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Nanushka's Owner Launches New Fashion Group, Buying Milan's Sunnei

Sunnei has been a rare bright spot for independent designers on the Milan scene. The fund that owns Nanushka is buying the brand with help from the Hungarian government, and says it's looking for more brands to invest in next year.
Sunnei founders Loris Messina and Simone Rizzo
By
  • Robert Williams

PARIS, France — The investment vehicle that owns Hungarian label Nanushka has snapped up a majority stake in young Milanese fashion brand Sunnei, part of broader ambitions to build a new fashion group.

The €6 million ($7 million) investment from Vanguards, a fashion and lifestyle fund backed by Hungary's Export-Import bank and co-founded by Nanushka Chief Executive Peter Baldaszti, is set to help Sunnei develop a direct-to-consumer business, fund operations at its Milan store and headquarters and explore options for opening retail locations in other key cities.

Simone Rizzo and Loris Messina, the founders and designers of the six-year-old brand known for its broad, summery stripes and contemporary take on Italian craftsmanship, will stay on as creative directors and continue to manage day-to-day operations under the label's new business plan.

"Even if the business has grown very fast we still aren't very structured," Rizzo told BoF. Sunnei has a team of 15 staff and is stocked at around 80 retailers including SSense, Boon the Shop and Luisa Via Roma, "but we've still been more like a collective of artists," he added.

Sunnei has nonetheless garnered attention as a rare independent brand with traction in Milan, where big heritage brands dominate the fashion week schedule. Last year, it discontinued deals with business accelerator and showroom Tomorrow London and PR firm Karla Otto, moving more of its publicity and business activities in-house.  

"We see a huge potential. Sunnei is absolutely digital-first, and it's customer-driven, not trend-driven," said Nanushka's Baldaszti in an interview by phone. Sunnei has been able to "create a lifestyle which is very strong, but they don't really have a hero product or strong merchandising yet."

Baldaszti has a strong track record at Nanushka, where he scaled the brand from sales of €700,000 to €22.8 million since 2016. With Vanguards, he hopes to replicate that success elsewhere. The fund has also acquired Hungarian womenswear label Aeron, and says it will be looking for two-to-three more investment opportunities next year.

Sunnei is set to show its latest collection Thursday at an empty Milan swimming pool.

Vanguards is 50 percent-owned by the EXIM Cross-border Fund, an initiative backed by Hungary's Export-Import Bank and managed by GB & Partners that aims to boost international commerce for Hungarian companies.

Editor’s Note: This article was revised on 24 September 2020 to add details of Vanguards’ ownership structure. A previous version also incorrectly spelled Peter Baldaszti’s name. 

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