The standard script for many fashion brands reads as follows: splash a fancy logo across a garment, invest in runway shows and advertise in glossy titles. Milanese clothing brand Aspesi does none of those things. Yet over the past half century it has developed a loyal following, first in Italy and now abroad, thanks to its collections of smart urban looks for men and women. “It’s about the textiles; it’s never about the logo,” says Simona Clemenza (pictured), who took over the reins as ceo in September, tasked with shepherding Aspesi into a new era as it celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Founded by entrepreneur Alberto Aspesi in 1969, the brand has long stood out for its astute research and procurement of quality fabrics: British wool and linen, Scottish tartan, Japanese cotton, technical nylon and Italian cashmere. It is also known for mixing traditional textiles, such as Harris Tweed, with modern materials such as Thermore, a synthetic fabric good for insulation.
Aspesi initially made its name with casual shirts in bold fabrics. In the 1980s it got experimental, introducing the Mod 13, a technical shirt made from polyamide and padded with light Thermore that offered a lighter alternative suited to city living; it could be paired with one of the brand’s down jackets in chilly weather. “The concept of layering is central to what we do,” says Clemenza, who previously held positions at lvmh, Karl Lagerfeld and Milanese womenswear brand Krizia.
With Alberto having retreated from day-to-day operations, Italian private-equity fund Armònia Sgr took majority control of the business in 2017. Clemenza has been charged with managing the brand’s overseas expansion: sales are currently divided squarely between Italy and the rest of the world. It is particularly focused on markets including Germany and Scandinavia, where it has recently seen double-digit growth. “It’s about offering functional pieces, not fashion, to city dwellers looking for understated pieces that last,” says Clemenza. “It’s a sophisticated tuned-in audience who want great essentials for their wardrobe and don’t want to overspend because of a logo.”
While Clemenza sees herself as a steward of the brand, she has worked with the label’s in-house creative team to enter an important new sector: accessories. Set to launch early this year, the collection will feature lightweight backpacks, crossbody designs and shopper bags in nylon and leather. “We want smart, casual pieces that match our timeless, utilitarian garments,” she says.
Another part of the brand’s strategy is the introduction of two inter-season collections: one that hits shops in May and the other in October. The point is to respond to the increasingly unpredictable weather. “We want to offer items in different weights, using different fabrics so that they are right for the weather and can be layered with other pieces in our collection,” says Clemenza.
Meanwhile, Clemenza is planning new shop openings, including in key market Japan. The goal, it seems, is to maintain a low profile while making more shoppers aware of its selection of chic everyday items.
Aspesi in numbers:
In 1980 a 22-year-old Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, whose family owns Chopard, came up with an idea for a watch. It was sportier than anything the Genevan watchmaker had done before and was to be made from steel, a material that the house had not previously worked with. The resulting St Moritz model was a runaway success.
Four decades later Scheufele, now the co-president of Chopard, has updated the St Moritz. The new 10-piece collection, called Alpine Eagle, is a handsome line of unisex watches that have a brushed look, come in two sizes, and are made from Lucent Steel A223, an alloy that is notably hardy and took Chopard four years to develop. Scheufele is a keen hiker and skier and the water-resistant models – made entirely at Chopard’s in-house facilities in Switzerland – are the sort of sporty watches one could wear up a mountain.
In Japan, Goldwin has become synonymous with great sportswear. Now the company – which was founded in 1951 and has its own-brand clothing line in addition to owning Nanamica and the Japanese imprints of The North Face, Helly Hansen and others – is looking to crack the rest of the world.
One year after opening its first bricks-and-mortar shop in Tokyo, Goldwin has opened a second, in San Francisco. Based in the city centre, the site sells Goldwin-branded gear for skiing, hiking, running and mountaineering. In the white-walled space, puffa jackets, ski helmets and nylon backpacks are interspersed with lots of plants. “San Francisco seamlessly marries life in the big city with the leisure of the great outdoors: Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park are mere hours away and there are trail-running courses along the ocean,” says Goldwin general manager Gen Arai, explaining the company’s choice of location. The move makes sense for another reason too: there’s an abundance of young technology money in San Francisco, and plenty of shoppers who are interested in high-performance products.
Thanks to an ability to create technical pieces with a fashionable flair, Goldwin is well placed to capitalise on urbanites’ spiking interest in outdoor goods. Until now the company has mostly sold its wares through wholesale channels and Arai says that the Bay Area opening is “the first step of our global direct-to-consumer strategy”. Look out for flagships slated to open later this year in Munich and Beijing.
Five bags for the new year:
Gucci This roomy white leather carrier comes with a top handle, an adjustable longer strap and a horse-bit detail for a touch of flair.
Hermès The Chaîne d’ancre design – a look inspired by the links of a ship’s anchor – was debuted in a bracelet in 1938. Now the maison has worked the pattern into a tote.
Wandler Elza Wandler, an Amsterdam-based shoe and bag designer, is behind this petite crocodile-leather number.
Kassl Editions This up-and-coming Dutch outerwear brand is brightening things up with a fuschia nylon bag.
Loewe The Balloon bag has a soft napa leather sac perched atop a sturdy calfskin base.
gucci.com; hermes.com; wandler.com; kassleditions.com; loewe.com