MILAN — “We want to switch on the light,” said Aspesi chief executive officer Fabio Gnocchi about bringing attention to the Italian brand and expanding it globally.
Italian private equity fund Armònia SGR in December acquired a majority stake in Aspesi, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2019, and the closing is expected at the end of April. Founder Alberto Aspesi maintains a 10 percent stake in the company, which is known for its understated collections and, in particular, its classic lightweight down jackets.
Sitting in the expansive yet unpretentious 8,640-square-foot store on Milan’s Via Montenapoleone, Gnocchi attributed the acquisition and his own arrival at the company to a shared passion for the Aspesi product.
Armònia, which made the investment through the Armònia Italy fund, was founded in 2015 by Sigieri Diaz Pallavicini, Alessandro Grimaldi, Luca Rovati, Francesco Chiappetta and Fabrizio Di Amato. This is Armònia’s first acquisition and Gnocchi said the investors all appreciate Aspesi’s expertise with and research into fabrics and his sophisticated taste. Gnocchi, previously commercial director at Brunello Cucinelli and, before that, a longtime executive at Etro, talked about a web of longstanding friendly relations between himself, Aspesi and patriarch Gimmo Etro. “On Saturday morning, you can find them both here in the store discussing materials and designs,” said Gnocchi, in his affable way.
Etro and Aspesi also share a strong interest for the arts, evidenced, in the case of the latter, by pieces by Mimmo Paladino and Mario Merz in the flagship. The boutique also carries pieces by another friend of Aspesi’s, former Moschino creative director Rossella Jardini, and “divertissements [distractions], whatever Alberto likes,” said Gnocchi, such as Aesop products.
Speaking of Moschino, Gnocchi reminisced that the late Franco Moschino designed for the Aspesi brand in the Seventies. “The first Aspesi down jacket was called the Moschino model because Alberto designed it for Franco,” said Gnocchi.
After selling a 50 percent stake of the company in 2003 to 2G Investimenti, succeeded by Investitori Associati in 2008, Aspesi bought back his company in 2013. Aspesi was not looking at opening up to another fund until Armònia and Gnocchi came along. Without a second generation in the company to ensure its future, Aspesi, who is 72, is allowing Gnocchi to create a structure to support the international expansion of the brand.
The founder is still actively involved in the product design, supported by longtime collaborator Lawrence Steele.
Aspesi sales in 2015 totaled 42 million euros, or $46.6 million at average exchange rates, and Gnocchi’s goal is to double revenues in three to five years. “It’s doable and without stretching the brand,” said Gnocchi, who emphasized the integrity, consistency and focus of the label through the years. “It’s very recognizable. With so much product in the market, if you are not consistent, you are not interesting.”
Italy is the brand’s main market, representing 70 percent of total sales. While acknowledging the importance of building Aspesi’s business outside the country, Gnocchi saw this in a positive way. “If it works in Italy, it works outside, too,” he said. The company’s headquarters is in Legnano, a one-hour drive from Milan.
Gnocchi is tasked with developing an expanded supply chain, merchandising, logistics, communication and technology. For fall 2017, he will launch a new e-store with The Level Group, which partnered with Aspesi six years ago, strengthening the brand online and establishing an omnichannel service.
The executive plans to first grow Aspesi’s wholesale channel, which accounts for 60 percent of revenues, and its retail division around the world. There are eight stores in Italy and three in Madrid, Munich and Berlin.
Women’s wear accounts for 65 percent of revenues.
The target is more mature markets first, more prone to appreciate “a no-logo, sophisticated, Milanese product,” said Gnocchi.