The Australian - Wish Magazine - - COLOUR CODE - STORY MITCHELL OAK­LEY SMITH


Wilts, the newly in­stalled chief brand of­fi­cer of Hugo Boss, is talk­ing about the Ger­man brand’s re­cent de­ci­sion to elim­i­nate three of its lines – Boss Orange, Boss Se­lec­tion and Boss Green – and opt­ing to pare down to just two brands. “It’s about oc­ca­sions, not brands,” he says.

All of the cat­e­gories, from out­er­wear to un­der­wear, that the busi­ness has tra­di­tion­ally op­er­ated still ex­ist, but they’re now rep­re­sented by just Hugo, the fash­ion­for­ward line char­ac­terised by sharp tai­lor­ing and a slightly younger aes­thetic, and Boss, made up of core wardrobe items.

Wilts con­tin­ues: “A cus­tomer doesn’t care if the polo shirt he was buy­ing was from [the] Orange or Green [line], so why then were all these ex­tra lines needed? There are so many brands in the mar­ket right now, and so to be cus­tomer-cen­tric it’s im­por­tant to de­liver a con­sis­tent brand mes­sage. Now, we still cater to our cus­tomer of all ages, but un­der the one roof you can find ca­sual pieces, suit­ing, fra­grance, ath­leisure, and that’s ser­vic­ing the cus­tomer first and fore­most.”

Wilts is not new to Hugo Boss. “It’s in my heart; I know the brand in­side and out, and it’s re­ally very close to my per­sonal de­sign lan­guage.” Hav­ing be­gun his ca­reer in sports­wear de­sign, he first joined Hugo Boss in 1997 as prod­uct man­ager for Boss Black, later tak­ing up the role of se­nior vice pres­i­dent for the now folded Boss Black, Boss Se­lec­tion and Boss Green cat­e­gories.

Af­ter stints at Ken­neth Cole and Elie Ta­harie in the US, and then as cre­ative di­rec­tor of menswear at Tommy Hil­figer, he re­turned to Hugo Boss in 2014 as its chief brand of­fi­cer, re­spon­si­ble for cre­ative, brand and li­cence man­age­ment, as well as pub­lic re­la­tions and ad­ver­tis­ing. And in 2016 he added board mem­ber, fur­ther­ing his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties on the strate­gic side in ad­di­tion to his cre­ative role. “It’s re­ally fun to be back,” he says.

Not that Wilts is get­ting too com­fort­able in his old digs. As a busi­ness whose suc­cess is built on the pop­u­lar­ity of its suit­ing, Hugo Boss oc­cu­pies a pre­car­i­ous mar­ket po­si­tion. As a cat­e­gory, suit­ing is chal­lenged by the on­go­ing pop­u­lar­ity of ath­letic wear and a global dress­ing-down trend in busi­ness at­tire. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Bloomberg re­port, in the past five years there has been a 10 per cent in­crease in the num­ber of em­ploy­ers that per­mit ca­sual dress ev­ery day of the week. On top of that, to­day’s cus­tomer is spoiled for choice: in Aus­tralia, for ex­am­ple, lo­cal brand M.J. Bale has largely cor­nered the mar­ket with its catchy two-suits-for-a-grand deal and home-grown mar­ket­ing,

while smaller made-to-mea­sure op­er­a­tions and large global pow­er­houses, such SuitSup­ply, pop up in our cap­i­tal ci­ties. Mar­ket frag­men­ta­tion has re­placed mar­ket dom­i­na­tion, and for suit­ing it’s a bat­tle­field.

“We have al­ways been known as a suit brand,” says Wilts. “Re­ally, we are a suit icon and are trusted by gen­er­a­tions and gen­er­a­tions. A young guy, an older guy, they all feel com­fort­able in our suits.” This loy­alty, he adds, has given the brand the free­dom to ex­pand its re­mit, and in his role Wilts has led sig­nif­i­cant de­sign changes within the brand’s tai­lor­ing de­part­ment.

“What we’ve done is taken the whole ca­su­al­i­sa­tion trend and ap­plied it to suit­ing: now we have suits dyed in more and dif­fer­ent colours, or suits with added stretch by mix­ing in jer­sey fabrics more from the world of ath­leisure. We want to give younger cus­tomers a rea­son to buy a suit, and for them to see that a suit doesn’t need to be stiff or for­mal. You can have fun with it and wear our suits with a T-shirt or sneak­ers.” When we meet at Hugo Boss’s new­lyren­o­vated flag­ship store at Ma­rina Bay Sands, in Sin­ga­pore, Wilts is wear­ing just that, which seems ap­pro­pri­ate for both the trop­i­cal lo­cale and his youthful en­ergy.

The store de­sign was some­thing Wilts wanted to re­fresh quickly af­ter he joined. His new vi­sion for Hugo Boss is on show at Ma­rina Bay Sands and will be rolled out to the rest of the re­gion. That in­cludes Aus­tralia, where the Bondi Junc­tion store is the first to be re­vamped, due to re­open in Au­gust this year.

“When I re­turned to the brand I re­alised very fast that it’s not only about the prod­uct you of­fer, but the whole con­cept,” Wilts says. “It’s about so­cial me­dia, digital, the store ... a cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence doesn’t be­gin and end with the prod­uct they buy, and I didn’t be­lieve that our ex­ist­ing store de­sign re­flected my vi­sion of where the brand should be.”

Wilts has aimed to make the brand seem more ac­ces­si­ble, not at the ex­pense of qual­ity, but in its ap­proach­a­bil­ity. The hall­marks of the Hugo Boss aes­thetic – clean lines, mod­ern fin­ishes – re­main, but the store de­sign is in­ten­tion­ally less im­pos­ing. Light wood cab­i­nets, gran­ite, wool car­pet, gen­er­ous seat­ing ar­eas, and in­te­gra­tion of prod­uct cat­e­gories, in­clud­ing the men’s and women’s lines, con­vey a greater warmth.

“The old con­cept was very Ger­man in a way, very strict, and here we’ve made it a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent, more tac­tile, and as a re­sult it’s much more friendly and light,” Wilts says.

The brand’s cur­rent crop of celebrity faces was at the re­open­ing of the Ma­rina Bay Sands store. They in­cluded Avengers alumni Chris Hemsworth and Se­bas­tian Stan, and its first Sin­ga­porean am­bas­sador, Olympic swim­mer Joseph School­ing, all front row at a run­way pre­sen­ta­tion of the Fall/Win­ter 2018 col­lec­tion in a nearby ware­house. Ahead of ap­pear­ing in stores later this year, it was shown in Fe­bru­ary as part of New York Fash­ion Week, where Hugo Boss has tra­di­tion­ally pre­sented its sea­sonal wares.

A Boss run­way show may not de­liver the same sort of sugar rush as some of its con­tem­po­raries, but then it’s al­ways been a brand that favours long-term wear­a­bil­ity over of-the-mo­ment de­sir­abil­ity. Com­bin­ing both the men’s and women’s col­lec­tion – the lat­ter the fi­nal de­signed by Tai­wanese-born Amer­i­can de­signer Ja­son Wu af­ter a five-year stint – the col­lec­tion serves as a palate cleanser, sig­nalling the broader de­sign di­rec­tion Wilts in­tends. And de­spite his up­dat­ing of the core col­lec­tion, the show fea­tured pre­cious few suits, sig­nalling a broader world be­yond the gar­ment that has been key to the Hugo Boss’s his­tory. In its place, Wilts pre­sented a slightly out­sized take on tai­lored sep­a­rates, such as wide-lapel over­coats, chunky roll-neck sweaters, thigh-length cardi­gans and quilted puffer jack­ets, all in a muted pal­ette of grey, navy and brown with small splashes of vivid lemon yel­low.

The aes­thetic may have evolved, but qual­ity re­mains at the core of the busi­ness. “It’s our her­itage,” says Wilts sim­ply. “Peo­ple per­ceive Hugo Boss as so­phis­ti­cated, clean, pre­cise – it’s this whole Ger­man thing – and that hasn’t changed. It’s about very pre­cise work­man­ship that I think Ger­mans are well known for. The big­gest goal for us is to give our cus­tomer the best work­man­ship, the best fit, the best cut, the best qual­ity, and we aim to con­tin­u­ously im­prove upon that.”

Boss has al­ways been a brand that favours long-term wear­a­bil­ity over of-the-mo­ment de­sir­abil­ity.


The Hugo Boss au­tumn/win­ter 2018 col­lec­tion on the run­way in Sin­ga­pore

The new Hugo Boss store in Sin­ga­pore; Ingo Wilts; on the run­way and back­stage at the au­tumn/win­ter 2018 show in Sin­ga­pore

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