Onward's Franco Penè talks about Jil Sander's renewed success and who's driving luxury
After 24 years in charge of Onward Luxury Group (OLG), Franco Penè, 65, is about to retire. He will hand over the reins to Takehiro Shiraishi, currently the General Manager of British label Joseph, which was bought by OLG in 2005. Italian-Japanese fashion group OLG, originally called Gibò, owns Jil Sander, Moreau and Charlotte Olympia. It also produces and distributes the apparel and footwear collections of several other labels and, as Penè told FashionNetwork.com, it is about to launch a spate of new projects.
FashionNetwork.com: A year ago, you put Lucie and Luke Meier in charge of design at Jil Sander; what have the initial results been?
Franco Pené: They have been excellent! Since the designer duo took over as creative directors, we posted double-digit sales growth. Business is booming both in the wholesale and retail channel, and in Japan, where Jil Sander operates about 10 stores. We are busy renovating some of them, and opening new ones, notably in Tokyo.
FNW: Between the departure of Raf Simons and the arrival of Lucie and Luke Meier, Jil Sander’s relaunch was quite a struggle for you.
FP: Ever since founder Jil Sander sold the label, the latter struggled for an identity. It seems to me that now we’ve managed to find one. Jil Sander always was an apparel label, and we will work at developing the accessories category, so that it can have a significant impact on the business.
FNW: In parallel with the Meiers’ appointment, OLG acquired a stake in OAMC, the label co-founded by Luke Meier and Arnaud Faeh. Why?
FP: We believe in Luke and Lucie’s talent. We acquired a minority interest in OAMC, and we also took over the development of the collection, which we now produce under licence. We think that backing OAMC is useful for the project as a whole, it’s a synergy with Jil Sander. The label is produced in Italy, and Lucie and Luke Meier have always been based in Milan.
FNW: You are negotiating with Interparfums to take over the licence of Rochas menswear. What stage are you at?
FP: We’re still at the discussion and assessment stage, and if the operation will eventually be finalised, it won’t be before 2019. For the time being, no creative director has been appointed. At any rate, if we take over [Rochas] menswear, it will be as part of a joint project with womenswear, whose ready-to-wear collections we have managed since the relaunch following Olivier Theyskens’ departure in 2006.
FNW: You recently bought footwear label Charlotte Olympia. What are your plans for it?
FP: For the time being, our objective is to integrate the label, whose offices remain in London, within our group’s operations, notably by putting our showrooms at its disposal. In the USA, we recently closed down the company which ran the local Charlotte Olympia stores. We had to liquidate it, because the retail market is very weak in the USA.
FNW: What is your business model?
FP: We split our resources between our licensing business and the running of our own brands. Joseph is a separate case, since the label is fully owned by Onward, and the stores are managed by our Japanese parent company. We take care of Joseph's handbags and footwear, and we’ll soon start on clothes too. OLG’s uniqueness lies in its proprietary industrial organisation. As well as designing, we are experts in apparel, knitwear, handbags and shoes. More than 1,500 people are currently working for us. We want to stay on the growth track.
FNW: What about your own labels?
FP: We started with licences, then we built up our own brand portfolio with Jil Sander and, to add the accessories segment, with Charlotte Olympia footwear and handbag brand Moreau. We bought the latter 10 years ago. It was virtually non-existent. We opened a store in rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris, then one in London and finally a franchise store in San Francisco. The products are manufactured in France, because we wanted to maintain the label’s French identity. Moreau is growing, but we want it to do so at a steady pace.
FNW: And what about licences?
FP: For footwear, we have licences for Rochas, Mulberry, OAMC, See by Chloé, Nina Ricci and Proenza Schouler. For apparel, we have Rochas, Mulberry, OAMC and Michael Kors. The latter is a long-standing partnership for us, but from 2019 we will only be taking care of production, since the Michael Kors group will run the distribution. Also, the Autumn/Winter 2018-19 season will mark the end of our licence deal with Stefano Berardi, as the label has decided to manage the business directly.
FNW: How will you compensate for this loss?
FP: We will shortly be announcing a new project. We are focusing on new names and emerging labels. This has always been a feature of our group. But I cannot say anything else for now.
FNW: What do you think of today’s luxury market?
FP: In terms of manufacturing, Italy remains the benchmark country. Otherwise, the market is very polarised. Some labels are booming, other are running into trouble. We are part of an interdependent system, with areas experiencing strong growth and others which are stagnating. The West is a problem region, as its growth is only tourist-driven. Instead, the further East we move, the stronger market growth becomes.
FNW: What are the keys to success?
FP: To succeed in today’s markets, you need to be able to tap two targets: Asia, and notably China, the country with the strongest growth potential, and Millennial consumers. At the moment, these two segments are driving the luxury market. Those who won’t manage to latch on to them will struggle. Streetwear’s rising influence on luxury, as a means of attracting a younger clientèle, is also a consequence of this.
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