Translating those wild Missoni patterns to other categories isn’t always easy, but the company has found ways to capitalize on what made it so famous.
MILAN — Those famous zigzag knits are about as synonymous with the name Missoni as any product is with a brand in the world of fashion.
But that’s just not good enough for the family behind the brand. Not content to remain as a niche player, Missoni is intent on building this fashion house into a lifestyle brand and staging a sexy comeback along the way.
Through a combination of eye-catching advertising campaigns — like the most recent one featuring a pouty and newly voluptuous Kate Moss channeling Brigitte Bardot — to a raft of product extensions in areas like home furnishings, accessories and diffusion lines, Missoni is injecting some excitement into its image. The days of playing it safe are over.
“The market had to understand that Missoni was changing but we couldn’t undergo a radical revolution on the production side because we would have risked losing revenue,” recounted marketing director and sales manager Vittorio Missoni, speaking at the group’s newly opened showroom, a renovated umbrella factory featuring an iron stairway and an atrium-style glass ceiling.
Missoni, the son of company founders Ottavio and Rosita, explained that the firm faced a tall order: how to strengthen and modernize without alienating its scarf-loving core customer.
“We used our advertising message to transmit this desire to change. It was a small evolution,” said Missoni, 49, who has spearheaded sales and marketing efforts at his family’s company for most of his adult life. He also played a key role regarding Missoni’s push into new markets such as Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.
For years, Missoni’s advertising campaigns tended toward the traditional. In one of the more noted examples of Missoni’s old-school approach, Benetton alumnus Oliviero Toscani snapped portraits of the family members in 1992.
Then things began to change. Starting in the mid-Nineties, Missoni decided to turn up the heat quotient and established longtime relationships with photographers such as Mario Testino, Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot, as well as world-renowned models Gisele Bündchen and Kate Moss. Over the years, its advertising budget also grew to the current level of roughly $4 million, or about 7 percent of the top line’s revenue, which came to $58.4 million (converted from 54 million euros at current exchange) in 2002.
This year’s spring campaign depicted Bündchen, confident and seductive on the beach, while Moss ushers in the autumn as a Sixties-inspired sex kitten with tousled hair and a luxurious fur stole. Alas and Piggot together shot both campaigns.
“We wanted an image that was stronger, more modern and more defined,” Missoni said.
Turning up the sex appeal has also helped Missoni overcome its seasonal bias proposing hot clothes for warmer spring and summer seasons. At one point, about 60 percent of the company’s clothing sales came during the winter while 40 percent derived from spring and summer. Now the division is closer to 50-50.
“Our product, being knitwear, was always primarily sold in the winter,” he said, “but today summer sales have overtaken those in the winter, which shows that the product has changed into more of a lifestyle item,” he said.
Natasha Melcheis, assistant buyer for the international room at Harrods, said that Missoni, in step with other brands like Marni, Pucci and Roberto Cavalli, is capitalizing on the current rage for colorful prints.
“The Sixties look is extremely important to us. It fits in with this season’s fashion,” she explained. “What we are selling are the sexy, feminine pieces but we don’t have enough of them. They are still doing too many basic pieces. If they were a bit more directional, I think they would have more of a following.”
Missoni is also looking to generate a following through new products and second lines. These diversifications are among the primary revenue drivers for the brand. Total sales of Missoni brand products came to about $123.3 million (or 114 million euros) in 2002, with sales of the premier line accounting for 47 percent of the total.
One of Missoni’s first forays beyond apparel was into home furnishings. Missoni was putting its signature on carpets as early as 1980 through a licensing deal with Saporiti Italia that has since expired. In 1982, Missoni struck a license with T&J Vestor to produce towels, bedding, candles, curtains and other items. Sales of Missoni home collection items totaled about $21.64 million last year.
Synergies with Missoni’s style and expertise with fabric have catapulted the fashion house to become a major protagonist of Milan’s annual design and furniture show. The house is looking to expand in that product category even further, and is ironing out the final details on a licensing pact with Richard Ginori for tableware.
“Everything that we did with clothing we applied to the home collection,” said Missoni, who added that his mother, Rosita, has spearheaded the design and streamlining of the home collection ever since she passed the baton of the house’s apparel designing responsibilities to her daughter Angela in 1997.
The diversification into new products can be challenging for a brand with such a niche expertise in knitwear and an image so strongly linked to a particular pattern, explained Missoni. This task is especially arduous in areas like leather goods and shoes.
“Our customers judge our products on the basis of whether our product is Missoni or isn’t Missoni,” he said. “Often that is not easy to translate [that style] to accessories.”
Still, Missoni is seeing success in this area as well. Its best-selling items by far are its signature scarves and foulards because they add a bit of color to what might be an otherwise drab outfit, and are instantly associated with the brand.
“I think we’ve sold millions of scarves in our history,” he said. “It’s an accessory that is continually requested because it gives a touch of Missoni.”
It’s harder to apply zigzag patterns to an item like shoes, but Missoni is striving to create a different imprint in leathers.
Back in 1986, Missoni signed a license with Bologna-based Sergiolin for handbags and small leather goods. And the ink is barely dry on two new contracts for shoes: Mariella Burani Fashion Group unit Mafra now produces shoes for the top line, while BZ Moda handles footwear for the Missoni Sport line.
Missoni said the company is keen to grow the accessories business, especially in the area of handbags. In 2002, sales of leather goods and other fabric accessories such as scarves totaled $10.82 million. All licenses, which also include eyewear with the German Neo Style, ties, silks and a men’s beach wear line, accounted for sales of $61 million last year.
But while Missoni has sought licensing deals for accessories and its home collection, it appears to be moving in the opposite direction for other product categories.
Take the M Missoni diffusion line for example, which generated 2002 sales of $16.23 million. Marzotto has produced the collection since 1998 but the license expires next year, and Missoni has yet to decide whether to renew the pact. If past experience counts for anything, Missoni might opt to take the line in house, a strategy increasingly popular in recent years among other designers, including Giorgio Armani, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana.
Over the years, Missoni has severed all of its other ties with Marzotto. In 1994, Marzotto halted production of the Missoni and Example by Missoni men’s collections. Missoni also outsourced production of the women’s signature line between 1986 and 1997, before bringing production in house.
Meanwhile, Missoni recently terminated its long-standing relationship with Malerba for the Missoni Sport line and swimwear. Missoni now oversees both lines in house.
Missoni has also been giving its distribution network a facelift. Over the last few years, Missoni has turned to architect Matteo Thun to update the look of the brand’s stores. Missoni owns seven stores, including flagships in Milan, Rome, New York and Paris, and it operates another 60 through franchising agreements.
“[The stores] weren’t ugly, but they were outdated,” Missoni said. “They used to be warmer and featured more wood. Now they are made with more luminous materials. They’re fresher.”