Benetton aims for revival with Milan runway debut

Benetton took to the catwalk in Milan for the first time Tuesday with its debut collection by French designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac in a bid to revive the historic Italian brand.

Benetton aims for revival with Milan runway debut
A model wearing one of Benetton's new creations. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The show, which kicked off Milan fashion week, opened with a homage to Karl Lagerfeld, who died Tuesday aged 85.

Then models unveiled the new “Rainbow Machine” collection, sashaying around a fictional workshop, where tailors wearing the Benetton logo could be seen cutting and stitching together new creations.

“Benetton had been a little sleepy for the past ten years, because it had started competing with 'fast fashion' houses and it was losing its DNA,” Castelbajac said ahead of the show.

“We went back to basics with this collection, prioritising the Benetton look, colours and symbols, but with another generation in mind: millennials,” he said.

French fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac (L) and a model at the Milan show yesterday. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

At 69 years old, the French stylist has a long career behind him, including in advertising, where he was known for his colourful, impudent style which mixed punk and pop.

“We share a common DNA with Benetton in terms of colour, knitwear, sportswear and most importantly, irony,” he said, stressing that he wanted to restore the brand to pride of place in wardrobes across the land.

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“Benetton was a haute couture house for everybody, everyone has a little Benetton 'Proust's Madeleine' at home,” he added, referring to the trip down memory lane taken by author Marcel Proust's narrator when he tastes a madeleine dipped in tea.

Castelbajac said he adopted an “almost archaeological” approach: “I searched for the roots of the Benetton story, which began in 1965 with a visionary man (Luciano Benetton) and a little girl who had a knitting machine”.

Being appointed the brand's artistic director in October was like “finding paradise”.

“I was like Charlie at the chocolate factory. I submitted a drawing in the morning and by the evening I could see the first prototype”

His collection featured colourful, eco-friendly creations that aim to be affordable without sacrificing quality.

Women wore checkered tights or skyboots — heeled moonboots — in wide horizontal stripes in the colours of the rainbow. 

The Benetton logo was on prominent display, printed in colour on a white jacket or bordering a yellow tunic in green.

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Wool is reclaiming centre stage thanks to a close collaboration with Giuliana Benetton. The 81-year-old came out of retirement when her brother Luciano — “angry” over the brand's decline — took back control in 2017.

The family business had wilted first at the hands of Luciano's sonAlessandro, then under the control of external managers.

“Only the start”

The brand, which suffered its biggest loss ever in 2017, has revived its collaboration with renowned photographer Oliviero Toscani, the man behind the shock advertising campaigns that contributed to its global success between 1982 and 2000.

The catwalk in Milan – its first big show since a 40th birthday bonanza in Paris in 2006 – aimed to mark its rebirth.

“This show symbolically marks the family's desire to focus once more on the project launched more than 50 years ago,” Giuliano Noci, professor of strategy at the Polytechnic Business School in Milan, told AFP.

“It also shows their willingness to respond to the market's every demand,” he said.

However, he warned that it was “only a starting point, because the brand faces many other challenges”.

“The key to the future will lie in its ability to reposition itself in the rather high-end segment of fast fashion, with innovation and a constant product renewal,” he said.

“Benetton will have to… have stores that offer a real, personalised experience, as well as online sales,” Noci said, pointing out that “Zara, for example, is doing much better than H&M because it is stronger on the online business”.

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

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