SUITED TO A TEE
GERMAN LABEL HUGO BOSS HAS PARED ITS FIVE LINES TO JUST TWO AND IS STREAMLINING THE LOOK OF ITS STORES. THE BRAND KNOWN FOR ITS IMPECCABLE TAILORING IS EMBRACING A MORE RELAXED APPROACH.
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