Six months after a fire devastated the central Paris neighborhood where Benetton’s flagship boutique is located, leaving it destroyed, the Italian brand reopens its store this week, painted in a pink that reflects its renewed optimism for the brand’s future.
DJ Joséphine de la Baume provided the soundtrack to the event; design giant Jean-Charles de Castelbajac enjoyed taking selfies with friends; and dozens of French hipsters sipped champagne and visited the three-story boutique. Like all fashion brands, Benetton went through a rough couple of years due to the pandemic, but the Venetian brand has bounced back smartly.
Particularly with the airy new renovation at the Paris store, which now boasts huge windows and glass doors in its particularly excellent location, overlooking the Palais Garnier, Paris’ famous neoclassical opera house. That’s where we met up for a chat with Massimo Renon, CEO of Benetton.
After several years of being listed on the Milan stock market, the Benetton family regained control of the brand in 2012 and today fully owns the brand. Its most famous member and leader of the family clan, Luciano Benetton, is the current chairman. However, Renon is at the reins of Benetton’s management, which posted double-digit growth last year to close to €900 million. Full figures will be released later this month.
This, then, is Renon’s vision for the future of Benetton, a brand that practically invented democratic fashion, building brand equity with its groundbreaking ad campaigns decades before fashion became obsessed with inclusivity.
«It’s great to open this week, as we are benefiting from a moment of incredible energy in Paris. I just landed at Charles de Gaulle and there were a lot of flights; and the city is suddenly full of tourists. Of course, it’s not 100% back, but the atmosphere is still great! After this unfortunate accident, it’s great to come back with enthusiasm and energy,» Renon smiled.
«We’ve opened all the windows on the first floor, painted the walls pink, letting in a lot more light, and you can see how beautiful it is. It’s a fantastic 800 square meters on three floors,» opined Renon, who oversees the group’s three key brands United Colors of Benetton, Sisley and Undercolors of Benetton.
In France, Benetton has 73 retail locations, 65 of them directly controlled, mostly based in department stores, notably Galeries Lafayette. Worldwide, Benetton has almost 4,000 points of sale, 1,500 of which are directly controlled, in addition to more than 2,500 wholesale customers, although with distribution in monobrand boutiques. In Korea, the brand has a strong presence in local department stores, while in the Netherlands it has partnered with the Bijenkorf chain.
So its retail business model is mixed, even if the brand is vertically integrated with its own factories and a supply network spread across the Mediterranean, with plants in Tunisia, Serbia and Croatia, along with some fabrics still being made in Italy.
«The hardest thing about the pandemic was having to close stores. Many of them for months, while we were still paying salaries and rents. Fortunately, the family is very committed to the brand. They see it as a strategic asset that they want to invest in. So we feel quite confident for the future,» Renon insisted.
At its peak, Benetton had annual sales of around €2.5 billion in 2005, but its revenues cooled over the following decade.
«It was a combination of things: the new players, the Inditex group, Uniqlo and H&M, who made big inroads in this market. They invested more and at a more aggressive price. Before Benetton, the apparel business was very different. With Benetton, we saw that people became more colorful and fashion conscious. Benetton democratized fashion! Especially for men,» Renon argues.
When asked to define the house’s DNA, he replies, «Made in Italy, creation, color, sustainability and inclusion. It has been the case since Oliviero Toscani’s first campaigns.»
According to Renon, Benetton was one of the first companies to take the environment seriously: it banned all plastic bottles 20 years ago and has also been building all its parking lots underground for 30 years, to have less impact on nature. Very much at the forefront of recycling issues, Luciano Benetton posed nude in Benetton ads, with the phrase «I want my clothes back», in what was possibly the first fashion recycling ad.
He also promises that, by the end of next year, all Benetton garments will carry QR codes with exact raw materials and manufacturing origin, in fulfillment of its commitment set when it joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC).
Renon predicts that Benetton will be 100% organic by 2025, ensuring a silky, eco-friendly finish. By 2021, Benetton will post double-digit sales growth and Renon expects that to continue in the future.
The brand is on the move worldwide. In China, it struck a deal with T-Mall to open its space in July; it created a new office in Singapore and a new network in Australia. It is preparing its return to the Middle East, where it has been absent for a decade. It will start by opening stores in Qatar in time for the next World Cup, then in Abu Dhabi.
Finally, in December, it will set up an ephemeral store for Art Basel in Miami and then build its network in the United States. Speaking of art, at the store’s opening, the quirky T-shirts designed by de Castelbajac stood out with their eye-catching graphics. However, after being Benetton’s de facto creative director for a couple of years, he will reduce his involvement to occasional capsules.
«The key point is that, compared to our biggest competitors, we are out of the most important markets: U.S. and China. That will change now,» the executive stressed.
At present, the family is much more involved in other areas. His family holding company Edizione is a €10 billion-plus group with stakes in highways, connectivity and mobility. The next time you are traveling on a highway and use the Telepass system at a toll booth, you are contributing to the Benettons’ revenues. Renon does, too.
Before joining Benetton, Renon worked for eyewear conglomerate Luxottica, a major industrial player in Veneto. Before that, he worked at Ferrari, although he now drives a BMW X5, better suited to the needs of a father of two and more practical for getting to his home near the Cortina d’Ampezzo ski resort in the Dolomites.