MILAN — The Canali family is standing behind their 84-year-old namesake men’s wear company.
With a view to further expanding its collections, from formal to sportier looks and accessories, Canali has tapped Hyun-Wook Lee as its exclusive in-house designer.
“This is a very important step for us as it’s the first time we single out one designer to oversee all categories, and evolve the offer,” general manager Stefano Canali said Friday at the company’s showroom in Milan, ahead of the brand’s presentation on Saturday. Given Lee’s recent arrival at the company, his first collection for Canali will bow during Milan Men’s Fashion Week in June.
Born in Seoul in 1973, Lee comes to Canali with 17 years of experience in fashion, having worked at Berluti in Paris and contributed to its foray into men’s apparel. He previously worked at Ermenegildo Zegna, Versace and Gianfranco Ferré. Lee graduated in design and fine arts from the University of Chung-Ang in Seoul and has a background in art. He has created sculptures in wood and metal, designed jewelry and painted fabrics. In 2000, he specialized in fashion design at Milan’s Istituto Marangoni.
“He will add style to all the categories, offer a softer tailoring and develop our potential,” said Elisabetta Canali, global communications director at the family-owned company.
The Canalis alluded to the possible expansion of licenses but declined to elaborate. The first such sign is the launch of the brand’s first eyewear line at Milan’s eyewear trade show MIDO in February. As reported in September, Canali SpA inked a five-year licensing agreement with L’Amy America, part of International Luxury Group, to produce and distribute a luxury collection of sunglasses and ophthalmic frames. The collection will be rolled out globally starting in March.
The designer’s arrival and plans for the future signal the ongoing commitment of the Canalis, after denying media speculation in November that they were looking to sell the company, as reported.
A month earlier, the company had begun the dismissal procedure of 134 employees working in the label’s factory in Carate Brianza, a one-hour drive from Milan. Dedicated to the manufacturing of jackets, the plant, which was one of the company’s seven production centers, had to be shut down as a consequence of the market contraction that took place in 2009, Stefano Canali explained on Friday.
“The situation was mystified and there was a lot of misinformation,” he said. “Over the past nine years, we as a family invested to find a solution and maintain the jobs, but our efforts did not have the effect we hoped for and nobody gave us credit for this. It was a painful decision. If the company had been owned by a private equity fund, the plant would have closed eight years ago.”
His sister Elisabetta added: “The most unpleasant part was all the critics. We respect the work of people, and the whole issue was politically manipulated.” The “gratuitous publicity” for some parties came ahead of general elections in the country, scheduled for March 4, she said.
The siblings underscored that all Canali’s production is in Italy, which is “an onerous choice.”
While Italy is still weighed down by a lackluster economy, Stefano Canali expressed confidence in the performance of other countries.
The company is expected to close 2017 with revenues in line with the previous year, totaling 216 million euros, and the executive said there are “good signals” for 2018 based on the orders for spring 2018. “We expect single-digit growth in 2018,” he said. “In such a complicated context, it’s comforting and these positive results are even more valuable.”
Canali has seen a single-digit growth in the Americas, which includes the U.S., Canada and Central America. “It’s an important area for us and it will continue to reward us,” he noted.
Russia and the U.K. have been increasing at a double-digit pace, while Asia-Pacific is “stable” with growth in China and South Korea.
Speaking of Lee, Canali said the designer “understands the concept of timeless elegance of the brand, with details that are not shouted, and harmonious proportions.”
Lee praised Canali’s “solid history and high-end sartorial designs. We can raise this level even more and expand in different categories. It can become very interesting, while avoiding the fashion-oriented trends.”
Prior to Lee, designer Andrea Pompilio was tapped in March 2014 as a creative consultant and he remained until April 2016, when he and the company mutually agreed to not renew their partnership beyond four collections.
During his tenure, Pompilio refreshed the image of the brand via collections where Canali’s signature sartorial look was updated with a more contemporary attitude, high-tech fabrics and pops of bold colors.
Stefano Canali said the company plans to further invest in digital commerce after launching its e-store in Europe and the U.S. “The goal is to be available globally and in an omnichannel way in a year and a half.”
That said, the company plans to also develop its retail network in 2018, with the addition of 10 new boutiques in China, the U.S., Ukraine, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates.