MALO: LIFE BEYOND CASHMERE

Byline: Alessandra Ilari

MILAN — Unlike other companies that have caught the merger and acquisitions bug, IT Holding isn’t wreaking havoc with the nature, structure and product of Malo, the high-end knitwear firm it acquired in January 1999 from founding brothers Alfredo and Giacomo Canessa.
If anything, Malo will take advantage of the multibrand structure of IT Holding — the umbrella company for divisions that include Ittierre, Exte, Romeo Gigli and Husky — to boost global growth and raise brand awareness.
“It’s hard today if you’re a small fish, but if you’re part of a bigger group you’re more competitive and organized and you can exploit the synergies,” said general manager Andre Piot, who joined Malo in January 1999, after stints at Ermenegildo Zegna and Loro Piana.
With IT Holding’s hands-off approach, Malo is moving full-steam ahead to carry out a series of plans that were in the works prior to the takeover. Priorities include retail expansion, new headquarters in Milan and an updated image that focuses on Malo’s bigger lifestyle concept. Rounding out its core knitwear, Malo is adding tailored pieces, more accessories and infants collections.
The most time-consuming and expansive strategy will be Malo’s retail growth, but the opening of new brand stores, on the chic shopping streets of major cities, is a strategy forcefully championed by Piot.
“Malo holds a 25 percent share of the high-end cashmere business worldwide. The fastest way to raise brand awareness and strengthen our presence worldwide is with brand stores,” said Piot. “The real estate business is in retail because it’s also a way for companies to fight competition.”
The success of Malo’s new flagship store in Milan, which opened on the tony Via della Spiga last February, underscores Piot’s point. In two months, some 4,000 knitwear items with $600 price tags kept the cashiers ringing, according to store manager Francesco Pannega.
“The Milan store is very important for us because it has a new and modern image. We wanted to avoid pure minimalism and the museum-like approach that is everywhere,” said Piot. “Also, cashmere is like chocolate: The more you see the more you eat. We believe that the product must be seen, touched and tried.”
The 4,200-square-foot store carries the men’s and women’s collections and is spread over two floors, offering a modern and luminous, yet warm, atmosphere. Architect Claudio Nardi opted for a fusion of elements: crystal, asphalt-gray leather, cemented resin, suffused lighting, a Zen garden, a fireplace and cashmere sofas. The decor was studied to set off the rainbow of colors available in Malo’s sweaters.
Since it was founded in 1972, Malo has made a retail network a top priority. Between directly owned stores and franchising agreements, the company has 21 signature stores worldwide, plus 600 high-end points of sale.
In the U.S, Malo boasts 60 doors, including Louis of Boston, Bergdorf Goodman, Fred Segal and Janet Brown. Aside from major cities, Malo has boutiques in top resort locations: Capri, St. Moritz, Aspen and Portofino, among others.
“We export 60 percent of our production, and our strongest markets are the U.S and Germany,” said Piot.
Future projects, which include the renovation of the New York flagship in August plus a new opening in Rome and two in Germany by the end of summer, will reflect the look of the Milan store. All the new stores will house an area dedicated to the home collection, a range which includes cashmere blankets and cushions, cashmere-covered hot water bottles and pure vegetable soaps with coconut palm oil.
Malo unveiled its first home collection in 1996, Piot said, because “consumers today dedicate more money, time and attention to the house” than in the past.
When he shifts his focus from flagships, Piot plans to identify about 100 points of sale for shop-in-shops or corners that will highlight a diversified product range.
“Our customers were increasingly asking us for a cashmere robe or for a cashmere blazer, and we wanted to satisfy them. We are well aware that cashmere is our business so we want to diversify without losing our focus,” said Piot. “I believe that luxury is here to stay and that there will be a stronger trend toward hand-finished products. Our goal is to be in line with the fashion trends, without being too far behind or too fashion-forward.”
Spurred by the good tidings that have swept the accessories world, Malo recently unveiled a full-range line that includes bags, shawls, gloves, hats and stoles. The bags are in tune with Malo’s fall 2000 knits: totes made with cashmere patchwork or tweed and trimmed with leather piping, or two-tone, leather, Fifties-inspired shoulder bags with thick cashmere stitching as a detail. Colors include an array of greens, oranges, browns and turquoise.
On the fashion front, Malo aficionados can now stock up with woven pieces and leather looks. The idea is to round out the 120 new styles Malo delivers each season.
“Our formula is to compliment the knitwear without bypassing Malo’s past and bearing in mind that a certain clientele isn’t interested in changing clothes every season,” said Piot. “Once we nail down the perfect trenchcoat, for example, in the way of shape, length and proportion, we will stick to it.”
For fall, Malo’s introduced the tri-set — a matching cashmere T-shirt, cashmere scarf and leather jacket. Other staples include cashmere or corduroy trousers, beaver coats, silk blouses and napa car coats or bomber jackets. Colors include mint green, flame orange, wisteria purple and cherry red.
While today knitwear is the bulk of Malo’s production, generating 80 percent of the company’s $60 million turnover in 1999, Piot said he would like to reduce that to 60 percent.
For the apparel, Malo will exploit ITC, IT Holding’s Bologna-based production plant that specializes in upscale, sartorial manufacturing. But for knitwear, Malo does everything in-house at two state-of-the-art plants. One in Florence specializes in carded knitwear while the one in Piacenza, acquired by the Canessa brothers a decade ago, boasts 20 looms that cost $350,000 each and that churn out fine 33-gauge sweaters.
“These looms are jewels because they adapt to the slightest temperature change,” said Piot. “This production is very important for us because knitwear is going through the same phase wovens went through a decade ago: less weight but the same warmth.”
The two plants have an annual production capacity of 350,000 pieces, of which 65 percent are women’s and the remaining 35 percent men’s.
“We wanted to capture and transmit all the diversification that is at the base of our strategies,” said Piot. “Between the new stores and the campaign, we want the whole world to see what we’re doing.”