MILAN — While many Italian brands are intently focused on upping sales outside their home turf, casual wear brand Hydrogen has just opened its first Milan flagship after years of building business in Asia.
The decision to open a store here is part of an ambitious five-year plan to set up flagships in other European markets and the U.S., said company founder and creative director Alberto Bresci.
“We’ve had very positive signals from the U.S. that we’ve seen from sales on our online store,” said the designer. “Luxury sportswear, even if it’s a niche, is a well-defined style that doesn’t appeal just to Europeans and Asians, but to Americans, too.”
In 2005, Hydrogen was sold at Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bresci is determined to dive back into the U.S. market: He is currently scouting New York and Los Angeles for a possible flagship location. In Europe, he’s eyeing cities such as London, Paris and Moscow. That’s not to say Bresci is abandoning Asia, where an additional 40 monobrand stores are slated to open in the next five years, many of them in China.
With its contrasting mix of cement, marble and ornate woodwork, the new Milan boutique, located in Viale Monte Grappa, is in the city’s emerging Porta Nuova neighborhood, not far from Garibaldi station. The same store concept will soon be applied to Hydrogen’s other Italian flagship, in Padua — where the brand is headquartered — and internationally.
The pricy range of sportswear and accessories targets working adults rather than teenagers, with a T-shirt retailing for about 80 euros, or $99 at current exchange, a sweatshirt for about 200 euros, or $249, a jacket for about 500 to 600 euros, or $622 to $746, and shoes for about 200 to 240 euros, or $249 to $299. Many conservative dressers like choosing from Hydrogen’s camouflage or skull-decorated pieces, Bresci said, noting the brand’s credo is to be classic with a twist. “I love mixing things — like sweatpants with a sartorial jacket,” he said.
Hydrogen products were initially available in upscale Italian boutiques such as Biffi, San Carlo, Ratti and Luisa Via Roma. Following interest from visiting Japanese distributors, however, Bresci took Hydrogen to Asia, and set up stores in Tokyo, Taipei and Seoul.
“Still today, Japan is our number-one market, and other Asian markets are very influenced by Japan in fashion. The Japanese are very attentive to product quality and customer service,” he said.
Hydrogen has about 350 wholesale clients worldwide. Turnover in 2013 was 13 million euros, or about $17.3 million at average exchange, and Bresci said he was confident the retail expansion would lead to significantly higher sales in coming years.
Children’s wear accounts for about 10 percent of Hydrogen’s total sales. Currently, more than three quarters of adult sales stem from men’s wear, but Bresci said he intends to boost the women’s line in the future.
Hydrogen has a history of co-branding partnerships. In addition to a capsule women’s collection with designer Alberto Biani, the brand has produced assorted products with companies such as K-Way, Automobili Lamborghini, Superga and Alfa Romeo. A Fiat sweatshirt line stemmed from Bresci’s long-standing friendship with business-school classmate Lapo Elkann, the Fiat heir and founder of Italia Independent.