CASTRETTE DI VILLORBA, Italy — Luciano Benetton is back in full force, and he knows what he wants.
“We are confident, we are working and we know the turnaround won’t be fast, but we hope we will reach that level that we deserve,” said the entrepreneur, 82, in a rare public appearance on Friday. “I am back as representative of the family, flanked by good managers, but the time of the managers is over.”
Although the former chairman of the family-owned group retired in April 2012 and no longer has any operative role, he has decided to take matters into his own hands and has become newly involved in United Colors of Benetton after years of declining sales. Revenues fell 15.4 percent to 1.37 billion euros in 2016, from 1.62 billion euros in 2014.
The entrepreneur is behind Oliviero Toscani’s own return to the group and, on Friday, Benetton showed his support to the photographer by attending the official launch of the new course of Fabrica, the think tank created by the latter in 1994. The two men famously collaborated for years on controversial ad campaigns in the Eighties and Nineties, and Toscani photographed a new communication campaign for the brand that bowed in December, showing a primary school class made up of a multiracial group of children.
Wearing his staple rounded glasses and a sage-green overcoat over white pants, Benetton on Friday said it would take at least a year to see the results of the changes in production, distribution and communication that he is spearheading. “It’s an intense process and we are fine-tuning the direction,” he explained calmly in his gentlemanly way, bulky bodyguards at his sides as TV crews and the press angled to catch his remarks after taking the stage with Toscani.
He jokingly confessed he “was better before, when I didn’t have these problems,” but he was nonetheless focused and expressed hope things could be turned around. He said the company is mulling bringing back production to Europe and North Africa, among other issues. Asked about whether manufacturing company Olympias would also return in-house, Benetton said he did not know. Seeking to reach out to the brand’s customers, he said the group is also working on improving its network of stores. “Color is missing,” he said simply about one of the main issues.
Toscani, who is back collaborating with the Italian fashion group after 17 years, has lost no time. After revealing the new communication campaign in December, the photographer has mapped out plans to relaunch Fabrica and Friday kicked off with an afternoon of music, photography and art.
“I have time, but I don’t want to lose any time. What is done, is done. There is no nostalgia in this, we don’t want to relaunch, redo or anything of the sort,” said Toscani in his usual, no-nonsense way at the Tadao Ando-designed headquarters. “Fabrica will be the place to go, to travel to, just like Paris or New York.”
There are no rules, he added, since “we don’t really know yet where we are going” and the goal is to “always renovate,” in a quest for “extreme research of new talents and new collaborators. One comes here to learn from intelligent, creative and talented people — forget the traditional schools.”
During the opening event, Toscani underscored that Fabrica “is an integral part of the company, because United Colors of Benetton is the first that will use this space. No other company has this platform. We seek and need talent,” he said. Turning to Benetton, he said: “I have to thank this boy, who is the youngest of them all — and is also a Martian.”
Named Fabrica Circus 24/7 x52, the project is an arena open to the public that celebrates imagination, a cultural point of reference to meet international artists and professionals, a Renaissance-like location that stimulates discussion and inspires questions. It will offer a wide range of events throughout the year, cycles of conferences, performances, workshops, concerts and exhibitions. Among them, four multidisciplinary seasonal festivals, the first of which will run March 23 to 25. Fabrica will also launch Daily Colors, evolving into an online daily the storied print magazine first launched in 1991 that was eventually published every two months. Toscani has tapped a new team including Michel Mallard and Alex Marashian to mold Colors.
Asked about Luciano Benetton’s involvement, Toscani said “he is fundamental, the motor, the brain” behind the changes being put in motion to turn around the business. “We are working for United Colors of Benetton and we need to create wealth, but also beauty, magic in this location, all that has vanished.”
He praised Benetton for not being simply focused on the bottom line. Opening Fabrica to the public is a sign of generosity, he contended, but admitted that “we want to create interest, we want for the press to talk about this.” Toscani has high hopes for the entrepreneur’s return to the company. “I trust him to fix it all, he is calm in his anger,” he said.
The first exhibitions being held at Fabrica include works by German photographer Daniel Stier, who investigates the relation between human beings and technology; Noa Jansma, a Dutch student, founder of the Instagram account @dearcatcallers, with the aim of creating awareness about the “objectification of women” harassed in daily life; Mexican musician Jorge Govea, aka Wakal, who lives in Paris and samples the sounds of the streets, mixing them with several rhythms and electronic genres, and the Venetian duo Ackeejuice Rockers, or King P, and Ali Selecta, DJ producers discovered by Kanye West who have collaborated with the likes of Sean Paul, Nicki Minaj and Guè Pequeno, among others.