Borsalino rebounds with funky designs and fresh strategy
Borsalino, a magical name and brand, hasn’t had the most magical time of late, with a pandemic-induced factory closure and a tough global market, but a visit to the brand’s new showroom in Florence this week; its art-inspired new collection and a sit-down with its new management reveals a brand rebounding forcefully.
Referencing the post-war Arte Povera movement, an art movement based in creativity with unlikely rough materials, Borsalino displayed all sorts of funky effects in its revamped classic fedoras. Riffing on Arte Povera leaders like Jannis Kounellis, who used rags and twigs on canvases or Alberto Burri, known for his polymaterial style.
The result was a Fall-Winter 2022/23 celebration by the Maison’s Creative Curator Giacomo Santucci that injected a much-needed new informality into the Borsalino aesthetic.
Playing also with '70s archive ideas, this new series of hats mashed up elements of découpage, a maltinto effect, saddle-stitching and spazialisti holes. From fedoras dusted in cement-like finishes; to trilbys completed with patchwork shapes stapled onto the brim. All in a palette of blue, rust and green. There were also longhaired brushed felt animalier tiger motifs, posh funk-star style; and a graphic tiara hat with a novel bamboo band.
The whole aesthetic smartly dovetailing with the brand’s new direction – targeting fashion-forward big boutiques and state-of-the-art e-commerce sites to reach a younger, hipper consumer.
So, we caught up with Philippe Camperio, whose family’s Swiss-based investment vehicle Haeres Capital acquired Borsalino in 2018, and Managing Director Mauro Baglietto – in charge since September 2020 - to hear their visions of the future of the nec plus ultra of Italian hatters.
FashionNetwork.com: Why did you buy Borsalino?
Philippe Camperio: I don’t come from the luxury industry, but private equity. But when the opportunity was presented to me to buy Borsalino I immediately recognized the legacy, the DNA and the heritage. My first reaction was that I’d love to buy it but it’s probably a $100 million company. But then I was very surprised that it was a very small company. And what struck me was the size of the company compared to the prominence of the name. So, this was an arbitrage operation, where basically we buy something completely undervalued because there is so much to do.
FNW: What do you plan to do that your predecessors failed to do?
Mauro Baglietto: How long have you got!? The feeling of this brand is so strong, but the revenues are not at the level of the brand’s power. We are in the pandemic and had to close down production last year. For you know you cannot produce hats with smart working. You need people in the plant! So, 2020 was a very difficult year.
But we took advantage of the pandemic in part to refocus on distribution; become far more contemporary and develop our business within fashion stores. And by working on a new way of showing the product. Like last summer when we opened several pop-ups in St Tropez, Mykonos and Monte Carlo that were very successful. It’s a great way to attract a new customer.
We have a good business in Europe, but our goal for the future is to be strong in North America and Asia-Pacific. There, we have long-term distribution in Japan but we must be much stronger in mainland China.
FNW: What do you plan in terms of product diversification?
MB: We really have to grow in terms of gender and develop the women’s collection much more. In the past we were 70% men and 30% women. But in the recent past we have made it to 55% men and 45% women. Actually, maybe a lot more, as lots of women actually shop hats that we consider men’s hats!
FNW: How big is your distribution?
MB: We have 11 mono-brand stores mostly in Italy, including our historical store in the Galliera in Milan. And in November we just had a very successful opening in Linate, inside its new Luxury Square. Worldwide we are in some 300 sales points, working in a qualitative way, with a display presentation that explains our product in a luxury environment. That’s essential for us. For us it’s vital to be the trendiest fashion stores. And we are working well with our own e-commerce, after rebuilding our site. And we are with luxury e-tailers like 24S, Moda Operandi and others.
FNW: Are you planning a bag or ready-to-wear?
MB: Yes, we want to stay in the accessory contest, but developing a license of soft accessories – from small leather goods, and maybe handbag and perhaps eventually shoes. But our core business is and will be hats.
FNW: A Borsalino hotel?
PC: Well, everyone around this table agrees that Borsalino is a lifestyle brand and we don’t exclude collaborations with anyone in other lifestyle industries.
FNW: What sort of sales do you expect this year?
MB: We recovered the losses of 2020 so our goal is to grow 25% and reach 20 million euros.
PC: Mauro has done a fab job returning revenues to their 2019 levels. But when we talk about growth we see so much potential in our core product. We are very unrepresented in the hat market in both the US and China, and they are huge markets. So, before diversifying – which can end up being more of a distraction – we need to focus on our core market.
FNW: In the last half decade the biggest trend in fashion has been luxury streetwear, which is not quite the Borsalino aesthetic. How do you see fashion trends moving in the future?
MB: I think Borsalino is a phenomenal brand with such a strong heritage. But we must avoid becoming historical, which can mean old. Our main goal is to be contemporary with style and presentation. Though, of course, we have also our carry-overs which is fundamental, as some customers expect a certain sort of hat. Our heritage is the fedora for winter, and the straw panama hat for the summer. But we have requests for beanies and baseball caps, so we can and will respond.
FNW: What else does your investment vehicle own?
PC: Today not so much, as we did a closing in December! We are a private investment vehicle owned 100% by my family, where we focus on lifestyle deals. Now, we are developing a five-star hotel in St Tropez, working with an operator, to launch in 2022 with 75 rooms. Dual use with 12,000 square meters for hotel rooms, and 12,000 square meters for private residences. In 2019, we sold our stake in Fogal. And now looking at two to three acquisitions in 2022.
FNW: More pop-ups planned for the summer?
MB: Yes, we will maintain our strategy, but with itinerant pop-up stores. We have created a new Piaggio Ape Three Wheeler to travel about Continental resorts, retailing a summer selection. It has a pop-up structure, and we debuted it last year in the luxury Sani Resort in Greece.
PC: Both Mauro and I shall operate. He does the morning and I the afternoon!
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