FRANKFURT: When Meghan Markle graced the English city of Chichester with a royal visit last month, her forest green clothing lit the Instagram. In a few minutes, the $ 595 lambda skirt from Hugo Boss AG was sold online.
The choice of wardrobe by Duchess of Sussex was a blow to the German company, best known for involving businessmen in gray suits and sensible shirts. The episode revealed several important things, according to CEO Mark Langer: Consumers are seeking inspiration online, they want instant gratification, and Hugo Boss is still behind the curve when it comes to addressing these two points.
"We are inspired by companies that are faster than us," Langer said in an interview in London.
As Dior brands for Burberry woo younger consumers with instant sales and social media advertising, the solid German label needs to take advantage of some of its techniques if it wants to compete. That's why Boss is experimenting with vegan sneakers made from pineapple fibers or collections of capsules that include made-in-Germany bomber jackets and vests.
Even the main process is changing: there is now a washable version in the machine; the twisted model, once sloppy, is coming back; and Boss even reissued the white number that Michael Jackson used on the cover of the 1982 album, Thriller – though with narrower lapels in tune with current tastes. There is also no tiger-cub option.
Speed is key to attracting consumers to new trends. The company was inspired by the fast-fashion pioneer Zara, the CEO said, although the Spanish company operates at a much lower price and can collide with Boss several times with his lightning-fast stops. But the German brand reduced the time to design and develop new collections from eight months to six weeks, using digital tools and skipping fabric and line prototypes. The next step will be to speed up manufacturing, Langer said.
"We have to recognize that our industry has changed," he said.
Boss is still recovering from a reckless push beyond office wear and into a more sophisticated luxury that has overloaded the brand for years. Langer simplified its series of sub-brands, boosted e-commerce, and reduced some of the larger but underperforming stores. He also switched magazine spending to online.
One brand that survived is the Hugo label, which targets a younger clientele with more casual clothing. Among the collections are tops with the logo printed backwards. The company is experimenting with letting buyers choose their own words as they seek to raise the share of custom products.
The Meghan Markle episode was also important to Boss otherwise, in that it helped position the company away from a predominantly male audience. Langer said the women's line is an "integral part" of the company, and that Boss wants to be the No. 1 brand of wear-to-work for professional women.
It's all part of an aspiration to increase sales growth from 4 percent this year to 7 percent annually by 2022. The new targets are "ambitious" and are ahead of projected industry growth, according to RBC analyst Piral Dadhania.
In fact, Langer's argument for the investor community at a presentation in London last week was met with some skepticism. Shares, which lost 11 percent this year and are trading at about half of the peak in 2015, were little changed, despite analysts' praise. Langer, who took over in 2016, said he is not surprised, as investors will first want to see if the strategy works.
"Now everything is running," said the CEO. "We have to deliver."