Borsalino Aims to Grow Bigger With Licenses, Co-Brandings, Store Openings

MILAN — Borsalino is poised to become a lifestyle brand, as owner Haeres Equita is actively spearheading new projects and initiatives aimed at growing the scope of the 164-year-old hatmaker.

The company has recently signed two licensing agreements for the production and global distribution of leather goods and handbags, as well as soft accessories such as ties, scarves, gloves and foulards with Modigliani and Isa SpA, respectively.

In an exclusive interview with WWD, Borsalino’s general manager Mauro Baglietto, who quietly joined the company last September, said “these two new licenses mark a turning point for the brand and come in the wake of the fine-tuning strategy set in motion over the past months.”

The first collections to bow under the new deals, both covering a five-year time frame, will debut for spring 2022 and are not only expected to boost the company’s revenues but also offer a “full-fledged shopping experience, providing our clients with coordinated accessories that reflect the brand’s positioning in terms of style and price.”

The collections will make their retail debut with a first drop in December aimed at capitalizing on the holiday shopping spree.

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“We’re trying to bridge the gap between our core business and licensed products. Imagining that these products are all displayed inside a flagship store, they need to exude the same spirit,” he said.

To this end, the spring 2022 collection is inspired across categories by the travels of the company’s founder Giuseppe Borsalino, who left Italy to seek better opportunities in Paris. Creative curator Giacomo Santucci translated the escapism theme in three families of products inspired by Japan, Sicily and South America.

Baglietto explained that catering to a younger consumer base is key for the brand. This is in line with owner Haeres Equita’s business plan for the company, set in motion after it won in 2018 the auction set up by the label’s administrators through a deal valued at 6.4 million euros. The auction put an end to the troubled journey that started in December 2015 when Haeres Equita first took over the hatmaker.

For example, Borsalino is debuting for spring 2022 its first co-branded collection in partnership with French hip brand Ami Paris, which will be followed by similar co-branding initiatives still being discussed.

“Our artisanal production capacity is strong enough to allow us to experiment with different products and materials. This is a research lab that we treasure,” he said, noting that the plant in Spinetta Marengo, near the town of Alessandria, still produces headwear in the same way it did in the 19th century.

“Co-branding is part of our strategic plan to gain credibility and tap into different customers’ targets, including the younger generations,” Baglietto explained, noting that Ami Paris also has a strong following in mainland China.

To be sure, territorial expansion is a big priority. The brand counts 10 directly operated flagship stores in Italy and one in Paris, but according to the executive, it is planning to roll out new units internationally, including pop-ups “to test the market response” in key regions.

For instance, the hatmaker has just opened its first resort retail destination at the Nammos luxury resort on the Greek island of Mykonos, in partnership with its local distributor, and is gearing up to unveil three pop-up shops in Montecarlo, Saint Tropez and at the Sani Resort hotel in Greece.

The brand will also test the waters of travel retail, opening its first outpost at Milan’s Linate airport in September. “This [opening] is important for us to understand the potential of the channel and set in motion an expansion plan in that sense, as we believe it’s still an important segment to preside,” he explained.

While the pandemic-scuppered 2020 has been a “tough year,” he said the first months of 2021 showed encouraging signs, thanks to the brand’s core business, which is improving following a consolidation in Europe and the U.S., where the brand is looking to make up for the ground lost due to the pandemic, in the wake of the closure of department stores.

A Borsalino hat for spring 2022. Courtesy of Borsalino

“The great challenge ahead is a more significant development in Asia,” Baglietto said, noting that Japan is already a consolidated market but there are plans to set a stronger footprint in mainland China. “The brand is highly recognized there, as we used to see it by the number of Chinese tourists shopping at our flagships in Italy.”

As per the business plan, there’s hope that in the aftermath of the pandemic Borsalino will be able to renew its plans to open additional flagships in those markets, while it simultaneously works with local partners to expand its presence in Russia.

“We believe that physical stores, especially for our core products that need to be seen and tried on, is still crucial, although we’ve experienced a positive performance in online sales during the pandemic,” he said, adding that the online shop was revamped for a more seamless shopping experience.

A Borsalino bag for spring 2022. Courtesy of Borsalino

In 2020, Borsalino managed to enhance the number of female shoppers, growing the amount from just 20 percent to 35 percent, “although a lot of female customers buy hats that are billed as men’s styles,” the executive noted. He expects the women’s and men’s division to each account for 50 percent of sales in 2022.

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