MILAN — According to Stefano Canali, one of the biggest challenges that heritage brands are facing now is embracing the future with credibility and authenticity.
For this reason, to boost the Canali luxury men’s wear brand’s visibility and presence across the Chinese market, the Italian executive, president and chief executive officer of his family business, has decided to team with one of the country’s most interesting emerging brands to develop a capsule collection: 8ON8.
The Shanghai-based label founded in 2017 by Central Saint Martins men’s fashion graduate Li Gong.
Called Canali Travels With 8ON8, the capsule will be sold at Canali’s Chinese stores and in some of its boutiques across the globe, as well as at a selection of international multibrand shops. With prices in line with Canali’s collections, the capsule will retail from $300 for basketball hats to $3,300 for coats.
“We decided to collaborate with Li Gong because of its unique style, which expresses the very specific vision of the new generations of Chinese men’s consumers,” said Canali, highlighting that this is the first time that a Chinese designer has created a capsule with an Italian luxury men’s brand. “Li Gong was really good at creating a bridge between his signature style and the identity of the Canali brand, delivering products that are respectful of our DNA and at the same time are very appealing for the new generations not only in a key market like China, but also on an international scale.”
The capsule includes 11 looks, all combining Canali’s sartorial expertise with Gong’s colorful, retro futuristic aesthetic, ranging from T-shirts, puffers and hoodies to relaxed suits, silk pajamas and impeccable coats with a young, edgy vibe. The offering is completed by loafers with transparent soles, colorful sneakers, as well as baseball caps, small fabric pouches with drawstrings and printed leather luggage pieces.
“It was a quite unique experience working with the Canali Italian team due to the COVID-19 global emergency. Both sides were not able to travel anywhere. We had to communicate exclusively through video calls. But we never lowered our standard for the final outcome. Every single part has been well-considered,” said Gong, adding that for the collection he found inspiration in “The Travels of Marco Polo,” a 13th-century travelogue written by Rustichello da Pisa from stories told by Italian explorer Marco Polo, who traveled from Italy across Asia and lived at the court of Kublai Khan.
In particular, Gong created “an exclusive hand painting as the main vision to tell the story,” choosing as protagonist the Cafra Cat, a playful cat that, as Canali explained, the Italian brand used in the ’50s to promote and communicate the launch of its first water-repellent pieces.
“This collection is more like an experiment on how to interpret Canali’s iconic tailoring pieces for a younger generation like mine,” said Gong, underscoring that he worked thinking of a city skater boy in a suit or driving a vintage car by the ocean as inspirations. “It was about how I wear my suit with a casual mood, and how I value Canali’s fine material and technique know-how, but adding a new perspective and storytelling. For the Canali Travels with 8ON8 capsule or my own brand 8ON8 itself, I’m always talking about heritage with a new point of view.”
According to Canali, delivering capsules with external designers is a key tool for the brand to experiment with its aesthetic and heritage with a point of view that is meaningful for specific markets. “This capsule created a lot of interest in international retailers because it offers a fresh stylistic image, but at the same time is backed by the credibility of a trusted historic company,” Canali said.
The Italian men’s player made its debut in China two decades ago and it operates a retail network of 21 stores, 12 of which opened in 2021.
The U.S. continue to be the primary market for the brand, but sales in China, which accounts for 20 percent of the Canali business, doubled in the first nine months of 2021 compared to last year, the executive said. Accounting for 40 percent of the brand’s business, sales across the U.S. rose 70 percent in the third quarter compared to the same period last year. “Even if the restart after the lockdowns was a bit slower compared to the States, Canada is also returning to growth,” added Canali.
At the same time, the Middle East and Eastern Europe are growing markets for the brand. “In addition, India, where we operated a joint-venture with a partner, holds great potential,” Canali added, noting that the company is expected to close 2021 with a double-digit growth compared to 2020.
Complementing the brick-and-mortar experience, Canali, along with directly operating an online store for the U.S. and Europe, opened a digital shop at Tmall’s Luxury Pavillion and one on WeChat.
“Digital commerce is certainly not replacing the experience of the physical shopping, but we are investing a lot to increase our online business, also through digital marketing activations,” Canali said.