The multiyear license will involve the development, production and worldwide distribution of swimsuits and beachwear for men and women, with the first collection of 50 items introduced for spring 2023.
“This is a brand that had never had licenses, but we actually needed those to become a real lifestyle label,” said Aspesi’s chief executive officer Simona Clemenza, who initiated this strategy upon arriving at the company in 2019. “We saw there was an extraordinary potential as we were already perceived as a lifestyle brand even offering just ready-to-wear, so we decided to expand the assortment and hand specific categories to the best specialists in the market.”
In some cases, like with beachwear, the brand already tested customer feedback by previously introducing some pieces. “We had some swimsuits in our ready-to-wear offering, but there were very few models. Still, we saw quite an interest in this category coming from the market,” confirmed Clemenza, adding that joining forces with a licensee was necessary as some technical skills to develop the products in-house were lacking.
The executive defined Area B as the “best national referent in the category” and highlighted the chemistry that sparked between the two companies’ teams. This synergy enabled the parties to turn around the project quickly and develop styles to present to wholesalers in June.
Established in 1999, Area B already has licenses for brands including Karl Lagerfeld, Iceberg and Bikkembergs, as well as private label clients such as Missoni, Giambattista Valli, Mary Katrantzou and Dondup.
In keeping with Aspesi’s signature discreet take on urban wear — which found new energy under the creative direction of Lawrence Steele — the beachwear will have an unfussy aesthetic.
“Licensing agreements work only if a brand treats these categories as its own, with the same dedication, otherwise there’s the risk of diluting the DNA,” noted Clemenza, who aims to have four to five licenses for key categories. After the kids’ line and beachwear, the next addition might be eyewear, as she hinted she sees this fitting for Aspesi.
The beachwear collection will be distributed in the brand’s stores and e-commerce, as well as at select specialty retailers that will allow the label to expand in new markets.
Aspesi operates 15 monobrand stores and shops-in-shop and sells its collections in 600 boutiques worldwide, while Area B distributes its products in 34 countries, counting 386 sales points in Italy and 413 abroad.
Overall, under the lead of Clemenza, Aspesi kicked off a new direct-to-consumer strategy. Despite the pandemic, over the past two years the brand opened 15 units across stores, pop-up stores and franchised doors. For example, the label launched a 2,153-square-foot flagship in Tokyo’s luxury Aoyama district, as well as a pop-up shop on the contemporary floor of the Ginza Six department store.
The retail focus on Japan further strengthened the company’s performance in the country, which is one of Aspesi’s key markets along with Europe. Clemenza said Aspesi’s upcoming challenges are to expand in China and the U.S. The latter is the main target for the moment, as the company has recently changed local distributors and sees huge growth potential.
“Having an American creative director has helped, too. We’re seeing an unprecedented attention towards the brand,” confirmed Clemenza.
Appointed in 2020, Steele is the first designer to officially hold such a role at the brand, which was founded by fashion entrepreneur Alberto Aspesi in 1969. The appointment marked a comeback for the American designer, who had served as a consultant for the company for 13 years, from 2004 to 2017.
“We didn’t start any licensing project before naming a creative director.…We needed a guide and someone who could set a tone of voice. It’s only under the umbrella of a creative director that you can really expand product categories,” said Clemenza, praising Steele for his “great culture and depth” who made him “guarantor of Aspesi’s signature rationalism and integrity.”
The executive underscored that Steele enabled the alignment of the men’s and women’s collections product-wise, as well as an overarching consistency in all communication assets.
“He passed on his vision to the whole team,” continued Clemenza. “The tone of voice is an essential element and maybe it was what we were missing before.…Without it, we risked diluting this integrity and strong identity, which will be the element that will distinguish us in the future.”
Before Steele, several marquee designers, including Walter Albini and Franco Moschino, helped the brand establish its aesthetic of high-quality, wearable pieces with a refined color sensibility and minimal chic design.
With a revamped product offering and image, as well as increased activity in terms of distribution and partnerships, the brand is signaling a “freshness that it has never experienced before,” said Clemenza, who forecast sales to return to pre-pandemic levels this year. In 2019, Aspesi reported revenues of 46 million euros, up 10 percent over the 2017 to 2019 period.