NEW YORK — “I like to work.”
That’s a good thing, since not only is Claudio Marenzi spearheading a major expansion of Herno, his family’s venerable outerwear company, but he’s also the new president of Pitti Immagine.
Marenzi made a quick stop in New York before heading to Toronto and back home to Italy to take one more look at the space that will become Herno’s first American store. The 3,000-square-foot space at 95 Greene Street between Prince and Spring Streets, is scheduled to open by the end of June. It will be sandwiched between Chloé and Tiffany & Co. and near Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, MCM and A Bathing Ape. A Fendi store is expected to open on the block later this year.
“It’s very luxury, but there’s also Bape and MCM,” Marenzi said over a coffee at Sessanta in SoHo. “This is a block where multichoice customers can shop.”
Herno, which was founded by Marenzi’s parents Giuseppe Marenzi and Alessandra Diana in Lesa in Italy, in 1948, has built a reputation for manufacturing high-end outerwear for nearly 70 years. The brand started after World War II when Giuseppe lost his job working for an airplane manufacturer and joined a raincoat producer. He applied the skills he had acquired in military aviation by using caster oil, the same substance used in airplane fuel, to make waterproof cotton for the coats.
He soon opened his own business and over the years became the go-to outerwear manufacturer for luxury brands including Giorgio Armani, Jil Sander, Prada and others.
While that strategy served the brand well for many years, in the mid-2000s, the manufacturing end of the business started to struggle as these luxury labels sought out less-expensive options, according to Claudio.
Marenzi, now 55, had been working at the company since he was a teenager and took the helm in 2007, decided it was time to revamp Herno’s business model. Instead of manufacturing for others, he opted to concentrate on growing the Herno brand.
Although this didn’t sit well initially with his brothers, who were also part of the brand at the time, Marenzi ultimately prevailed. His brothers exited the business in 2011, and he bought back the 49 percent stake that had been sold to a private equity firm in 2012, leaving him as sole owner.
And the revamp is paying dividends.
In 2005, he said, Herno had sales of 1 million euros. By 2016, that number had reached 76 million euros, or around $85 million, nearly double that of the 33 million euros it achieved in 2012 and up 10 percent from the prior year. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in 2016 increased 14 percent, and this year, he’s projecting sales of 90 million euros, or around $100 million.
Marenzi attributes Herno’s success to its unique blend of technological expertise and modern sensibility. He said the label was among the first to use high-performance textiles, which it also combines with luxury fabrics in some pieces. “We mixed Gore-Tex with cashmere, which was a strange mixture at the time,” he said. Herno was also a pioneer in the use of lightweight down, which it injected into its garments instead of using sacks.
Although the selection is broad, the brand continues to concentrate only on outerwear. In addition to its main line, it has partnered with illustrator Pierre-Louis Mascia on a special capsule collection for the past three seasons. And at Pitti Uomo in June, the brand will introduce a commuter bicycle collection, Herno Laminar Bike, designed to appeal to the ath-leisure customer. The brand was also an official licensee of the America’s Cup.
Today, some 60 percent of the brand’s business comes from exports, but the U.S. accounts for only 7 to 8 percent of overall sales. That is in contrast to Japan, which is 16 percent of the overall business.
Marenzi believes there is “a lot of potential in the U.S.,” and that number can be “at least four times the size — that’s our goal.”
Herno is carried in retailers including Bloomingdale’s, which operates shop-in-shops in New York and Boston, as well as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York, Nordstrom and many independents including Mitchell’s, Richards and Kilgore Trout.
“We are growing all over the world, but the U.S. is growing the most,” he said. “Now we have to go deeper.”
Outside the U.S., the brand operates 47 stores, including 14 in Japan, five in Korea, five in Russia and many in European cities such as Milan, Rome and Paris.
Because opening stores in the U.S. are so expensive, Claudio said there are no plans to add more U.S. units at this time. Instead, the brand is investing in a showroom, staff and the retail store to increase its reach here.
“It’s a big investment and it’s not easy to handle,” he said of the Greene Street unit, “but it’s affordable. And it’s important to give a sign of our willingness to invest in this country. So I’m putting my money here.”