Giacomo Santucci on reimaging Giuseppe Borsalino’s vision for the 21st century
No brand in millinery has more mystic than Borsalino. The very name conjures images of Italian glamour and restless sophistication. Marcello Mastroianni wore a Borsalino in Fellini’s legendary Eight and a Half; while Indiana Jones would have looked naked without one. Everyone from Humphrey Bogart to Johnny Depp to Pete Doherty have worn the house’s legendary fedora. There is even a film named Borsalino, a marvellously well-dressed French gangster romp set in 1930s Marseille starring Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Hard to imagine that Giuseppe Borsalino, who founded the marque back in 1857, could ever have imagined his name could carry such mystique. When Giuseppe picked up the Grand Prix for Borsalino at the Paris Exposition of 1900, did he envisage Michael Jackson wearing one of his hats in 'Billie Jean'?
Borsalino, however, has not always been crowned with success: the brand went through considerable convulsions in the past decade. But now under new owners, Haeres Equita, and new management, the brand seems back on track. And will soon unveil a new collab with Valentino. Today, it counts over 100 staff, centred around its plant in Alessandria, Piedmont, producing some 150,000 hats a year.
Leading the renaissance is its highly experienced creative director Giacomo Santucci. His impressive CV includes stints as COO of Dolce & Gabbana; president and CEO of Gucci; running Prada in Asia Pacific; serving as general manager of Ferragamo International; along with board memberships or directorships with the likes of Cavalli Borbonese, Furla and Ferretti yachts. A noted luxury strategist who has also advised Moncler, Missoni, Neil Barret and Valextra, Santucci has ambitious plans for Borsalino. So, before the summer break, we caught up with Giacomo to better appreciate his vision for the hatmaker to the stars.
Fashion Network: What are your main goals for Borsalino?
Giacomo Santucci: As the Creative Curator for the brand, my main goal is to strengthen Borsalino, an icon of elegance and style with 163 years of history, to interpret and dialogue transversally with the increasingly complex market. Unique in the world of accessories, Borsalino’s early beginnings and DNA make for a wonderful magnifying glass to amplify and create new ideas of modern beauty, reflective of today’s contemporary times.
Founder Giuseppe Borsalino’s life; his inspirations and the global innovations that took place during that historic period – the Belle Epoque and its joie de vivre - gave me the starting point in terms of inspiration to build a whole new strategy for the Maison; a relaunch initially started back in 2018 when Haeres Equita finalized the acquisition of the brand and its assets.
As part of the 2018 brand revival, focus first began with the FW 18/19 collection to introduce this new past/present dialogue, greatly inspired by the late 19th century arts & crafts movement that marks the birth of design, born during the Industrial Revolution in England. The SS20 collection that followed reflected a more personal reinterpretation of the stylistic elements from that period, highlighting the Borsalino hat as a true cultural symbol, a sign of belonging and fusion of styles.
When I started on the F/W 2020-21 collection, we pushed these ideas even more with the premise that every Borsalino hat brings to modern day-life an illustrious past; pop culture references; a sense of fun freedom and of strong thought. Building on that fil-rouge momentum, the upcoming SS21 collections are full of nature’s energetic references and materials with an artistic flow typical of the works from the late 19th century illustrator Aubrey Beardsley’s graphics and the bidimensional mid-20th century optical art of Bridget Louise Riley and Victor Vasarely. This new summer collection is a playful assortment of refined and intellectual visuals, illustrated perspectives, and chromatic designs meant to highlight Borsalino’s new style ideologies of beauty, joie de vivre and diversity.
FNW: Define the DNA of this brand?
GS: Borsalino hats have been handcrafted and produced in the Italian Piedmont province town of Alessandria since 1857. Thanks to its one-of-kind and historic manufacturing process, it connects an industrial perspective with the artisanal spirit; undoubtedly a Made in Italy treasure.
Over the years, the brand has stayed faithful to its production process, handed down from generation to generation, and reflects the cultural values of the company. Borsalino felt hats use hare and rabbit hair; take over seven weeks to complete just one piece; and require a minimum of 50 different steps of handcrafted work. It can even take up to six months to make the highest quality hand-woven Panama straw hat (Montecristi).
With the creation of the latest collections, Borsalino has adopted new materials and textures to meet the innovation and sustainability criteria intricately linked to the social responsibility of the company.
Classic doesn’t mean Old, but rather the necessity to be true to the essence of the brand. To be Classic or have a classic pieces in one’s wardrobe is a real individual and contemporary style statement, as well as being fashionable. The challenge is always how we create and communicate the content of our storytelling. The variety of the elements and ingredients of communication is more complex today and deserves a very consistent strategy across all categories defining its Identity: product, retail, brand experience and communication. Today it’s about the ability to engage and discuss the most relevant topics of modern-day society to create statements that are socially responsible, and founder Giuseppe Borsalino was a true pioneer with that.
The brand’s heritage is expressed through the combinations of arts & crafts, quality, and passion of the making. Uniqueness and sense of belonging is how the brand engages its consumers; I would coin the phrase this as 'its community.' It has been said that “a hat made by Borsalino is a piece of art.” So, the brand’s aesthetic sensibilities can be summed up in just one word, Beauty. If an object doesn’t express beauty, it isn’t attractive, nor does it generate a feeling of belonging. When I talk of beauty, which is a transversal concept, I think of the imperfection of an artist like Giorgione, more than of perfection. Borsalino is aimed to recreate an ideal of beauty through new collections but reminiscent of its DNA and origins at the end of the 19th century, the era of the company founder Giuseppe Borsalino himself.
This ideal of beauty is reinterpreted to give a new life to a range of hats and is broken down by target. When you address one specific type of customer, beauty becomes savoir-faire, attention to detail and a more arts & crafts approach. When you cater to a younger target audience, this same sense of beauty becomes being cool and a sense of belonging, because Generation Z and millennials are much more sensitive to a feeling of community. Regarding the current design trends, I believe there is an element of crossover in the market: a couture fashion approach coexists with a more curated one, aimed at younger generations who enjoy collaborations and the new language of the digital world.
FNW: How has the pandemic affected Borsalino? What is your digital strategy?
GS: As the saying goes, make a negative into a positive. We took advantage of the closure of our activities to readjust the way the company operates and put in place tools to be able to rethink, reposition and relaunch the brand. It gives us the opportunity to reconsider our current way of approaching business, from the manufacture to the point of sales going through the various touch points.
Ultimately, it is all about digitalization. We just launched a new website with an enhanced customer journey and are implementing a B2B virtual showroom that will give us access to a global wholesale clients database. Our brick & mortar boutiques have become phygital places to discover Borsalino's DNA and know-how, as well as a way for clients to personally receive professional fit, style, care tips and advice.
FNW: How has it affected its creativity?
GS: Creation has to do with dialectics: it is a journey between opposites. On the one hand, I am very attentive to the DNA and history of a brand like Borsalino. On the other hand, the interpretation of contemporary times is especially important. Understanding what's going on in the world - and I'm not just talking about the world of fashion. So, allow me to evolve this dialogue between Borsalino and its audience. The brand's relaunch strategy is inspired by the energy of its 19th century founder, Giuseppe Borsalino who was a real dandy and Renaissance man. Within this historical period, I look for artistic references and developed them into hat collections segmented by target, because today Borsalino is aimed at a new audience, widely female and, in general, much younger. In selecting the different materials in the collections, I was obviously inspired by the brand's DNA, but I couldn’t ignore the fact everyone really cares about sustainability today. And the same applies for colors: with one eye, I look at the history of art, with the other at the catwalks of the great designers. In short, creation is this: finding a balance between opposites. At the end of the day, fashion is discussion.
FNW: What are your expansion plans?
GS: We had to adapt our expansion plans due to the new normal. So that means while we continue to strengthen our position in the US and European markets, at the same time, we are still looking at introducing and amplifying the brand in China, a market we haven’t heavily invested in yet. In terms of collections, we reshuffled our offers to be more reactive to the wholesale client needs and are focusing on curated projects either through unique capsule collections or through special collaborations.
FNW: Where do you plan to open stores?
GS: Given the current worldwide retail situation, we have decided to put on hold momentarily new opening projects and focus on a new reactive concept of pop-up stores. The idea behind this grand tour of pop-ups to get a twofold result: on one side to test collection in different cities in order to fine tune the retail business model and merchandising approach to the market and simultaneously to increase visibility and awareness, particularly within the women’s market, through events, digital communication, influencers and YouTubers. We believe this will reinforce the understanding of Borsalino’s heritage yet build a more fashionable, modern, engaging, and fun perception of the brand.
We envision about six to eight cities where we’ll be opening pop-up retail concepts and creating a dedicated communication launch generating great awareness. After this phase-one learning curve (in all aspects of the business), Borsalino will accelerate its growth.
FNW: What new product categories to you plan to develop?
GS: Brand extension is part of the new strategy. We started in 2019 with a dedicated capsule offering of foulards and scarves. To face the current situation, we are launching a limited edition seven art-inspired patterns washable masks exclusively handcrafted in our manufacture and will available from the end of July 2020 both on our e-commerce platform and in our boutiques.
FNW: What collabs have you planned?
GS: As a major pillar of the new strategy, it is an important part of Borsalino’s ongoing relaunch to continually translate its DNA into contemporary aesthetic canons and to restore hats to their supreme value as a cultural symbol, communication code and style. This will be embodied through collaborations, so I am happy to share with you our first curated Curatorial project with Maison Valentino for its new pret-a-porter Men’s and Women’s Resort 2021 collection as a shared declaration of love for Made in Italy. Within the next five years, we would like to see the conclusion of the work that we have started today with more and more young people wearing Borsalino hats as a personal expression of style.
FNW: What did you learn at your previous positions at Gucci or Prada that you want to apply at Borsalino?
GS: Each one has gifted me different aspects of the business. For example: how to define and build brand equity to implement a scalable business; thinking out of the box in redefining a more competitive business model in today’s world; business precision in deploying strategy; and finally, the omnipotence of innovation and creativity in conceiving product strategies.
FNW: Where do you expect future growth to come from?
GS: Lateral thinking, an attitude of provocation, disruption and irony become the main drivers of the lifestyle reinterpretation, redefining the new culture. Today it’s evident how younger generations are carefully looking at what’s going on in the world in order to re-build it, based upon more collective values, and less individual thinking. There is a great focus on what I would call the social capital and where the brand starts opening towards the outside world through its ad-hoc curatorial strategy. So, if we were to fashion forward and view luxury in let’s say 2025, the focus would be in these different sectors: Chinese driven purchases; e-commerce and online; footprint consolidation; a more youthful market; and omnichannel strategies across regions.
FNW: What are your plans in your new role as president of the Camera Buyer Italia?
GS: Along with other institutions and participating partners, the plan is to rethink the fashion business model with a more system based approach. So, that means supporting the entire eco-fashion system, affronting together the imminent post-Covid-19 problems, debt and equity; and rethinking the role of how wholesale distribution can better support brand strategies.
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