MILAN — “It was mandatory to go to this promised land that offers so many opportunities, but we must play our cards well.” Missoni has opened its first flagship in China and Livio Proli, chief executive officer of the Italian fashion house, has a pragmatic and cautious take on planting a flag in the country. “It’s a huge market, yet it’s a complex country at the same time, extremely diversified and moving at a fast pace. We must enter China with a selective and exclusive distribution and we must be careful to establish the right foundations,” Proli said during an interview at the new Missoni showroom in Milan’s Brera district. “Our presence should be driven by quality and not volumes because we are a luxury yet artisanal, Made in Italy brand.”
The boutique, located on the ground floor of Shanghai’s Jing An Kerry Centre, will be officially inaugurated with an event on Nov. 26, after a soft opening on Nov. 9. Missoni is opening a store on Tmall at the same time.
Proli cited “huge opportunities” not only in China but also in the Asia Pacific region going forward. Previously, only the M Missoni label, now frozen, was sporadically available in China through local distributors. The executive admitted the brand awareness is “low, but the reputation is good with those Chinese clusters that do know the Missoni brand through their trips abroad. We are recognized as a luxury label.”
China is a market that can “add a turbo effect” to a brand, but Proli warned against the “temptation,” in favor of a “durable and progressive growth,” acknowledging that the company is still evaluating whether to push for a direct retail distribution or a franchisee network to increase its penetration in that market. “We are not working with a pre-defined module, we don’t have a crystal ball and we are taking one step at a time, with the goal to offer quality and service and gauge the reaction of customers in the region,” said Proli, applauding the Missoni family and the FSI fund, which took a 41.2 percent stake in the company in 2018, for standing by a long-term plan. In the next five years, after a gradual revamp, sales are expected to reach 150 million euros through a “solid and consistent business model that will offer the right positioning and a strong brand experience, without getting ahead of ourselves.”
Missoni is relying on a company branch set up in Shanghai earlier this year, and “a very strong local team of young colleagues with a passion for the brand, with extraordinary skills and resilience, who are technologically prepared. We don’t want to decide things from here, we bring the values and the heritage of the brand, but they help us to engage the market. We humbly ask ourselves, do we really know the Chinese customers, their culture, their politics and finances, did we map out their cities?” And he reasoned, “on top of that, we haven’t been able to travel to China for the past couple of years and everything has changed.”
Choosing Shanghai for the first store, planned a year ago, was the most logical decision, said Proli, in order to stay close to the headquarters of the branch, given the restrictions and uncertainties connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March 2022, Missoni will open a store in Chengdu, a city of more than 14 million people, which, he pointed out, has a strong Gen Z, fashion-oriented population.
“We will go where there are the right opportunities and locations, in a context that is significant and distinctive for us,” said Proli, conceding that Missoni cannot compete in terms of size and visibility with the major fashion conglomerates. “We need to be where we can differentiate ourselves [from other luxury brands].”
Missoni in Shanghai is introducing a new store concept conceived by the Milan-based BBA design studio established by architects Barbara Ballabio and Andrea Burgio, who have collaborated over the years with several Italian luxury brands, ranging from Giorgio Armani and Valentino to Versace and Ermenegildo Zegna.
“The brief we gave was to create a distinctive environment, but more neutral than in the past to better emphasize our luxury details, the products, colors and patterns, with an eye on sustainability,” Proli explained. Hence the use of eco-friendly products with a circular life. For example, the walls were made with Milleforma Cotone, a composite material of cotton linters and clay, while Cimento, which consists of more than 90 percent aggregate minerals mixed with a cement binder, was used for the floors.
The walls are decorated partly with metal slates and partly with natural pressed cellulose, “with a wavy effect that represents dynamism,” Proli continued.
Given the brand’s abundance of colorful patterns, the executive said it’s important to “carefully avoid being too much,” and he believes the new concept allows “no element to be out of balance” and to play with shades and light.
The storefront design reflects the Missoni brand with its signature zigzag pattern through the use of colors, vertical metal elements and slashes of light — “like a surface in movement,” Proli said.
Missoni relied on its home collection to furnish the store, which covers almost 2,000 square feet, with the brand’s sofas, chairs and carpets. Pieces from the collection will also be available for sale, together with Missoni’s women’s and men’s fashion ranges.
The investment into the store amounted to 1 million euros and Proli expects the venue to produce profitability “not below 10,000 euros per square meter” after the first year of its running-in phase. A huge Missoni billboard will stand at the entrance of the mall for at least a year, said Proli, to create additional buzz.
Proli said it is also key to invest in the digital channel, especially in China, and the Tmall store will help the company profile consumers in the region, where “it’s all mobile for them, they are always in contact and everything is very fast.”
The Shanghai-based branch manages all the Asia Pacific region and Proli said the relaunch of South Korea and Japan are priorities, as well as a return to Indonesia and Australia after the pandemic.
Asked about the first nine months of the year, Proli was upbeat, despite a number of lackluster markets. “We are on the right path, and our spring 2022 orders performed beyond our expectations, recording 40 percent more than forecast, despite the closure of the M Missoni line, a change in creative direction and a cut in our distributors to move up in the luxury range,” noted Proli. “The feedback to the gradual refresh of the brand and the new communication is very reassuring.” As reported, after 24 years, Angela Missoni passed on the creative direction ad interim to her “right hand” Alberto Caliri in May, while retaining her role as president of the company. In March, Margherita Maccapani Missoni, Angela’s daughter, said she was relinquishing her role of creative director of the M Missoni line.
Proli said department stores, in particular, appreciated the focus on a single brand and that he had seen “a great interest from e-tailers and partners that want to invest in franchised stores.”
Proli also cited several new contract offers to create residential buildings, following the recent agreement with Saudi developer Dar Al Arkan to use the Missoni Home line to decorate the exclusive apartments and penthouses of the Urban Oasis, a 38-floor waterfront building that is under construction by the Dubai Water Canal, as reported. The project, which is expected to be completed by 2024, marks the first expansion of Missoni Home in the Emirates. In the U.S., Missoni has partnered with OKO Group, the Miami-based property development firm founded by Russian billionaire real estate mogul Vladislav Doronin, on Missoni Baia, a 57-story, 249-unit building overlooking Biscayne Bay.
“Missoni is a lifestyle brand and our strategy is that of [founders] Ottavio and Rosita [Missoni, who turns 90 this month and is in charge of the home collection], we don’t have to invent anything, their intuition was genius, we just have to take their vision and map it out for 2025. It’s not easy, but we are fortunate that thanks to them we know who we are and where we should go,” Proli said.