OTB Sales Continue to Climb

On Friday, at Marni’s first show back in Milan, after a series of outings in New York, Tokyo and Paris, Francesco Risso showed a transporting collection with a heavy emphasis on the handmade. Two days before at OTB stablemate Diesel, Glenn Martens, too, leaned into wild creativity and extreme craft.

Both shows, a world away from the manufactured polish favored by luxury mega-brands, typified the design-led approach that has driven strong results across OTB’s portfolio of fashion brands.

Last week, the group confirmed plans for an IPO after net sales reached €1.8 billion, up 10 percent from the previous year and 16.5 percent versus 2021. Each of OTB’s four marquee brands — Diesel, Marni, Margiela and Jil Sander — posted considerable growth, with Margiela (which delivered an internet-breaking couture show last month) at the top of the pack with 23 percent in year-on-year sales gain. Diesel, which filed for bankruptcy in the US just five years ago, saw a 13 percent boost.

It’s a remarkable set of figures considering the overall slump in luxury, a sector battered by stalling demand from aspirational shoppers who had fueled record-breaking sales during the pandemic. By comparison, sales at Gucci-owner Kering dipped 4 percent in 2023.

OTB founder Renzo Rosso has been working to get OTB on track for several years — and because the group is privately held, he’s been able to take his time to develop and implement a unique strategy that marries artisanal expression with commercial results. Where his brands may not have the marketing firepower and top retail positions of LVMH- and Kering-backed rivals, OTB’s brands have found success with a combination of strong designer-led creativity and key seasonless pieces.

“I am proud that all our brands are having a special moment and I think this is due primarily to two reasons: the first one is that we always put creativity front and center and it shows; and the second one is that we have chosen a different path from today’s common one, that is we really focus on the product, its beauty, its quality, its uniqueness, its durability,” Rosso told in a statement.

Results were far from immediate for Marni, where it took years to win over enough new clients to cancel out the loss of Consuelo Castiglioni loyalists. Meanwhile, at Margiela, sales of hero products like low-top Replica sneakers and Tabi shoes have steadily climbed, but interest in the brand yo-yo’ed wildly as creative director John Galliano popped on and off the fashion week calendar, experimenting with films even after in-person fashion resumed following the pandemic.

At Jil Sander, Rosso is betting that Luke and Lucie Meier’s sleek-yet-romantic minimalism will serve as the perfect platform for a line of ultra-elevated luxury bags — another long-term play.

And at Diesel, the premium denim giant whose 1990s and early 2000s windfall funded the creation of the group, it took several years for the business to catch the wave of renewed buzz around the brand as Glenn Martens’ sleazy, irreverent revamp reinterpreted the brand’s codes for a new generation.

Diesel had struggled for more than a decade to navigate the decline of department stores and malls, not to mention the death of denim trend cycles and its own fading cultural relevance. But the wait has paid off. Not only has Diesel returned to double-digit topline growth, but its business is healthier: less dependent on discount-prone wholesalers, with fewer non-performing doors and a collection that’s more balanced with bags, shoes and outerwear in addition to jeans.

By giving time and space to the creative directors’ visions, Rosso has positioned OTB brands as an antidote to branding-led luxury megabrands, which leaned more heavily than ever during the pandemic on splashy marketing and logos. A generation of ultra plugged-in, social media-informed customers know how to recognise flagship items without the logo — and are increasingly turning to items like Margiela’s Tabi-toe boots or Marni’s colourful statement knitwear to express their identity.

“Young consumers appreciate the fact that our brands often take an opposite approach to the market, focusing largely on the look and quality of their products and continuing their mission to make fashion a dream,” Rosso said in the company’s financial results.

OTB bands also operate with greater autonomy — avoiding cookie-cutter approaches to global expansion. “With the LVMHs and Kerings of the world, the trend has been to instil group-level functions to each brand. Even if outwardly, they say creative isn’t centralised, a synergised way of thinking creates a culture where group-level executives like to get involved,” said Tony Wang, founder of luxury brand consultancy Office of Applied Strategy, and former head of brand and content at Ssense. “Renzo runs a looser ship and gives his brands space to incubate and really cook.”

Where the group is more hands-on is in its supply-chain: another key ingredient to its success has been the close ties it maintains throughout the Italian fashion ecosystem, allowing the group to produce desirable products at prices that are dear, but still more accessible than equivalents from top luxury houses: think blazers for €1,450 instead of €2,700 at Fendi or Gucci.

The group tends to be pragmatic. At Margiela, for example, the brand went all-in on Galliano’s runway vision from the get-go but took years to identify savvy ways to trickle his ideas into the product and store concept, while leaving certain product lines alone. The mix of directional items and Martin-era classics made for messy merchandising and confusing brand messaging at times, but the components eventually clicked, resulting in a house that serves both Margiela traditionalists and Galliano superfans alike.

“Brands like Jil Sander, Margiela and Marni have a deep DNA. Couple that with talented creative directors and a wide range of price points; it gives more room for success,” said consultant Julie Gilhart. “Many of the codes have remained the same so they are not like a heritage brand that has been turned upside-down so it’s not recognisable anymore to an original customer.”

It’s miles away from the kind of shock-and-awe rebrandings often seen at corporate giants.

The question now is whether the company can stay true to its patient, designer-led approach to building fashion businesses under the scrutiny of public markets — which expect steady growth and swift action to turn around underperforming units. Last week, OTB Group chief executive officer Ubaldo Minelli told reporters that the company plans to list on the Milan Stock Exchange toward the end of 2024 or early 2025. As a public entity, OTB might standardise its approach in order to achieve more stable and consistent results.

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