MILAN — Consolidation is the new black.
Giorgio Armani is the latest designer to announce a new brand strategy. After his Emporio Armani show last week, he revealed his decision to cease the Armani Collezioni and Armani Jeans brands and use only the Giorgio Armani, Emporio Armani and A|X Armani Exchange names. The new strategy will be effective starting with the spring 2018 season. Armani Collezioni and Armani Jeans will be blended into those three main lines. Armani is the latest in a string of designers and companies that have streamlined collections, including Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Marc Jacobs, Dolce & Gabbana and Paul Smith.
Emporio Armani will become “a cluster of ideas,” the designer said, referring to distribution both at retail and wholesale. “We are rethinking our stores. I don’t believe in a strict separation of categories, jackets all in one place, skirts all in another, pants in yet another.”
Armani said the goal was also to “serve a different public, showing different lines within one single space. Customers want to enjoy the shopping experience. Their request is to be entertained. We should keep in mind the meaning of the name Emporio,” the designer said. “It should be an emporium.”
At the same time, he claimed this diversification would help wholesale accounts to sell and display the collections. “There will be advantages in carrying jeans under the Emporio label, for example.
“There was too much confusion with so many collections,” the designer continued. “Times have changed and we have to evolve.”
Retailers agree. Daniella Vitale, chief executive officer of Barneys, called Armani’s plan “a great idea. The lines were blurred before.” She noted “designers are looking at offering collections that have more consistency and a communication strategy that is more universal. This is hard to do when you have multiple brands.”
“For relevancy of fashion and to alleviate confusion, bringing lines together makes sense,” said Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus.
He referenced Burberry and Marc Jacobs as successful examples of this strategy, which also conveys a lifestyle message. “It’s in line with how customers dress today. They no longer wear a single label from head to toe, and they mix and re-create their look with their own personal style,” Downing said.
Anita Barr, group fashion director at Harvey Nichols, agreed “it is a positive move, one that will bring clarity with regards to brand messaging versus the multiple messaging of recent years. By consolidating the brands under one Armani brand message and assuming a clearly defined tiering, distribution and marketing strategy, we are confident that this should cut through to the consumer.”
A U.S. retailer who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said “it can be confusing when brands have too many different collections. The customer often doesn’t understand the difference between the various collections, and when too narrowly segmented, each collection usually ends up missing something that is being covered in the other. It has potential to be a good move with each remaining brand having a broader scope and breadth of price point.”
The retailer expressed one concern: “If the U.S. customer who bought Armani Collezioni feels they are trading down with Emporio Armani. In the end it will come down to the product and the perceived value of the collection. If the product is good and the prices are competitive and it is marketed in a compelling way that the customer understands and can relate to, then it will have been a good decision. From a retail perspective, it makes sense that they are looking for a way to jump-start and reignite the customer interest in and relevance of the Collezioni brand.”
Armando Branchini, deputy chairman of Milan-based consultancy InterCorporate, also weighed in. “This move emphasizes the Armani name, and formal and more casual looks will coexist under the Giorgio Armani brand,” he said. Branchini noted that this kind of “brand hierarchy was typical of major companies” in the past, but this change is a sign of the times and allows an expanded range of prices, “smoother and more modulated, without being limited by the subbrands. This will reduce third-party doors while helping them to increase their sales performance.”
Branchini felt that Collezioni performed better in the past, because the rigidity of the subbrand made it harder in time to replicate what was already in the Emporio or Giorgio Armani lines. “It became more and more complicated to arrange a delta of prices for each group of clothes, shirts, skirts, pants, etc. Pricing will now be more efficacious and less conditioned.”
The restructuring will affect the group’s giant network of stores. At the end of 2015, the last available figures, there were 2,983 points of sale, comprised of 165 Giorgio Armani stores, 338 Emporio Armani stores, 754 Armani Collezioni stores, 238 A|X Armani Exchange stores, 880 AJ Armani Jeans stores, 198 Armani Junior stores and 56 Armani/Casa stores in more than 60 countries across the globe.
The designer opened his first Emporio store in Milan in 1981 — before his Giorgio Armani venue in the city in 1982. The designer launched his diffusion lines early. In 1979, just four years after founding his company and his signature Borgonuovo label, he started his first diffusion lines, then called Giorgio Armani Le Collezioni and Mani. In 1981, he created the Emporio Armani and AJ/Armani Jeans collections. Ten years later, an even more mainstream A/X Armani Exchange was born. Over the years, the Emporio Armani image was tweaked from that of a younger diffusion line to that of a trendier, more fashion-oriented complement to the top-tier Giorgio Armani line.
Through his hands-on approach and scrupulous control, Armani was a pioneer in anticipating the trend of luxury to the masses, seeing it as an opportunity, rather than a risk. His designer denim and T-shirts — as well as his sweeping eagle logo — helped build his name globally and cement his stature.
Armani Collezioni and Armani Jeans were more geared toward wholesale, such as department stores and multibrand specialty boutiques, which may also have influenced the designer in his decision, given the challenging times this channel is facing.
For a vertically integrated group to reduce overlap among the brands, the company over the years brought production in-house rather than relying on past licensees such as those with GFT and Simint.
The designer’s idea of an emporium was first conceived in 2000, when he opened Armani/Via Manzoni 31, which included a range of different brands from Emporio Armani to Armani Jeans and Armani Casa, as well as a Café, Nobu, and flowers, for example. Units at Chater House in Hong Kong in 2002, in Munich in 2003, and in Shanghai in 2004 were modeled after this concept.
As reported, Paul Smith plans to consolidate its collections under two labels, Paul Smith and a new iteration of the collection PS by Paul Smith, which also will mark the launch of a new retail format for the company.
Burberry has revealed plans to consolidate its three labels — Prorsum, Brit and London — under the sole Burberry name.
Smith’s and Burberry’s moves to consolidate echo that of Marc Jacobs and Dolce & Gabbana. These brands have folded their secondary lines into their main collections, in a bid to move upmarket and fortify the brand name of each collection. Ralph Lauren is now focusing on Purple Label and Polo.
Similarly, Donna Karan International shuttered its Collections business to focus its operations on the DKNY brand.