MILAN — “Critical, careful and a connoisseur.”

This story first appeared in the January 13, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

That is a description of the new luxury men’s wear customer, according to Umberto Angeloni, chairman, chief executive officer and majority shareholder of Raffaele Caruso SpA. “We must be very attentive today. Men are looking for authenticity. They are more pragmatic and less trend-oriented, less brand victims. In these moments, you need a competitive advantage: quality, innovation, authenticity and value,” he said, touting Caruso for checking all those boxes.

The company is unveiling a sprawling flagship in Milan, on Via Gesù, which Angeloni has dubbed the “street of men’s style,” on Saturday. This follows the opening of a large store in New York in November. A new unit will open in Shanghai in June 2016. “We are opening new markets and new business extensions with our stores, and [adding] more accessories,” Angeloni said.

As Pitti Uomo winds down Friday in Florence, Milan’s men’s fashion week will kick off with a Dsquared2 celebratory event that same day to mark the brand’s 20 years in fashion. It will take place the evening before the official calendar begins. The men’s shows run Jan. 17 to 20 and consist of 40 shows and 36 presentations.

Both Pitti and fashion week this year are being held against a lackluster backdrop in Italy, as its economy is expected to expand by just 0.5 percent in 2015 after a forecasted 0.3 percent drop in 2014, according to the latest study from the Italian National Statistics Institute. Unemployment remains high and local consumer spending sluggish. Lower oil prices are not an issue here, as government taxes determine the final price at the station. On the bright side, a weaker euro is expected to boost exports and the flow of tourists to the country.

The U.S. remains a key market for Italian brands — offsetting worries about Russia — and investments continue to be channeled into emerging markets.

“Geopolitical uncertainties are not helping business,” said Antonio De Matteis, ceo of luxury tailoring company Kiton, who nonetheless was upbeat about future developments in the U.S., for example, and in product extensions. “We have a strong potential in the accessories category,” he said, noting designs by Diego Dolcini for the brand. North America is Kiton’s “number-one market,” accounting for around 22 percent of total sales. With openings in San Francisco and Houston last year, the market is growing and expanding, said De Matteis. In terms of fashion, the executive noted “a strong return to the suit, a desire to dress well,” and a comeback of “white and azure shirts, of ties and of high-quality fabrics.”

Stefano Canali, general director of the family-owned Canali, also highlighted the relevance of the American market for the brand. “The U.S. area is the most important for luxury in the world, and it now accounts for more than one-third of our sales,” said Canali, who expects 2015 to be similar to 2014. “It will be a complicated year, with many question marks on how critical situations will be solved. Last year presented difficult situations. We operated with tenacity and posted single-digit growth.”

The uncertainties are not stopping Canali’s investments in its retail development “where opportune.” Units are slated to open in Washington in April, in Las Vegas in June and in Houston in September. Locations are also expected to be unveiled in Shanghai and Macau in March, as well as in Jakarta in mid-2015. Retail sales account for 25 percent of total revenues. The Italian company has also opened a new showroom in Milan’s tony new Porta Nuova area, “in line with the evolution of the image and in a more dynamic context,” said Canali. Also, the firm is investing in a new state-of-the-art warehouse in Sovico, half an hour north of Milan, in front of its headquarters, which will be completed in mid-2015.

Andrea Pompilio, tapped last year to design a capsule for Canali, is now in charge of the whole collection and all categories, Canali said. “We face intense competition, but we are specialists and we can do well, and customers ask for distinctive quality. We have style and credibility, with more than 80 years of history and consistency,” he said. For fall, Pompilio will develop “two themes inspired by the Fifties, a mix between elegance and concreteness, with a graphic approach,” he added.

Michele Norsa, ceo of Salvatore Ferragamo, said the Florence-based brand has seen brisk growth of its men’s wear division over the past few years, “even a little more than women’s wear,” boosted by emerging markets. Men’s now accounts for 40 percent of the brand’s sales. Norsa said shoes and belts are “a great success,” as well as printed ties with patterns — traditional items for Ferragamo. On Monday in Florence, the company held the event “A Life of Elegance: The Tale of a Gentleman From a Different Time” to present a capsule collection of men’s shoes, Uomo Creations, which are replicas of original Salvatore Ferragamo designs.

At its Milan show, the company will greet the men featured in the series of photographs and films for “A Man’s Story,” a project by photographer and filmmaker Francesco Carrozzini under the creative direction of Massimiliano Giornetti, presented in December. The label partnered with several tastemakers, including A$AP Rocky, New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, photographer Ryan McGinley and entrepreneur Louis-Maris de Castelbajac, among others.

On the heels of “a beautiful 2014,” Brunello Cucinelli trumpeted Italy’s “special manufacture” and a 2015 marked by customers’ desire to own “beautiful, quality products,” seeing “less waste.” The entrepreneur expects 2015 to be “a very important year for knits, even light, worn under a suit; a return of coats, as men in their 30s don’t have them in their wardrobes; ironed pants, softer on the thigh and less narrow; micro-checked or pied-de-poule patterns, and ties, for a well-put-together look.”

Boglioli president and ceo Giovanni Mannucci said the company will continue to focus on its forte, the deconstructed jacket, “shorter and with wider shoulders,” and apply pleats on pants. “We will continue to invest in research on fabrics, as 90 percent of fabrics we employ are ours exclusively,” Mannucci said.

The executive was pleased with the brand’s change in path initiated in 2013 and continued throughout 2014. Last year, the company saw a 5 percent increase in sales, “a great result,” he said, noting that he’s expecting 22 percent growth in 2015. “We are already up 12 percent with our pre-collection,” Mannucci said. Gains were mainly seen in the U.S. and the Far East, Germany, U.K. and Japan. Exports account for 70 percent of sales. Despite Italy’s stagnant economy, Mannucci was pleased with the performance of the brand’s new boutique in Milan, which opened in June. “It’s beyond expectations, and 80 percent are Italian customers. We are very proud, and the store is an indicator of what can be done.” Boglioli will launch its online store on July 1.

Deconstructed jackets, “less formal and easy to wear and mix,” are also central for Lardini. Andrea Lardini, president of the Lardini company, which closes its fiscal year in September, said sales in 2014 were up 30 percent compared with 2013, reaching 73 million euros, or $86.8 million at current exchange rate.

“We expect 2015 to be in line with last year, based on the orders for the spring-summer season,” Lardini said. Although Japan is the company’s main market, Lardini is investing in the U.S., as its performance was boosted by a capsule collection by Nick Wooster presented in June. Another capsule by Wooster will be showcased at Pitti Uomo in January. “The dollar is strengthening, there is optimism and energy,” said the executive.

Encouraged by these positive results, Lardini is expanding both its factory in the Marche region and its Milanese showroom, which will be enlarged to about 8,611 square feet.

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