After news broke last week that Style Capital, an Italian private equity firm, had taken a stake in beloved women’s fashion brand Zimmermann, some in the industry expressed concern that it spelled the beginning of the end for the label’s uniquely Australian approach to luxury. But not Rosanna Iacono, an advisor and partner at Sydney retail consultancy The Growth Activists. “I would be surprised if they interfered with the design, quality or pricing given the current positive momentum
mentum,” Iacono told Inside Retail. “My experience working in private equity is that, if numbers are tracking well, there is limited intervention in the market-facing aspects of the business. If anything they will open doors to new markets like Asia and Europe where the brand will undoubtedly do well.” Based in Milan, Style Capital’s portfolio includes LA-based denim brand Re/Done and two Italian apparel brands, Forte Forte and MSGM. WWD reported earlier this year that the firm was in the process of acquiring a 70 per cent stake in Zimmermann for around 250 million euros, but it appears the deal was not finalised at the time. Style Capital and Zimmermann announced their “strategic partnership” in a joint statement last week, but did not disclose any financial details. However, some media reports have described the investment as a majority stake. A previous investor, General Atlantic, is selling its minority stake in the brand as part of the transaction. A private company, Zimmermann does not report annual sales figures, however, it has described the last five years, in which it opened an office in New York and over a dozen stores across the US and Europe, as an “exciting and unprecedented phase of growth”. Now, the retailer is looking to leverage its profile, and fresh injection of funds, to enter a new market, Asia, where it does not currently have an on-the-ground presence. “We are excited to partner with the team at Style Capital as we continue on our journey to build a unique global luxury brand from Australia,” said Nicky Zimmermann in a statement. China, a cautionary tale The Asian market is notoriously tricky for international brands to get right. And currently, in China, homegrown luxury brands, such as Angel Chen and Comme Moi, are experiencing a surge in popularity. But Steven Altman, a luxury expert based in Hong Kong, believes there is still opportunity for a brand like Zimmermann to succeed. “In my mind, there is always room for new and exciting brands to enter the market. They just have to offer…and be positioned…as a brand with a story, and one that is relevant and as unique as possible, differentiating them from others,” said Altman, the managing director of boutique market research consultancy Inspiring-i. That is certainly the case with Zimmermann, which was founded by sisters Nicky and Simone Zimmermann in Sydney in 1991 and has virtually cornered the market on boho chic over the past 30 years. Its mix of romantic ruffles and lace with daring cutouts and slits and unique prints is unmistakable. “Without a doubt its greatest strength is its distinctive brand DNA and design handwriting, which Nicky Zimmermann and her design team have continuously refined and evolved, particularly over the last five years,” Iacono said. “The brand also shows the rest of the world that Australian fashion can be about so much more than swim, surf and beach lifestyle, and can hold its own globally in categories like occasionwear.” Digital first One of the most common mistakes made by international brands entering Asia for the first time, according to Altman, is taking a one size fits all approach “I think that some overseas brands may see Asia as whole, when in fact it is incredibly diverse,” he said. “Therefore, gathering a true understanding of the individual Asian markets and consumer needs is imperative. You cannot change the DNA of the brand, but you can adapt the communication to different markets to make the brand more resonating and relevant.” It’s also important to have a strong digital offering, which tends to be a weak spot in the luxury sector, where brands often struggle to translate their high-end store experience online. “The challenge is that the digital experience needs to truly capture the essence of the brand. The experience has to be the same as offline, albeit different,” Altman said. According to Zimmermann, the investment from Style Capital will be used in part to support its digital growth, as well as expansion into new categories and increasing the wholesale footprint. The brand is currently stocked in a select number of premium department stores and e-commerce sites, including Harrods, Selfridges, Net-A-Porter and MyTheresa. For many up-and-coming designer brands, wholesale is viewed as a customer acquisition opportunity, according to Iacono. “I do think that there is still room for traditional channels like wholesale, and certainly also for premium marketplace platforms like FarFetch,” she said, “but the smart brands will not be relying too heavily on them and will be aggressively growing their own controlled channels as a priority.” Lagging on sustainability The fact that Zimmermann came through the pandemic relatively unscathed is testament to the brand’s strong business model, according to Style Capital CEO Roberta Benaglia. “Notwithstanding the difficulties of the pandemic, we have been impressed by the extraordinary strength and resilience of the company’s business model, as well as by the professional approach of the entire team,” she said. “This partnership is confirmation of the confidence we have in the long-term growth potential of Zimmermann.” But there is one area where the brand is lagging rather than leading, according to Iacono – sustainability. “In recent times other designer brands have forged ahead to develop a leadership position in this space, and Zimmermann could have been even stronger had they combined design leadership with sustainability leadership,” she said.