Over the past several years, a new(ish) tier of brands has emerged at the uppermost spectrum of the market for customers seeking ultra-luxurious, thoughtfully designed traditional menswear. After years of merely providing consumers with distinct elements for their wardrobes – beautifully handmade suiting from Brioni, for instance, and shoes from Berluti – these labels realized that the men who routinely buy their high-priced niche items might like to outfit more of their closets in that same quality and aesthetic. As such, these brands have attempted to expand their initial offerings into full-service lifestyle brands, with the end goal of keeping their customer and price point the same.
The roster of brands occupying this pricey territory is small. The brands: Berluti, the storied artisanal footwear maker, scooped up in 1993 by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton to be groomed as the French luxury conglomerate’s next fully-fledged lifestyle company. Brioni, the century old Italian suit maker, already firmly ensconced in the upper echelon of men’s suiting next to Isaia Napoli and rivaling both Kiton and Tom Ford, the eponymous label from one of the world’s most notable American fashion designers. And Zegna Couture, a new imprint from a family-owned fabric mill that already has every other corner of the men’s market covered, recently felt ready to introduce a shiny new flagship brand.
This past year, these powerhouses of male luxury have proven that even they are not immune to the rounds of musical chairs being played by the industry’s top creative directors and executives. While Tom Ford is obviously not changing designers anytime soon, the other houses have been subject to changes. For instance, Brendan Mullane, the man hired to expand Brioni’s reach from suiting to lifestyle, was let go after his efforts did not resonate with consumers. Berluti released Alessandro Sartori back to the warm embrace of the Zegna family after his vision for the brand fell flat, as well. Sartori replaced Stefano Pilati at Zegna Couture. This left two nascent luxury brands with the pilot’s role to be filled as soon as possible, lest the millions of dollars of resources spent developing the reach of these two labels be lost for good.
Brioni was the first to name their new creative director, appointing perennial street style star Justin O’Shea (above) away from his role as fashion director of online shopping destination, MyTheresa. While the e-commerce site, which stocks more than 180 of the most sought after international luxury designer brands, is certainly a shopping destination for many, it just might have to credit its photo-savvy buyer for the bulk of its name recognition.
This move was certainly unexpected, at least in part because most people know O’Shea for his street style sensibilities rather than his design background (Note: he does not have one). Nevertheless, Brioni was willing to bet that it can benefit from O’Shea’s knowledge of sales and buying, which he cultivated at MyTheresa. Moreover, the luxury brand is almost certainly hoping that his Saville Row-inspired swagger will punch up their increasingly dusty reputation, and that beautiful clothing and profits will follow.
We know that has not happened yet, as O’Shea has yet to produce the collection – or the vision – that Brioni needs to boost their suiting business and expand their reach as a luxury lifestyle brand. What we have gotten so far is a redesigned Brioni logo. The old one was, admittedly, targeted at wealthy older men, but Justin O’Shea’s first attempt (ever!) at a rebranding was, in literally everyone’s minds, a really, really bad idea.
First, he opted for a nuance-free Olde English style lettering – the substitute du jour for cool-guy – as the brand’s entire new logo. Then, he enlisted Metallica band members as the new faces of the brand. A discussion on Metallica’s relevance or hipness is best saved for another time, but what is super relevant is how well they connect to Brioni’s customer; the guy who buys several $5K suits, along with his wardrobe essentials and lifestyle accessories twice a year. Is this the guy that Metallica, done up in one of O’Shea’s self-described “gangster” suits, reaches? Debatable.
Berluti, on the other hand, went in an entirely different direction and just appointed the best designer it could get its hands on. Just this past week, the LVMH-owned brand announced that it has appointed Haider Ackermann as its new creative director, and (rightfully so) the internet went wild. Ackermann, already highly revered in the fashion community for his years of producing beautiful ready-to-wear collections for both men and women, is a brilliant choice to lead this unique, burgeoning luxury label.
Colombian-born Ackermann has been known to be experimental in his designs; his embrace of fabric and texture that other designers might find difficult and his intricate layering bolster his ability to breathe frantic new life into the most ordinary of garments. Berluti, which boasts a heritage that is narrow but beautiful, has the support of LVMH behind it and one of today’s most acclaimed designer’s leading it. So, you see, the LVMH overlords – led by Antoine Arnault, the company’s CEO, made some really good decisions here.
In this battle for market share among the world’s wealthiest consumers, our money is on Berluti.
UPDATE (10/4/16): As of October 4th, Brioni has confirmed that Justin O'Shea will no longer serve as creative director of the brand, following a six month tenure.