1, Piazza Duomo
Facciamo un abito con l'anima. ("We make a suit with a soul.")
Brioni Roman Style S.p.A. is an apparel maker of the highest order, selling the most expensive off-the-rack suits in the world. Brioni's garments are stitched by hand, retailing for as much $5,500. The company's custom-made suits sell for $15,000. Brioni makes roughly 80 percent of its money as a wholesaler, distributing its men's and women's apparel to exclusive retailers through the world. The company also operates its own network of stores, maintaining a presence in Europe, the United States, and Asia through 19 shops. The United States ranks as the company's largest market. Brioni operates one of Italy's most respected tailoring schools, offering a four-year program that creates recruits for its factories.
Brioni, the name of luxury and elegance in the fashion world, began its business life surrounded by the devastation of World War II. Rubble-strewn streets and mortar-pocked buildings provided the backdrop for Rome's new sartorial master, a surreal setting for a business based on fine design and geared toward wealthy clientele. The business started with the opening of an exclusive tailor shop in Rome in 1945, a venture pairing a well-connected Roman socialite, Gaetano Savini, who would serve as the business's fashion coordinator, and a talented tailor from the central Italian city of Penne, Nazareno Fonticoli.
The founders selected a name that harkened to more prosperous, carefree times, taking the name of an island off the coast of Croatia that was once owned by Italy. In the decades before the war, Brioni was the exclusive destination of aristocrats and the wealthy, a popular playground for the elite who enjoyed polo matches, golf, and the comforts of high society. The memory of Brioni rather than the reality of 1945 Rome fit the image Savini and Fonticoli strove to cultivate, but the adoption of the Brioni name also served another purpose. According to Ettore Perrone, Savini's son-in-law, the selection of the name was a marketing ploy. "You see," he informed the Daily News Record in a June 23, 1983 interview, "the partners needed a short Italian name the Americans would remember. When they opened the store after World War II that's who they wanted to sell to. After all, Americans had the money."
Brioni quickly established itself as one of Rome's finest tailors. Fonticoli's work distinguished the shop, enabling it to evolve into a fashion house. Savini, well known by the wealthy and famous--Brioni's target customer--kept the business busy with new clients, cultivating a customer base that grew exclusively through word of mouth (the company did not advertise for nearly a half-century). After only six years in business, the Brioni name achieved the prestigious status that later defined it. In 1951, the company became one of the first men's fashion houses to stage a fashion show in Rome's Sala Bianca.
Brioni's rise in Rome provided a springboard for the company's international expansion. The exportation of Italian fashion into the international marketplace, particularly into U.S. markets, was, in large part, the work of Brioni, a migration that was aided immeasurably by the cast of luminaries who wore Brioni suits. Film stars such as Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, and John Wayne were Brioni customers, with their celebrity status serving as an effective means of giving recognition to the Brioni name outside of Rome. Although the company became a genuinely global business, serving customers in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, its largest market was the United States. Brioni began distributing its apparel in the United States in 1961, selling its hand-sewn suits to a select few upscale retail outlets on the East Coast.
As Brioni grew, it did so primarily as a wholesaler. Although the company developed a greater retail presence as it expanded, the basis of its business was as a wholesaler. Brioni focused its efforts not toward developing a chain of stores but toward making the finest suits, a painstaking process whose reliance on hand-stitching belied the technology-driven production processes of the 20th century. Brioni's factories, located in Penne and the surrounding region, bore little resemblance to the production facilities prevalent in other industries. The company's machinery consisted of a few rows of old sewing machines used only to stitch inner linings or other areas of the garment that benefited little from hand stitching. Instead of cutting-edge machinery, Brioni relied on tailors, 750 of whom sewed each suit by hand, stitch by stitch. The company, like the cadre of other exclusive fashion houses, was an anachronism of sorts, facing far different impediments to survival and growth than the legions of high-volume apparel manufacturers. One of the most pressing and enduring problems confronting the company was finding qualified tailors to make Brioni garments. Finding highly skilled tailors was a daunting challenge for other prestigious apparel firms, but Brioni was one of only a few companies that tried to take the matter in its own hands. In 1978, the company opened what would become one of Italy's most highly respected tailoring schools. The school, located in the central Italian region of Abruzzo, offered a four-year program, producing a pool of tailors that helped Brioni avoid, for the most part, skilled labor shortages.
Retail Network Beginning to Grow in the 1980s
By the beginning of the 1980s, Brioni epitomized Italian high fashion, holding sway as a nearly 40-year-old brand conducting business on a global scale. The company maintained an extremely exclusive retail operation, managing three stores, two in Rome and a third in Sardinia. Its suits, however, traveled far beyond Italy's borders, underpinning a wholesale business that drove the company's sales. Brioni's suits were on stock at a small number of retail outlets in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, retailing for roughly $1,300. Brioni shirts sold for approximately $145. The importance of the U.S. market to the company's financial growth increased considerably during the decade. A store in New York opened in 1982, with its success convincing officials in Italy to establish a division in the United States shortly after the store's debut. The store was located a mile from Madison Avenue's "Gold Coast," the heart of the city's upscale, European retail district, but Brioni management expressed little concern that the store was removed from the Gold Coast. They chose the location, in the Fisher Building off Park Avenue and 52nd Street, because of its association with the building's owner, a real estate tycoon and Brioni customer. "Fisher wanted us," Ettore Perrone told Daily New Record in a June 23, 1983 interview. "Besides," he added, "we don't have to see our customers walk by the store. It's all very personal here."
As Brioni entered the 1990s, the company gained the leadership of the individual who would orchestrate the greatest growth period in its history. Umberto Angeloni was named chief executive officer of Brioni in 1990, beginning a highly effective reign of command that extended into the 21st century. Angeloni presided over a fivefold increase in Brioni's size during his first decade in control, engineering the diversification of the company's product line and the expansion of its retail network. When the company celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1995, an occasion marked by a ten-day exhibition of Brioni apparel in Florence, sales stood at $53 million, a total collected from the 60,000 garments produced during the year. Brioni, by this point, operated three factories near Pescara, Italy, using its tailors to hand-sew a product line consisting of suits, sportswear, and ties. The company also produced a small women's collection distributed under the Lady Brioni label that represented roughly 5 percent of the company's total production. Most of these garments were distributed to select retail locations throughout the world, while the rest were sold at five company-owned shops in Rome, New York, Florence, and at a store in Malaysia that Brioni operated through a joint venture agreement.
The growth achieved by Brioni during the 1990s belied the projections of industry pundits. In the company's biggest market, the United States, the trend toward more casual business wear was expected to hurt apparel makers of Brioni's ilk, but instead the trend worked in the company's favor. Fewer suits were purchased during the decade, but the suits that were purchased tended to be more expensive. Volume manufacturers of relatively inexpensive suits felt the sting of the trend toward casual wear, but Brioni and its $3,500 to $5,500 suits thrived during the decade, particularly during the latter half of the 1990s. The growth achieved during the period was most evident in the expansion of the company's retail operations, although Angeloni did not intend to alter the focus of the company. "We don't want to become a chain of stores," he asserted in an October 23, 2002 interview with trade publication WWD. Between 1996 and 2001, the number of Brioni retail shops increased substantially, jumping from 5 to 13 stores. The expansion included the opening of a new flagship store in Milan in 1999, a 64,800-square-foot shop that was part of an 18th-century villa. The store, staffed with a full-time tailor, generated sales of more than $4 million during its first year of operation.
Although the trend toward more casual attire worked in Brioni's favor, the 1990s presented other challenges that forced the company to make some changes. One of the most difficult issues the company had to deal with stemmed from the unusual place it occupied in the modern world of high technology and industrialization. As a company competing in the global economy, Brioni was subject to the ever increasing costs of distribution and other expenses that any company faced, but expanding production to keep ahead of escalating costs threatened to mutate Brioni's essence. Expansion beyond a certain point meant incorporating machinery and other aspects of modern, industrialized manufacturing, an evolutionary step that would be anathema to Brioni's identity as a maker of hand-made apparel. The question centered on how to make Brioni's 19th-century manufacturing practices fuel a growing enterprise at the turn of the 21st century.
One way to increase sales was to expand the company's product line by adding accessories and developing a women's line of clothing. Another way was developing a marketing program, something the company did for the first time in its history in the early 1990s when it began to advertise in print media. The company's biggest marketing move occurred in 1995 when Brioni was selected as the suit to be worn by Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond film Goldeneye. Designers Hugo Boss, Ermenegildo Zegna, and Giorgio Armani jockeyed for selection, but the film's costume designer picked Brioni after reading an article about the company in a London newspaper. The exposure given by a Brioni-draped James Bond did much to promote the brand name, providing a marketing boon whose worth increased when in subsequent installments of the James Bond series, Brosnan wore Brioni suits.
Brioni at the Beginning of the 21st Century
Brioni recorded electric financial growth during the late 1990s, making the start of the company's second half-century of business one of the most remarkable periods in its existence. By 2000, the $53 million in sales generated five years earlier had trebled to $150 million. By this point the company operated eight hand-production factories in Abruzzo, Bologna, and near Milan. The company's product line was diverse, including the shirts, ties, belts, and women's wear that were vital to the company's expansion. The growth was encouraging, but Angeloni was not intoxicated by the results. "We are not interested in generating billion-dollar sales at the expense of brand equity," he remarked in a March 8, 2001 interview with WWD.
As Brioni prepared for the future, the esteem accorded to its brand name was as strong as ever. Although Angeloni consistently tempered any growth of the company's retail network by insisting the development of a retail chain was not in the company's future, the number of Brioni shops increased, nonetheless. In 2002, the company opened its first freestanding women's store in Milan followed by a second women's store in New York later that year. In 2004, in what was expected to be an annual event, Angeloni hosted a polo tournament on the company's namesake island, flying in players from South America to revive the glamorous days that had defined Brioni 80 years earlier. Angeloni planned to construct guest villas to accommodate the event's well-heeled attendants. Participants at the first event typified the exclusivity of a Brioni customer, a guest list that included Count Alvaro de Marichalar, a brother-in-law to Princess Elena of Spain, Winston Churchill III, and property tycoon Oliver Rothschild.
Principal Subsidiaries: Brioni Roman Style U.S.A. Corporation.
Principal Competitors: Georgio Armani S.p.A.; Gianni Versace S.p.A.; I Pellettieri d'Italia S.p.A.
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