Intimissimi plots U.S. growth through retail expansion
While many New Yorkers celebrated the luck of the Irish on March 17, Upper West Side residents counted themselves lucky to find a new Intimissimi store on Columbus Avenue. The reasonably-priced Italian lingerie and loungewear-centric brand is set on the U.S. as the next market to conquer. At a time when Victoria's Secret has shuttered about 25 percent of its North American stores since 2020, the timing for the mass underwear and bra chain is spot on.
FashionNetwork.com spoke with Antonio Simonato, parent company Calzedonia's VP of operations, via email about the brick-and-mortar strategy the firm is implementing.
In 2016 the brand opened its first U.S. store in Paramus, NJ. According to Simonato, the brand opened 15 U.S. Intimissimi stores in 2022 and is targeting 27 in 2023, with multiple deals already signed. In 2020, the brand opened its first West Coast location, a combined Intimissimi and hosiery-centric Calzedonia in Torrance, California at the Del Amo Fashion Center. The brands frequently cohabitate under one roof.
One such location, the brand’s first U.S. flagship, located along Fifth Avenue's prestigious and pricey retail strip, is due for a complete renovation in 2023 and is located near one of the remaining Manhattan Victoria’s Secret locations. (Based on rents paid, it was recently named the world's most expensive shopping area). Additionally the new 2023 locations include three within New York City, five in the state of California, two in Texas, two in Arizona, one in Florida, one in Connecticut and one in New Jersey.
"Intimissimi has been a global brand for years, and being able to open so many stores across different states is a clear sign of the power of our brand and company. At the end of 2023, we would love to have 70 Intimissimi stores in the U.S. market and 100 total by the end of 2024," Simonato said, noting the U.S. is one of the last big markets they've yet to penetrate.
Compared to Europe, there is no comparison in brand awareness, and store density in the U.S., said the executive.
"The biggest challenge for Intimissimi in the U.S. is becoming relevant in the lingerie market and being perceived as top-of-mind. The competition in this market is high; we have to compete with digitally native brands or other brands that have been operating in the market forever," he continued.
Presumably, for the former, the Italian executive is referring to U.S.-based DTC intimates brands such as the budget-friendly Parade, extended size range ThirdLove, invisible under clothes Negative Underwear, body slimming Spanx, large-size friendly Cuup, Kardashian-founded Skims, and the period-proof panty, Thinx. For the former department store brands such as Warner's, Calvin Klein, Natori, La Perla, Wacoal, and Cosabella come to mind, but only one is a vertical retailer like Intimissimi -- Victoria's Secret.
As for brand awareness, a good start is a recent campaign featuring JLo, the global brand ambassador. (Past celebrity tie-ups included Sarah Jessica Parker, Irina Shayk, and Dakota Johnson). More celebrity opportunities are in the works, but so are influencer strategies.
"We are contracting U.S. influencer brand ambassadors and building our relationship with regional influencers with loyal followers. This approach has been extremely successful in implementing our grassroots social campaigns, which allow self-expression to create a more organic feel to their content," he stressed.
However eager they are to expand, Simonato insists they are still selective. "First, we opened in the most famous shopping districts in Manhattan, such as Soho, Fifth Avenue, and Flatiron, but now we feel comfortable approaching neighborhoods that are more residential (i.e., Columbus Avenue) to become the reference brand for the U.S. customer on a larger scale," he noted adding, "Malls will remain a considerable portion of our stores' expansion, and we are still looking for mainly the top properties."
At this stage, a post-pandemic deal is not the motivating factor in the expansion. "The pandemic effect on real estate was shorter than expected, and the market bounced back fast, especially in some regions. Though we had some activity during the post-Covid period, we were able to get ahead of the weaker market at the time," he said, adding, "Right now, it seems that retail is back on track, and the competition is at a very high level."
Adelaide Polsinelli, vice chairman of New York's Compass Real Estate, concurred.
"Those deals started waning when the supply of available spaces declined. Demand has steadily increased, and rents have followed. Interestingly, the retailers who could not make a healthy go of it during the low rent period most likely won't be in business or need physical space. We are seeing various businesses who may have leased office space in the past now leasing retail spaces, understanding the benefits of foot traffic and how visibility is valuable to their businesses," she said over email. "As for rents, we saw retail lease signings in the high $100s to low $ 200s a square foot in the middle of the pandemic now increase to $250-350 a square foot today."
Besides its retail space purchasing power, Intimissimi also offers superior European underpinnings at a fair price, something that has eluded the U.S. market.
"Within the US, we have seen an exciting uptick in interest in our Ultralight cashmere offerings, which are selling out on our site, and other key silk staples. Our underpinnings have such a great reputation as an elevated but attainable option, and our unique offering of other lounge and layering pieces is a differentiating area of growth in the space," he said.
The brand also differentiates itself from Victoria's Secret by offering men's intimates and loungewear. Simonato noted that they would expand those collections and ready-to-wear offerings.
Seeing the competition with brands like Cuup, ThirdLove, and others such as Savage X Fenty and Bare Necessities offer plus-size and large cup-size ranges, something more common in the U.S. market, also indicates potential size adjustments for the European cut bras. (Intimissimi offers cup sizes up to DDD or F, while others extend to H cups). Simonato assures the brand is addressing the sizing needs in the U.S.
"We are in a phase of learning and understanding the U.S. market. The online channel is giving us a wide-range vision of the market. Still, thanks to the in-store experience and customer fittings, we increasingly understand what to implement. In every era and country, Intimissimi moves based on the request of customers. This is what we are doing here in the U.S., too, to become top of mind as soon as possible."
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