. “We all realized that life can change from one minute to the next, so there is a renewed desire to live life to its fullest, and we are seeing a reawakening of the menswear segment. Men want to travel, sail, have fun, buy beautiful watches.”
To wit, Kiton sales rose 25 percent in 2022 to more than 160 million euros.
Revenues in Europe were up 70 percent compared with 2021, and they rose 50 percent in the U.S., which represents 30 percent of the total. Asia was up 10 percent. De Matteis defined himself an optimist and was hopeful the opening of China’s borders would lead to positive consequences, despite the ongoing COVID-19 cases, he said, so much so that Kiton has just opened a new store in Shenzen.
Retail last year grew 40 percent and Kiton has about five openings in the pipeline in 2023, including a boutique in Frankfurt, due to open in June, and units in Zurich and Wuhan, China. A store in London’s Sloane Street will be unveiled at the end of February, following the renovation of the store on Clifford Street late last year.
The expanded boutique in Miami, at Bal Harbour, will be unveiled in November with an opening event in December during Miami Art Basel. In December, a store will also open in Paris.
Kiton is also expanding its shops-in-shop in Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Saks.
He attributed this to “a renewed desire to dress up, go out and attend events, leaving the pandemic and the sweatpants behind” but also to Canali’s initiatives during COVID-19, “evolving the product while maintaining our credibility, without any radical changes, responding to our loyal customers but also approaching new ones.” All this was helped also by Canali’s “ability to respond with a short supply chain.”
He was “very optimistic about 2023,” expecting growth in the year, confident in China’s restart, based on the “lightning fast recovery” of that market at the end of the first lockdown in May 2020, which “gave us an idea of the character of the Chinese when there are no obstacles.”
Indeed, Canali opened stores in China throughout the pandemic, the last one as recently as last month, a new unit at SKP Chengdu. “We continue to invest in that region,” he said. Banners in Beijing and Shanghai will open at the end of March and in September, respectively.
North America, which represents more than 50 percent of sales, registered a 47 percent growth in revenues last year, and the executive touted the performance of the new Madison Avenue store in New York, with a new concept and a renewed offer, and that was relocated last summer, performing so well that it saw “the highest sales in its 10-year history.”
Last year, Canali opened two boutiques in Paris and, at the end of May, it will open its seventh boutique in India, located in Mumbai. The Milan store on Via Verri will be extensively renovated as per the New York blueprint at the end of September.
Asked about the new government, he said he sees “continuity in highlighting and supporting made in Italy production, which is encouraging.”
Missoni, which will present its men’s collection designed by Filippo Grazioli on Sunday, is going through an expansion under CEO Livio Proli. In 2023, there are plans to open pop-ups in China and the U.S. In the latter and in Canada, the company is investing in a new organization of its New York branch, “to support growth through new commercial deals, and a strong marketing and communication plan,” Proli said. A store in Los Angeles is in the pipeline this year, and in the spring, a new boutique will open in Milan’s Via Verri, followed by a new unit in Munich. Ten new franchised stores in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region are also planned for 2023. And by the end of the third quarter, the company will complete internalizing its website.
Proli also viewed the opening of China borders “with great positivity. Global mobility will increase global spending.” Missoni has just opened three stores in China and launched on T-mall. “We are in talks with potential franchisees and over the next 12 months will start a consistent local communication plan.”
Proli admitted the current instability, economic, political, social and health issues are the main concerns, as well as wars, inflation and unbalanced international, “but we have overcome the long and devastating pandemic blackout so I believe that the present obstacles, unless there are unimaginable worsening of the situation, can be overcome reducing the collateral damages.”
Upcoming projects include the Missoni Sport launch for spring 2024, a new home collection designed by Alberto Caliri supervised by Rosita Missoni, and the customization of and a pop-up store at the Maldives One&Only Reethi Rah luxury resort for the duration of 2023. This is part of the new Missoni Resort Club project, led by Caliri. Four other potential projects will be activated in the next three years, Proli said.
Giorgio Brandazza, CEO of Corneliani, defined 2023 “a very significant year” for the company, after overcoming some financial hurdles. “One of our main objectives is to strengthen our positioning in the different markets, consolidating and expanding our presence in department stores and with big, established distributors,” said Brandazza, remarking on the growth potential of Europe and in particular the U.S., as well as China, where there is “a strong expansion plan” in the pipeline for 2024.
Designer Paul Surridge joined the Mantua-based company in May last year, and, while agreeing that the menswear segment is expanding, Brandazza believes “it’s a selective growth. Only those brands that have been able, despite the difficulties, to stay true to their DNA with a strong story telling and that constantly worked on the product will be able to catch this opportunity.”
He addressed Italy’s inflation, which “forces all brands to review their prices; on our part we try however to minimize as much as possible the impact on the final consumer at a time when spending is picking up.”