MILAN — Italy’s storied and pure men’s wear players are trying to find true north.
As consumers look beyond the traditional suit and seek designs that incorporate elements of streetwear and sportswear, brands are finding they must pivot or wither.
“The business of classic men’s wear died about five, six years ago. And it’s not a problem of the specific brands, but it’s a social issue,” said Antonia co-owner Maurizio Purificato, who contended there is “no market for anything too classic, from Thom Browne to Corneliani. Those men who 10 years ago used to come to the store every season to buy seven to 10 suits, now don’t want to invest their money in the same way.”
He also pointed out that the number of workplaces that require suits on a daily basis has shrunk. “Due to this current situation, if we have 20,000 euros to spend, we prefer to buy 20,000 euros on Off-White than 20,000 euros on Thom Browne. The best-selling categories are outerwear, sneakers and T-shirts, and I’m not talking about cheap products, but items which are very expensive.”
As a result, Antonia no longer carries the major classic men’s wear brands, but rather “smaller labels, such as Attolini, which is a beautiful Neapolitan sartorial brand that is appealing also for fashion-focused stores.
“However, we sell tiny volumes of this type of products. In terms of more classic products, we don’t carry suits, we have blazers, jackets and we see a great interest in beautiful knitwear,” he said.
“The requirements of wearing a suit are also different — it is simply no longer daily attire. Even Wall Street traders are now seeking out the latest sneakers to wear with their suit pants and shirt. In many ways, suiting has transitioned further into occasion wear now,” concurred Chris Kyvetos, founder and creative director of Sneakerboy, and the buyer and franchise partner of Balenciaga in Australia as well as the men’s wear director at Stylebop, the Munich-based e-commerce site.
“This shift is really lovely and has resulted in beautiful product entering the market, but it does mean that it is used more sparingly, and therefore purchased less frequently. For us as a retailer, we naturally need to move with the times and reflect the same shift. In the same way that fashion houses are tapping into this new focus on casual wear and cross-genre influences — looking to Virgil [Abloh] at Louis Vuitton — that same strategy also applies to Stylebop. We now buy tailoring for the site that is more special and often more formal, going for real highlight pieces. We often take an evening view on tailoring now, as this is where we are continuing to see the demand.”
Clothes reflect the changes in society, which has dramatically changed from the time when pure men’s wear brands began to emerge and stand out.
“There are also newer cultural influences today, coming out of music, streetwear and so on. Hip-hop didn’t really exist when Brioni built its business, and is there any other genre that has had such a profound impact on fashion over the last couple of decades?” said Kyvetos.
Coed shows are also garnering traction, which also reflects the way younger customers shop, he explained. “In the past, it was about shopping by gender and then filtering by brand. Nowadays, the Gen Z consumer shops by brand and may filter by gender later if they wish. Younger generations don’t look to classic gender codes in fashion. Ultimately, it’s a generational shift, and one that will continue to evolve.”
As Brunello Cucinelli often says, “nobody wants to look older,” and the entrepreneur carefully fine-tunes his collections with youthful details. Whether it’s a softer color, a hood here or an easier fit there, Cucinelli still targets that affluent man who already has a wardrobe full of suits and wants something that feels fresh and on-trend. In July, while, reporting a 9 percent gain in sales in the first half at his namesake company, he was upbeat, expecting “consistent and double-digit” growth in the year, noting that the orders for the men’s spring 2019 collection were “delivering very interesting numbers, thus confirming that there is a great chance in men’s wear for the Italian luxury sporty chic style that identifies us.”
Reporting a 64 percent spike in net profits last year, Ermenegildo Zegna Group ceo Gildo Zegna praised artistic director Alessandro Sartori, who “is making the difference,” since his return to the company in 2016 because he has “brought modernity and style to the company,” and has launched capsules and Su Misura and a bespoke atelier, finding a balance between attracting new customers and keeping the established ones.”
In January, Canali said it was expanding its collections with sportier looks and accessories, tapping former Berluti designer Hyun-Wook Lee after a restructuring of the group, which included shutting down one of its seven production centers.
Kiton in June presented its second KTN Kiton New Texture collection, a younger and easier line that explores fabrics and new technologies by twins Mariano and Walter De Matteis, sons of ceo Antonio De Matteis, who said it had performed “well beyond expectations.” Isaia, meanwhile, has been working to expand its sportswear division for a few seasons, growing it to represent 25 percent of total sales.
Several Italian men’s wear brands have recently changed hands and seen a revolving door of designers and executives as the new owners seek to reinvent them. The Qatar-based Mayhoola fund, which owns Pal Zileri, for example, tapped Paolo Roviera as ceo in 2014, who was then succeeded by Giovanni Mannucci, who exited in July, as Marco Sanavia took his place. A year ago, Rocco Iannone succeeded Mauro Ravizza Krieger as the brand’s creative director, as Mannucci was rethinking how to adapt Pal Zileri’s codes to the modern context. Roviera went on to helm Corneliani, which was acquired by Bahrain-based Investcorp in 2016 and he is building the brand’s business internationally, also through the digital channel and just unveiled its first-ever online store in the U.S.
In May of last year, private equity fund Wise SGR, which held a 98 percent stake in Boglioli, accepted an offer made by Spain-based international fund PHI Industrial Acquisitions to buy the clothing firm shortly after creative director Davide Marello had left the brand, and welcomed new president Francesco Russo last October.
In November, Fosun took a majority stake in Caruso and Umberto Angeloni, chairman and ceo, left and was succeeded by his eldest son Marco Angeloni. The latest change at Brioni, controlled by Kering, saw creative director Nina-Maria Nitsche exit in July after only one another year. She had succeeded the short stint of Justin O’Shea under former ceo Gianluca Flore.
All this turmoil ensues while fashion brands continue to log gains in their men’s wear division, from Gucci and Versace to Valentino, which have all found a way to court Millennials, and as the Italian men’s wear fashion industry posted a 3.4 percent increase in revenues last year to 9.3 billion euros, beating expectations, according to industry association Sistema Moda Italia.
“Although everyone finds his own style and balance, generally speaking everything today is more décontracté (laid-back),” said Alessandro Maria Ferreri, ceo and owner of The Style Gate consulting firm. “Young designers are giving strong impulses to men, telling them they have alternatives [to suits], that there’s a different way to dress, which has brought customers’ demand to change and formalwear to be penalized.
“If you think about footwear, sneakers are today’s style barometer,” added Ferreri, whose firm has done work for the likes of Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s in the Middle East, the Al Tayer Group, Harvey Nichols and Furla, among others.
“[Successful] brands are changing the male customers’ buying experience, making it more similar to the female one. Stores such as Barneys New York are investing in their men’s divisions and the messages that brands like Gucci are sending are more interesting from the men’s point of view. [These brands] are building a new concept of men’s wear, revolutionizing it, evolving it, breaking boundaries and norms, which no longer exist.”