NGG's Claudio Antonioli on Virgil Abloh, the evolution of streetwear and the group's upcoming label launch
In the space of two years, New Guards Group (NGG) has become a major player in the fashion sector and now owns some of the world's hottest streetwear brands, from Off-White to Palm Angels, via Heron Preston, Unravel Project, Marcelo Burlon County of Milan, Alanui and A_Plan_Application. Founded in 2016 by Claudio Antonioli, Davide Giglio and Marcelo Burlon, this very discreet holding company reports revenues of 300 million euros and is attracting an increasing level of interest.
FashionNetwork.com met up with one of the company's three founders, Claudio Antonioli. In this interview, the head of the famous Milanese luxury retailer Antonioli reveals the inner workings of NGG, explaining its philosophy and the key to its success. He also speaks about some of the company's new projects, including Kirin Peggy Gou, an upcoming label with a launch planned for the beginning of next year.
FashionNetwork.com: How was New Guards Group born?
Claudio Antonioli: We started four years ago with my partner Davide de Giglio and the trendsetter, DJ and designer Marcelo Burlon, with whom we created a company to produce and develop his ready-to-wear brand. It was our first label. After that, we acquired majority shares in other pre-existing brands, such as Unravel Project and Alanui. In other cases, we launched new brands directly with designers, but all of these companies were separate from each other. Two years ago, we had to bring all of these different realities together under a single structure. So in 2016, we created New Guards Group, of which Davide de Giglio and myself hold 46.5% of the shares, while Marcel Burlon holds 7%.
FNW: How are the brands managed?
CA: The New Guards Group holding company controls our shares in each company. We own a majority in all the companies, but the formula we follow is different for each one. In some cases, the group owns the brand and in others it holds the licence. Our recipe is that, for each brand, we create an operational company in which the designer is also a shareholder. Our licences are between 15 and 25 years long, and cover distribution and production, most of which is carried out in Italy and Portugal. The NGG HQ in Milan houses design offices, all of which are separated from each other, as well as the commercial, product and marketing teams. Within this structure, each designer has their own design office at their disposal without necessarily always being present on site.
FNW: Have you created synergies?
CA: On occasion, some synergies have been created in production and above all in distribution. For example, we recently opened a number of stores in Hong Kong for Off-White, Palm Angels and Heron Preston. Very often, we open stores with partners.
FNW: How strong is NGG these days?
CA: For 2018, we predict revenues of 315 million euros and EBITDA of 62 million. Our particularity is that we've always been able to finance ourselves. We're not in debt and we have cash flow of 70 million euros. The company has always made a profit and finances itself through the sales of its brands.
FNW: Have you been contacted by investors?
CA: Obviously, with our results, we've already been approached by a series of investment funds and companies. But we haven't struck a deal with any of them.
FNW: Are you considering letting go of a part of the company's capital?
CA: We could consider it. We're currently evaluating the benefits of doing so or not.
FNW: What's the key to your success?
CA: We know the sector very well. Davide de Giglio has always been involved in manufacturing. As for myself, I stumbled into the boutique business very young, at the age of 26. Above all, Antonioli is essential for research. We travel the world with four buyers, going to all of the Fashion Weeks, even the lesser known ones, looking for new talent. That's where our desire to support young brands came from. When we started the company, almost as a game, we certainly didn't imagine that it would end up being this big!
FNW: Do you have any new projects coming up?
CA: We'll soon be launching Kirin Peggy Gou, which will be presented in Paris in February. We're creating the brand with the young house music artist Peggy Gou, who is also a DJ and producer. She's 28, travels around the world and is invited to all the big music venues. She sends us her ideas and her design office based at our HQ develops the collection. We met through mutual friends and I really like her. As well as fashion, I'm really passionate about electronic music. I even opened a club, Volt, in Milan four years ago. We have the infrastructure and the money. If a designer has ideas, we can execute them.
FNW: What's NGG's philosophy?
CA: Our mission is to bring together a group of people which is as united and likely to create an interesting project as possible. Our company is a bit like a boutique. The idea is to catch people's interest. That way, there'll always be some kind of movement. It's a collection of different elements. Everything is built around a certain personality, a certain energy. There are no rules, NGG is a free world.
FNW: In the space of a few years, Off-White has become a real phenomenon. How did the brand come about?
AC: We share the same vision of fashion as Virgil Abloh. He's a very intelligent person, one of a kind. He's very skilled at coming up with a unique vision and has very innovative tastes. When he was working with Kanye West, he launched a brand called Pyrex. I contacted him then, offering to help him develop the label, a bit like what I did with Marcel Burlon. But he wanted to launch a new label. That's how Off-White was born. We've always limited distribution in order to create expectation. It hasn't stopped growing since the moment it launched. It's become the company's biggest brand, with revenues of 150 million euros.
FNW: Aren't you worried that Virgil Abloh's appointment as creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton could have a negative effect on Off-White?
CA: I don't see a risk because Virgil Abloh has kept a real distance between the two situations, which are very different from each other. In my opinion, it's a plus for the brand, just as the project with Nike x Off-White was. Everything helps the brand, including Virgil Abloh's career as a DJ.
FNW: Among all the company's brands, can you tell us a bit more about A_Plan_Application and Unravel Project?
AC: A_Plan_ Application is a brand which launched with us and is now in its third season. In terms of style, it's close to brands like Margiela, Helmut Lang and Jil Sander. The designer is the sculptor Anna Blessmann, who lives in England. Her partner is the famous graphic designer Peter Saville, who led the rebranding of Burberry and Calvin Klein, among others.
The Unravel Project label was launched in 2016 by Benjamin Taverniti, the son of Jimmy Taverniti, a French designer known for denim in the 1990s. Later, he moved to California where he worked with Jeremy Scott, among others, and was creative director at Hudson Jeans. Unravel Project is a fashion brand which is currently distributed in around 200 multibrand stores and is achieving excellent revenues, around 20 million euros. We're planning on opening a store in the near future.
FNW: Why has NGG chosen to work mainly with streetwear brands?
CA: We're not street! It's what the market wanted at one point. But that doesn't mean we're continuing in that direction. The definition of streetwear has changed over the years. For me, "street" today, is like using the word "classic". The world is changing. These days, what's very contemporary is dressing comfortably and not following rules. Rick Owens, for example, could be considered street. We shouldn't give precise labels. We started out at a time when there was a real connection between fashion and the streets, but we can't limit ourselves to that. The important thing is to be contemporary and innovative. Our offer has to be contemporary but always one step ahead.
FNW: What are your thoughts on the evolution of fashion and creativity?
CA: Fashion is an expression of our lives. Like every other sector, the world of fashion has been affected by the revolution of the internet and communication. I think that there will be consolidation. These days, it's normal to have a website and to communicate well. The internet facilitated communication by making designers more free, but it also allowed those who were better at communicating to gain an advantage over someone more creative. Now we've come back round to a more balanced situation.
FNW: What are Antonioli's projects?
CA:The company currently has seven boutiques: two in Milan, three in Lugano, one in Ibiza and one in Turin. We're constantly growing. The last year has been fantastic. We give a 360-degree vision of what's happening in fashion, from Saint Laurent to Balenciaga, via Off-White and a selection of niche brands. I opened the first store in Milan in 1983, which moved to Via Pasquale Paoli, in the Navigli neighbourhood, in 2003, and then I launched e-commerce in 2008. Recently, I've bought new adjoining spaces which are going to allow me to expand the Milanese boutique to cover a surface of 700 square metres.
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