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Carlyle-Backed Twinset Plots Expansion

The Italian fashion brand will open its first US store in New York, with plans to take on London in 2018.
Twinset Spring/Summer 2018
  • Lauren Sherman

NEW YORK, United States — Twinset, the Italian fashion brand best known for its knitwear, is making a serious foray into the US market with a nearly 2,000 square-foot store at 444 Broadway in New York's Soho neighbourhood, complete with blush-coloured carpets and golden metal racks set against exposed brick walls and industrial lighting.

For many consumers, the au courant decor that frames Twinset's modern bohemian wares will be their first introduction to the brand. The outpost is just the latest step in Twinset's transformation from a well-known local label — founded in 1987 by designer Simona Barbieri — into an international player, fuelled by private equity firm the Carlyle Group.

In 2012, Barbieri and her husband and business partner Tiziano Sgarbi sold 72 percent of the company to Carlyle, which also holds interests in Supreme, Golden Goose and which backed Moncler before it went public. After increasing its stake in Twinset to 90 percent in 2015, Carlyle purchased the remaining 10 percent of the business in April 2017. Barbieri subsequently stepped down as creative director, paving the way for the appointment of two new creative directors — industry veterans Bill Shapiro and Lara Davies — whose first collections will debut in Autumn/Winter 2018. The main collection was rebranded as Twinset Milano, dropping Barbieri's moniker.

The changes are at the behest of chief executive Alessandro Varisco, who was hired by Carlyle from Moschino, where he oversaw the appointment of Jeremy Scott and also worked with the American-born Shapiro, who led men's and women's design. "What I would like to do and what I am trying to do is create a luxury concept with an affordable price," Varisco said of Twinset, which plays in the same field as Coach or Michael Kors. "We're working to open in new markets and develop an international brand." When Varisco joined the company in 2015, 70 percent of sales were generated in Italy. Today, the business is split more evenly, with 55 percent of revenue from Italy and 45 percent from abroad — major markets include Russia, Spain and the Benelux region.

In 2016, the company generated €237 million (about $282 million at current exchange) in sales, up from €217 million ($258 million) a year earlier. EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) also increased to €43 million ($51 million), although Varisco says he has spent much of the last two years “pruning” the business to ensure wholesale partners — which make up 65 percent of sales — are in line with the brand’s current ambitions.

Next up, Varisco will focus on the opening of a London store on King’s Road in Chelsea — slated for April 2018 — as well as ramping up digital efforts. Given that Twinset is still virtually unknown in regions like North America and East Asia, Varisco’s missive is to further increase the share of international sales, with plans to launch e-commerce in certain markets — including the US — in 2018. “They are very digitally oriented,” he says of the Carlyle Group. (The company’s head of European buyouts, Marco De Benedetti, serves as sounding board.) “They know the sector very well, and they speak the fashion language.”

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