How changing tastes can provide new opportunities for a 50-year-old business.
TEXT LYNETTE KOH
“Sorry if I repeat myself,” says Antonio de Matteis, in Italianaccented English, several times during our chat at the Kiton store at Ngee Ann City. The second-generation CEO of Italian family-owned clothing company Kiton is apologising for his frequent use of the phrase “top quality”. But we can hardly blame him for being proud of his brand’s USP – after all, which other label has a $50,000 suit (made from materials such as ultra-lightweight vicuna) as one of its icons, or can say that it makes 90 per cent of its own fabrics (with the remaining 10 per cent exclusively made just for it)? Here, de Matteis shares what else goes into making the 50-year-old brand a top choice for the world’s one-percenters.
Established as a menswear brand, Kiton has expanded its offerings to include new categories such as womenswear. It will soon launch KNT (Kiton New Texture), a collection of ultrafine, dressed-down pieces. Is this a response to the changing luxury consumer?
We have gone from a formal company to a more sportive one. People are dressing differently from before. The key is to show that we are ready to develop all our ideas. I travel more than 200 days a year, and I see how people dress – people flying first-class no longer wear jackets and suits; they wear jogging pants. This is especially so for the younger generation. But while they are less formal in some ways, they are also much more maniacal when they have to dress formally. (Smiles)
So, the suit isn’t dead, as some say.
When a young guy has to wear a tuxedo, he wants the right shoes, the right socks; he wants his pants to fit in the perfect way – the length has to be just right, not 1mm less or 1mm more. When men of my generation were this age, we liked to wear formal items, but we wouldn’t care if our pants were half a centimetre too long. But young guys, they care. To me, this is a good sign. It shows us that there is a new generation looking for formal, classic pieces, done in a modern way.
Kiton has five facilities in Italy where it develops and makes its own fabrics and products. Why is fabric innovation so important?
We don’t license anything, we don’t make anything outside; everything is done in Italy. Our customers don’t need anything because they already have everything, but they are always looking for something new. So we have (innovations like) vicuna denim, which is 100 per cent vicuna, treated to look like denim. We launched it a year ago, making 200 sports jackets with it. And they have nearly sold out. (Ed’s note: A single vicuna-denim jacket, retailing for $29,380, was available for sale on the day of this interview.)
In 2015, you told Forbes that you had no plans to do e-commerce. Is this still the case?
It’s not. We are looking into it, but we want to do it differently. E-commerce should be a way for us to invite our customers to our stores. You can only understand Kiton products when you put them on. My opinion is that more and more people are looking for free time. Time is their luxury. (He gestures towards a couple who are talking to a salesperson.) To spend time in a store, like this, that is the luxury – not buying one more jacket.