Italy’s Fashion Executives Weigh In on Men’s Wear Industry

MILAN —  This year “cannot be worse than 2020.”

While this observation — and hope — was shared by several industry executives, Italy was thrown into a political crisis Wednesday evening when former prime minister Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party from the country’s ruling coalition. The move left many observers scratching their heads as to the reasons behind this largely unpopular decision — although the general consensus is that Renzi is pursuing his own personal interests. It is a move that could result in another general election as it leaves the current prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, without a parliamentary majority as Italy continues its efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, and shortly after finalizing its Recovery Plan on how to use the more than 208 billion euros it will get from the European Union in grants and low-interest loans.

Milan Men’s Fashion Week kicks off in this precarious context with the livestreamed Ermenegildo Zegna show on Friday and closing on Tuesday with A-Cold-Wall.

Despite the situation, Carlo Capasa, president of Italy’s Camera della Moda, underscored the importance of holding separate men’s and women’s fashion weeks. A number of brands are not on the January calendar, from Salvatore Ferragamo to Missoni, but Capasa believes that the decision by several brands to opt for the coed format is temporary and “linked to the moment and the pandemic.”

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He contended that men’s wear “is an important segment that is penalized if it is offered together with women’s wear,” and that it makes sense for certain brands and situations, but not for all. Capasa also thinks that men’s wear shown in January and June has long been connected to the timing of production and the supply chain and should remain so.

Fendi, with a separate men’s and women’s team, is further differentiating the collections and has no plans to go coed, said chairman and chief executive officer Serge Brunschwig. On Saturday, the company will hold a runway show in Milan behind closed doors, which will be livestreamed.

“Silvia [Venturini Fendi, artistic director of accessories and men’s wear] is very inspired and has very precise ideas for the 2021 collection, it was a must to hold a show,” said Brunschwig. As reported, the first collection by Kim Jones, named Fendi’s artistic director of couture and women’s wear collections in September, will bow for couture on Jan. 27 in Paris.

The executive said the men’s wear category “is growing at Fendi, even faster than the brand’s women’s division,” and the company is investing in highlighting the former with dedicated stores. In November, Fendi opened a new men’s boutique at Shanghai’s Plaza 66. “There are many opportunities in men’s wear and even more so in China — it’s an enormous business in a country that is the motor of luxury,” he observed.

Fendi has about 25 men’s stores around the world and the company has plans to open more going forward.

Brunschwig said Fendi has been expanding “a new kind of tailoring, developing a fun formal” look. Accessories, a core Fendi business, are best-sellers in the men’s category, too, such as the Flow sneakers launched in September or the Peekaboo bag. “We are now launching the Peekaboo I See You for men. It’s a very interesting briefcase, I am in love with it. It’s the century’s briefcase, very high-quality and functional,” he touted.


A Fendi Flow men’s sneaker. Aedo Pultrone

By the end of the first half, Fendi will open a three-story boutique in Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, in a space formerly occupied by a Giorgio Armani unit, with “a special concept,” he teased.

About the efforts channeled into staging Milan Men’s Fashion Week this season, Capasa said companies have “done the most that could be done in this moment. We have to live in the present, and Italians react well to emergencies. The digital acceleration we’ve seen must not be taken for granted.” Capasa said public help in 2021 will be as important as in 2020 to support the companies in the sector, praising their resilience.

According to the updated Fashion Economic Trends provided by the Camera della Moda, preliminary 2020 sales are expected to see a 25 percent drop to 50.4 billion euros. Capasa saw a silver lining, as the Camera had expected a 30 percent decrease. Including the jewels, watches and cosmetics sectors, revenues are seen falling 27.5 percent to 65.4 billion euros in 2020.

Exports last year were down 22 percent to 42.7 billion euros. Including the other industries connected to fashion, exports fell 25 percent to 53.6 billion euros.

The Fashion Economic Trends study offers two forecasts for 2021, given the uncertainties linked to the success of the vaccination campaign and to the political choices to support the economy. In a more favorable scenario that sees the gradual end of the pandemic in 2021 and the full success of economic relaunch policies, industry sales are expected to increase 15 percent to 75.5 billion euros. In a less favorable environment that sees restrictions to contain the virus extend to 2022 and a limited impact of political measures, revenues are forecast to gain 6 percent to 69.3 billion euros.

The Camera hailed the positive Brexit deal between the U.K. and the EU unveiled before Christmas, which will allow trade of fashion-related goods with the U.K. without any additional duties or limits to quantities.

Capasa admitted his concerns about Italy’s storied tradition of men’s formal tailoring, but he expressed his confidence in innovation and research, citing for example the Ermenegildo Zegna Group for the evolution of its sartorial designs in the sign of comfort and Kiton’s launch of the more relaxed and younger KNT collection.

Gildo Zegna, CEO of the family-owned men’s wear powerhouse, refreshed and energetic after a sports-filled Christmas break that helped him “recover inner strength,” was confident the vaccines and a return to traveling would result in a more favorable second half of the year.

He underscored the importance of Greater China, which helped the group’s recovery in the second semester of 2020, with a high double-digit increase in sales compared with 2019. “In the first part of 2021, we see this trend continue, and we’ve entered into the cycle of the Chinese New Year,” said Zegna. “We are in tune with it, offering specific products and a dedicated capsule. We increasingly work on specific projects and carefully plan our strategies depending on the market.” Zegna will open seven stores in China in 2021, following four openings last year. The company is also planning to unveil a store in Hong Kong at Pacific Place and one in Bangkok this year.


A look from the Ermenegildo Zegna’s Chinese New Year capsule. courtesy image

Dubai has also emerged as a shopping capital “with no seasons and no calendars, busy 12 months a year. It’s a free city and freedom is a rarity now,” he contended. Zegna is well-positioned in the city with five stores, including a flagship at Dubai Mall, “one of the three top malls in the world,” he said. “I’ve counted 30 different nationalities shopping in our stores in Dubai.” In addition, the Expo kicking off in October is sure to bring additional business to the international hub, he noted.

Russia also performed well in the second half last year, recording double-digit growth boosted by local customers, said Zegna.

While the board has not approved year-end revenues, Zegna said controlled working capital, inventories and capital expenditures will allow the company to close with positive earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization and to keep revenues above the 1 billion euro mark. In 2019, the company reported sales of just above 1.3 billion euros. “We expect sales to decrease in the low 20s [percentages]. It could have been worse,” he said.

The executive marked his fourth decade working for the company and confided that the U.S. has a special place in his heart, having begun his career in that region. “My son Angelo lives there and is head of retail and merchandising. It’s a great market we believe in, and I am personally close with major department stores and specialty stores, such as Mitchells. It’s been tough but [the region] will bounce back, we helped each other out and we will return to be strong together. I still believe in America’s power of wholesale and that we can acquire new market shares.”

Asked about his main objectives, Zegna said it will be key to develop the online business and to be more effective in commercializing products the brand is less known for, such as knitwear. “People are now wearing the same clothes indoors or outdoors. Our acquisition of [leading manufacturer of high-quality jersey fabrics] Dondi [in 2019] was great, it helped us work with jersey for more fluid outfits that feel like knits. We are pushing on this and we’ve had great results in knitwear, since we have our own weaving plant,” said Zegna, wearing a yellow turtleneck sweater during the video call, the embodiment of a more relaxed look. “We’ve also seen a strong increase in accessories, especially sneakers, and our Su Misura held its own, better than we thought.”

Kiton has adjusted its tailoring to fit with the times, said CEO Antonio De Matteis. “The pandemic has accelerated preexisting lifestyle changes,” he offered. “The home is at the center of our lives, and we are all wearing more relaxed and comfortable clothes, so our jackets are softer, pants have drawstrings. We follow the needs of clients, and they are looking for comfort.” Kiton is participating in Pitti Connect, Pitti Uomo’s digital platform, and in Milan Fashion Week, livestreaming its presentation.


A look from Kiton’s fall 2021 collection. courtesy image

De Matteis was as driven as his peers. “Despite it all, we must all be proactive and continue to look to the future,” he said, adding that he expected the second half of 2021 to be positive, marking “a restart, as people have a strong desire to return to life as it was. We’ve been active and ready to find ourselves busy when things will pick up again.”

The pre-collection sales campaign held in November “showed positive signs,” enthused De Matteis. Top-quality materials and products entirely made in Italy through Kiton’s five plants are key to the success of the brand, he said.

China, while still a small business for Kiton, grew 30 percent in 2020 and “the countries of the former USSR also held up,” said De Matteis. Kiton has invested in renovating and expanding stores in Russia.

Globally, the company has around 60 stores.

China helped boost Prada’s performance last year. Earlier this month, the Italian luxury company provided a business update, saying it ended the year 2020 on an a positive note, seeing a progressive recovery in sales in the second half and reporting that retail sales showed “a full recovery to 2019 levels” in the month of December.

“I am very satisfied with how we have faced the serious difficulties of the year that just ended and how, despite the persistent uncertainty which will likely continue for the next months, we have managed to deliver positive results,” said CEO Patrizio Bertelli at the time.

In particular, the Asia-Pacific area reported a strong performance as China showed a 52 percent growth.

Prada’s men’s show, codesigned by Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons, will be livestreamed on Sunday.

That same day, Etro was meant to hold a live show, but due to growing restrictions, which could even see the Lombardy region enter the so-called “red” high-risk zone this weekend, the event will be livestreamed and held behind closed doors. “It was inevitable,” said Francesco Freschi, general manager of Etro.

Underscoring the ongoing uncertainties, Freschi said “we would need a crystal ball” to discuss 2021. “The perspectives change each day,” he continued. Despite the “complicated” political issues in the U.S., “half of Europe being closed,” and the ongoing slowdown at the beginning of the year, Freschi expressed his confidence in the resilience of the brand, in the vaccines, and in a rebirth in the second half, “seeing light at the end of the tunnel.”

With triple-digit growth, the digital channel partly compensated the closure of stores due to the lockdowns, but Freschi expects company revenues to be in line with 2019 only in 2022.

Etro’s men’s wear division is “fundamental” for the brand, Freschi observed, and it accounts for between 35 and 40 percent of total revenues. Designed by Kean Etro, the category “needs its own space and visibility,” hence the need to stage a dedicated show, although he admitted there are challenges without a physical audience, missing out on the “emotions of the moment.”

Roberta Benaglia, CEO of MSGM and founding partner and CEO of Style Capital, which has a stake in the Italian brand, also sounded determined in “having the courage to move forward.” One example is Style Capital’s investment in December in Australian luxury fashion brand Zimmermann. “In difficult moments, we must go the extra mile,” claimed Benaglia.

The executive said men’s wear at MSGM, founded and designed by Massimo Giorgetti, showed great resilience in 2020, although she said the category is smaller than women’s wear, accounting for 25 percent of total sales. Pointing to the relevance of the category, MSGM will hold a digital fashion show on Sunday, after presenting a video last season — although that did garner a lot of attention on social media, delivering a message of inclusivity because of a diverse cast and spontaneously celebrating freedom, love and friendship.

Benaglia believes one reason men’s wear has performed well is that it is “more functional, as men shop in a way that is less instinctive,” and because it has a higher incidence rate in Asia, which is a key luxury market that has shown greater strength than others.

The executive said she expected MSGM’s sales in 2021 to return to 2019 levels. That year, the company reported revenues of 50 million euros, while 2020 is seen to close with a 20 percent decrease. “December performed well at retail, but we work a lot with wholesalers, and there’s been a shift forward of deliveries. Around 40 percent of the spring 2021 collection was not delivered between November and December but, because of the uncertainties, many clients asked us to wait on the shipments,” explained Benaglia.

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