NEW YORK — Hugo Boss, which rode the Eighties power suit for men to fashion fame, is entering the women’s market.
WWD learned that the company, based in Metzingen, Germany, is expected to announce a line of women’s designer clothes under the Hugo Hugo Boss label, to launch in Europe for spring 1998. The line will probably come to the United States for fall 1998, a year after the August launch of the Hugo Woman fragrance. The fragrance is being produced under license with Giorgio of Beverly Hills, which also makes the successful Hugo men’s fragrance.
Although Hugo Boss AG is owned by Gruppo Industriale Marzotto, the women’s apparel will be manufactured in production facilities in Metzingen, the U.S. and Eastern Europe, according to sources. It will include a full line of sportswear, ready-to-wear and accessories targeted to fashion-conscious women aged 20 to 40. The new line will be priced similarly to Hugo Hugo Boss men’s, at the designer level.
Company executives could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon. But it’s expected that Hugo Boss officials, scheduled to hold a press conference today to release the company’s 1996 numbers, will announce the move into women’s apparel there. The company will report a 31.2 increase in net income over the previous year, sources indicated.
Hugo Boss had group sales of $597 million (995.3 million marks), up 10.5 percent from 1995. In particular, Boss Hugo Boss — the core of the company’s three labels — exceeded expectations with a 9.7 increase in sales of its clothing and sportswear, to $526 million (876.9 million marks).
Sales from the trendier Hugo Hugo Boss rose 41.7 percent to $24.6 million (41.1 million marks), and Baldessarini Hugo Boss, the top-price handmade clothing label, hit $11.1 million (18.5 million marks), up 37 percent.
International sales, which have always accounted for a large chunk of Hugo Boss’s business, rose to $382 million (636.9 million marks) in 1996, to 64 percent from 62.1 percent of total volume. In the U.S., despite what the company called “a difficult sales environment,” Hugo Boss Fashions had a sales increase of 16.6 to $71.8 million (119.7 million marks). The company also had increases in its Asian, South American and European markets.
As for its burgeoning fragrance business, Hugo for men was the seventh best-selling men’s scent in the department store arena last year, according to NPD BeautyTrends, a tracking service. Sources estimated it did about $40 million last year in U.S. retail volume.
The firm projects that Hugo Woman’s youthful positioning will catapult it into the top 10 rankings of women’s fragrances when it launches in mid-August. That would mean a retail volume of at least $30 million the first year, according to industry estimates.
The move into women’s fashion won’t be the company’s first foray into the market. Hugo Boss had tried out a women’s line in 1990, but dropped it after only one season.
Around the same time, Italian manufacturing giant Marzotto bought Boss in 1991 from brothers Jochen and Uwe Holy. The Holy brothers, along with apparel veteran Barry Wishnow, had built the business into a multimillion-dollar powerhouse in the U.S. and Europe in the Eighties, but U.S. volume had fallen to $60 million when Marzotto took over the brand.
Ironically, Boss’s success ultimately contributed to its problems. The brand had embarked on an ambitious growth plan, leading to rapid expansion that resulted in unfilled orders and partial shipments, leaving retailers with a bad taste.
But at its peak, the $800 Hugo Boss suit, with its power shoulders and nipped waist, was a totem for men, whether they were ambitious executives or swaggering celebrities.
The label became even more well known when Don Johnson wore Hugo Boss in the style-setting series “Miami Vice.”
The wide-shoulder look was widely knocked off, however, and it lost further ground during the minimalist Nineties, with the adoption of a subdued, slimmer silhouette.
And as small, hip men’s wear companies sprang up to grab the awakening fashion-conscious man, the German Goliath didn’t keep pace.
In 1993, the company redirected its strategy under Peter Littmann, president and chief executive officer.
The following year, Littmann hired Eric Silverman to head U.S. operations and bring the brand out of the doldrums.
It moved from a cramped space at 49 West 57th Street to 20,000 square feet in Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue and 50th Street — Halston’s former space — and developed a new marketing strategy.
The company was divided into its current three labels, all at or above the designer price range.
At the same time, the firm started spending a few million each year on ad campaigns aimed more broadly at younger, hipper customers; pursued celebrities to wear its suits, and distributed very targeted market research to its retailers.
To further focus on its brands and build business in the U.S., Hugo Boss AG sold its Joseph & Feiss men’s apparel label last year and adjusted the structure of its business here.

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