MILAN, Italy — "These came in this morning," says Massimo Giorgetti, founder and creative director of Milanese brand MSGM, pointing to the first drafts of the company's new summer advertising campaign spread across his desk. Although the images feature two of today's hottest models, Nicolas Ripoll and Kate Goodling, their main focus is the bold textures and colours of the clothing. "It is our DNA: print, colour and stripes," says Giorgetti.
MSGM is still a small brand. This campaign is only the second of its kind since the company was launched four years ago. But 2013 has proven to be a major turning point for the label, marking both its first appearance at a fashion week and the launch of its first store, both of which occurred in September in Milan.
Anywhere else, these developments may not have been seen as particularly significant. But in Milan, often considered conservative and lacking in creative innovation, the ascent of MSGM may represent the beginning of a new chapter for the city.
Since 2009, MSGM has grown its points of sale by approximately 50 percent per year. Indeed, the label is now available at over 500 locations, spread across 35 countries, and has a presence in key markets in the Far East, such as Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong, as well as the traditional fashion capitals of Paris, London and New York. Meanwhile, 20 percent of MGSM’s sales are done online at e-tailers including MyTheresa, Luisa Via Roma and The Corner.
The brand's turnover reflects its growing distribution. According to Giorgetti, MSGM, which is jointly owned by the founder and the Italian fashion group Paoloni, ended 2012 with revenue of approximately €10 million (about $14 million). While 2013 numbers are yet to be tallied, the company expects strong double-digit percentage growth, says Giorgetti. Tellingly, MGSM’s revenue target for 2014 is €30 million (about $41 million), which Giorgetti insists is realistic, despite the fact that this figure would require the brand to triple its operations over a two-year period.
So, what is the strategy?
The brand's growth has been driven by two major factors: an unorthodox approach, and the rise of the market category in which it operates. As for the first, Rimini-born Giorgetti is a kind of underdog. Lacking a formal fashion education, he spent the decade prior to launching MGSM splitting his time between his career as a DJ, consulting for various fashion labels and creating small-scale denim collections. His first collaboration with Paoloni began eight years ago and happened almost by chance. "They asked me to do the styling for their catalogue. It's funny, because this was the only catalogue I ever worked on."
"MSGM was born out of music," explains Giorgetti, pointing to the fact that the brand's logo and name resonate both with the band MGMT and the album art of Coldplay's Viva La Vida. "In 2009, there was a financial crisis," he says, recounting how the initial concept came about. "And I wanted to try something that would be very strong, very colourful, and very happy."
But Milan, tending towards more commercial fashion, was not yet ready for this explosion of colour. "MSGM was born as a project for men,” says Giorgetti. “The first collection was very strong, lots of fluoro, two years before the fluoro trend; the first store that saw the collection was shocked.”
Importantly, Giorgetti also included five women's items of a similar aesthetic in this first presentation. "We presented the men's collection, but we sold the women's items. They were sold to 50 of the best stores in the world. The men's collection was probably too strong. In June 2009, I really understood what the fashion world wanted at that moment: very strong and very crazy prints for women. For men, it took me another three years to better understand. After the first year, the showroom and the company wanted to discontinue the menswear line. But I fought that."
While Milan is best known for its high fashion houses and denim brands, from its inception MSGM occupied a different category — the rapidly expanding contemporary market — which, in addition to its maverick aesthetic, has propelled the label forward.
Contemporary labels fill the gap between high street chains and high fashion houses, combining elements of the two. In recent years, they have been swiftly taking over territory once dominated by secondary or “diffusion” lines (which traditionally offer designer names on diluted designs, at lower price points). While contemporary brands are priced similarly to traditional diffusion lines, crucially, they offer product with a distinctive design trademark.
"Yes," answers Giorgetti definitively when asked if he might be Milan's answer to the contemporary market, now estimated to be worth more than $5 billion a year, in the United States alone. "In all of the stores, MSGM is right next to Carven, Kenzo and Acne. A lot of people have said to me: the secret of MSGM's success is that it is the first and only contemporary collection from Italy."
Although this may not be entirely accurate, it’s hard not to wonder why the contemporary market includes so few leading entries from Italy. "Young designers in Milan want to do a first-line, they want to do fashion shows, they want to do couture," says Giorgetti.
"This young and fresh brand is innovative both in terms of the collections as well as its communication strategy. For example, the most recent collaboration with Toilet Paper magazine had profound success and the exclusive pieces [that were created] sold out on The Corner within a very short period of time," says Alessandra Rossi, the commercial director of Yoox Group, which owns The Corner and has been selling MSGM for the past five seasons. "I don’t personally think that Milan — and Italy in general — are lacking new talents. I have seen a real improvement on the Milanese scene in the last few seasons. MSGM is for sure one of these."
"Nowadays MSGM is becoming the leader of the Italian contemporary market," confirms Silvano Vangi, head womenswear buyer at Luisa Via Roma. "They create items with affordable prices and high visual impact. MSGM has had double-digit growth from season to season," he adds.
"I need to be smart [about balancing design and price]," says Giorgetti, especially as the collections are produced in Italy. “If I have a brocade priced at €40 per meter, I'll do something simple with it. On the other hand, if I have a €7 cotton poplin, I'll do something more detailed.”
Digital printing also plays a major role in the brand’s approach to product development. The technique allows the company to produce designs that look highly intricate without having to cut or sew in adornments, helping to keep prices relatively low, while allowing for creative freedom and the production of exclusive patterns.
But if the brand's exaggerated aesthetics come from the world of high fashion, it borrows two other values from the high street. The first is a broad price range. "We start with €50 t-shirts, sweatshirts for €150 to €250 and dresses ranging between €250 and €600. Fur coats go for around €2000," Giorgetti explains. However, the collections also have a very wide scope, containing "approximately 500 pieces per season."
Giorgetti plays a dynamic game, responding quickly to the needs of distinct global markets. "Dubai wanted long skirts, Russia — fur coats, and so forth. Two years ago, we had three coats in our collection. One year later, we were producing 20,” he says. “In Italy, fashion consumers are very advanced. They were buying the printed sweatshirts two years ago. Now they want something new. But in the rest of the world, they're still crazy for the prints.”
"The big brands are focused on bags and shoes. A friend who works for a big [high-end] brand told me that 70 to 80 percent of sales come from shoes and bags," notes the designer. This provides contemporary brands like MSGM the space to sell their clothes, which are remarkably less expensive, but still have designer allure. Nonetheless, this hasn't deterred Giorgetti from experimenting with accessories.
For summer 2014, MSGM is unveiling its first shoe and bag collection. Notable designs include chunky sandals for men and women, a nod to the Hawaiian trend. Giorgetti says this new category has received positive feedback from buyers and led to additional points of sale, despite a price range of €350 to €500. "We sold 5,000 units of one of the models."
But is MSGM growing too fast?
There is a risk that growing too quickly will damage the “cool allure” of the collection, admits Giorgetti. Yet, MGSM’s 2014 strategy includes plans to open three direct-to-consumer stores in the Middle East and Asia, and the brand has already confirmed its participation in the upcoming round of Milan’s menswear shows this coming January.
If you're going to go for it, go all the way.