Rossignol, once a ready-to-wear after-thought, is now a fashion player
today Oct 8, 2019
For the past several years, cool active sport brands worldwide have been obsessed with one role model – Moncler.
The explosive growth of that obscure puffer marque into a giant global brand raised heads, and ambitions, throughout the entire industry, and nowhere more so than in the Alps.
Many have tried, and not all have succeeded, but one brand that’s managed to write an exciting new chapter has to be Rossignol, the nec plus ultra of Alpine skis, and label that in barely four years has won itself a place on the apparel map. Thanks to an impressive array of product driven developments and a succession of eye catching, and increasingly profitable, collaborations with leading creators.
From Jean Charles de Castelbajac and Lapo Elkann to Philippe Model and Tommy Hilfiger, Rossignol has racked up some brilliant new partnerships. And the resulting sales figures have been impressive.
Back in 2015, Rossignol made its first serious step back into apparel with a launch in its well-located showroom on historic Corso Venezia in Milan. And, remarkably, in just the four years since Rossignol Apparel has grown from barely €10 million in annual sales to puncturing the €50 million barrier.
So, FashionNetwork.com caught up with the CEO of Rossignol Apparel, Alessandro Locatelli, for some insights into how he turned a sleepy brand extension into a booming après-ski business, while reimagining Rossignol as a winter fashion destination.
But first off, don’t mention the ‘M’ word.
“I prefer not to mention the word, though I have great respect for Remo Ruffini,” smiles Locatelli.
“Our key asset is our product and technicity and not just a logo. We are about sports from the mountain to the city. Which is nowadays very contemporary. We own the mountain and this sport. Rossignol is still number one worldwide for Alpine skis and number two for ski boots. We are still the leading medal winner,” explains Locatelli over a coffee in the brand’s Paris flagship across from the Palais Garnier opera house.
Known as a hard-driving executive, Locatelli has the charm of a well-travelled Italian and the philosophical perspective of experienced fashion pro. Reflecting on competitors, he sees The North Face as playing between sport and city; while Fila operates on the trend line between athleisure and sport. “Fila’s assets are different. They are about empowering a logo through marketing,” he argues.
To his mind, fashion investors have been buying “sleeping beauties” for huge sums of money, attempting to reignite them with storytelling.
“The big difference with Rossignol is that it has a real, valid history to tell. A company launched in 1907 in France, with a super DNA, unparalleled success in Alpine skiing and highly advanced products.
“Our goal is to build around that Rossignol story and that we make great products - from technical to ski to snow to the city. There is a huge appetite for our brand,” he insists.
Back in 1970 the legendary Jean Vuarnet – later of sunglasses fame – won the 1960 Olympic downhill gold in Squaw Valley, California on Rossignol’s Allais 60s, the brand’s first all metal skis. Though Rossignol’s heyday was in the 1970s when its first Nordic ski led to it becoming the world’s largest ski manufacturer. By 1988 at Calgary, Alberta Olympics, skiers on Rossignol triumphed in six out of 10 alpine events. While the most famous skier of the 1980s, Alberto Tomba, raced in Rossignol.
Locatelli was appointed CEO of Rossignol Apparel in 2015, in the wake of its acquisition by the Scandinavian investment firm Altor. A key Altor goal was to build out product categories, and the most obvious area of growth was apparel.
In a busy career, Locatelli had just spent four years in Hong Kong with Balmain; prior to that he was the general manager of Itierre – the legendary Italian garment maker tragically taken down in the 2008 crash, which produced collections for Jean Paul Gaultier, Roberto Cavalli, Gianfranco Ferré and John Galliano among others.
When he joined Rossignol, it just produced ski apparel – jackets, pants and glasses. His first step, rationalizing the logo into a cockerel, a motif that dated back to the brand’s beginning. Making a
red mono logo initially, and then playing with size; or making it black or three colours.
Then, Locatelli built out the clothes collection; first with fitted knitwear, mainly made Italy, technical woollens and micro fiber, cleverly creating a hipster après-ski cool. Plus, he balanced slope with city; making all-black looks that could work both in the Alps and weekend clubbing in a fashion capital. With ski-track shapes as a visual signifier and then introducing ski pants in a five-pocket shape – in fabrics that allowed them to be contemporary, fashionable and even sexy.
Adding iridescent trim to an artic hood of a parka; or creating Velcro patches to hide a bright rooster logo; so you can “even go to the theatre.” Locatelli also extended into contrast-color mountain boots; and white post-modern sneakers with the strutting cockerel.
He also reignited a link-up with de Castelbajac and then added Tommy Hilfiger – at first men’s skiwear; then women, and now they will add après-ski. Nor was he afraid of more off-beat branding like with the décor magazine Wallpaper - even if these snow-flake patterned designs seemed out of the Rossignol’s high speed ethos.
Tapping into his Italian roots, he linked up with uber dandy Lapo Elkann and his Italia Independent project with three styles or eyewear, each with four SKUs.
“At the beginning this was primarily branding, but now we doing over €50 million – and are on the map. We’re at break even and we can do anything. Now people are coming to us!” he enthuses.
His best-selling link-up has been Hilfiger for men and women. “The power of Tommy is huge nowadays, it has become very cool brand. He’s grown enormously in Europe,” insists Alessandro, who wears a black and white techno knit cardigan to our talk.
The brand’s most recent collab’ was Philippe Model, the legendary hatter, in a plan “to build a bridge to the city,” shown in Pitti in Florence.
French fiscal rules apply to Rossignol, whose apparel division could score sales of up to €60 million in the year ending in March 31, 2020, depending on the impact of Chinese tariffs.
Locatelli candidly admits that “we need to add €10 to €15 million in sales each year,” a goal complicated by Donald Trump’s tariffs on Made in China, where his division produces 60% of its output. “America is 20% of my business, and we opened two stores (Aspen and on Wooster St in NYC) and pushed e commerce in US. So, it’s been a little tricky.”
Elsewhere, two weeks ago he opened in Beijing’s hottest ‘hood - Sanlitun. In the China games, Rossignol will shod skiing champions Martin Fourcade and Perrine Laffont. Rossignol even still dresses all sky monitors in the French Alps, an iconic image for any true enthusiast.
Locatelli’s timing has been good in Hong Kong, where he didn’t find the right store location before the protests kicked off, avoiding the negative side effect of closing luxury shops for weeks on end. Rossignol essentially retails there in just department store Lane Crawford.
His long-term goals for Rossignol is to drive the apparel and accessories wing over €100 million. In total, Rossignol scored a 7% rise in revenues to €370 million in the year ending March 31, 2018 – with revenues divided into thirds between Europe; North America and the rest of the world.
“Honestly, our division’s biggest problem was just standing up. But I came here to do that. It’s a big project to bring a very heritage aesthetic to a unique brand that was number one in world in ski for years,” concedes Locatelli.
His next big target, the Winter Olympics in Beijing. “When we will be The Brand. The lion in the jungle. If I can rack up with my apparel and Rossignol wins big on the slopes we will own this space,” he cheers. And not just in China, he has yet to venture into Korea, “Which should normally be €10 million annually in sales.”
He’s also moved Rossignol – which is still based in Saint-Jean-de-Moirans, near Grenoble in the foothills of the Alps - towards more sustainable manufacturing, brandishing a sleek new fully welded parka in Sympatex. “It’s 100 % recycled and recyclable and made in France. Though, obviously not cheap, at €750.” While in Paris last week, he feted a new concept, Covershield, which is patented, designed armadillo-like to give more movement, toughness and structure.
Eventually, like all executives in brands owned by investment vehicles, he knows Rossignol could one day seek a stock market listing.
“For sure, that’s something that will happen in the next stage. But look, we managers are part of the board, and we know that boosting turnover is great but that what matters is making a profitable business. That’s what investors always want.”
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