CEO Livio Proli on Bringing Missoni to China

Key Takeaways:

  • Italian heritage label Missoni has officially entered the China market with a flagship in Shanghai opening on November 9, a WeChat Mini Program, and a Tmall store.
  • CEO Livio Proli explains Missoni’s slow-and-steady strategy, acknowledging that the brand must start from scratch as China is, for the most part, unaware of the Italian house.
  • After investing a lot in its digital platforms, Missoni currently hopes to widen the age demographic of its consumer base by appealing to millennials yet still connecting to its loyal over-40 clients.

Colorful, crochet-knit, zig-zag patterns are an instantly-recognizable symbol of the Italian luxury house Missoni to fashion fans in the West. Yet, the brand barely exists in China’s fashion scene. Not for long, though.

For the first time in its 68-year history, the heritage label, founded by partners Ottavio and Rosita Missoni, is joining Chinese netizens by launching a Tmall platform and WeChat Mini Program, accompanied by a brick-and-mortar flagship at the Kerry Center in the Jing’an district of Shanghai.

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Brand CEO Livio Proli, who moved to Missoni after 20 years at Giorgio Armani, told Jing Daily that his strategy is to understand China first and foremost since it previously built its relationship with the country on tourism. And in fact, the hand-crafted, made-in-Italy feel of Missoni has proven popular among high-paying Chinese tourists in the past.

Proli started his tenure at Missoni in May of 2020 and, like every other brand leader, had to adjust to the global impact of COVID-19. “We spent the first half of this year reorganizing the company,” Proli says. “The world outside was frozen because of the pandemic, so we had time to hire new people and think about everything.”

Over the past 20 years, Proli says Missoni received no investment opportunities in China. Yet, the brand’s Spring/Summer 2022 show attracted some interest, which coincided perfectly with its Shanghai store opening.

“Our only way to proceed in entering the China market was to open a store there, to stay in contact with everybody, be humble, and listen to their wishes and needs,” he states. “We want to understand our potential clients and adapt our formula to the local market. It’s not a top-down-from-Italy strategy. It is the exact opposite.” As many foreign brands who have entered China know, treading light is a good move because banking on a global reputation often reads as obnoxious in this unforgiving market.

The Shanghai store will sell homeware, clothing and accessories, providing China with the Missoni lifestyle. Photo: Courtesy of Missoni

Missoni might be new to China, but when he was an executive at Giorgio Armani, Proli visited the country many times. “[At Giorgio Armani], I used to listen to the guidance of my local colleagues,” he recounts. “But I’ve never had to impose a vision from abroad like this. That is why we are so ready to work with the local people and our team there. Of course, we can tell you all about the DNA, the iconic codes of Missoni, but we need to learn how to adapt our business.”

And those Missoni codes are visually apparent in the new Shanghai store. Designed by Milan-based architects Barbara Ballabio and Andrea Burgio, the store acts as a portal for Chinese customers to become acquainted with the luxe Italian lifestyle of Missoni. From the 3D cladding (replicating the brand’s famous zig-zag) to its vibrant colors and brightly lit spaces, it is the perfect place for Chinese shoppers to familiarize themselves with the house’s clothing and homeware.

Missoni’s signature zig-zag can be found in the interior details. Photo: Courtesy of Missoni

Unlike its stores in Europe or the US, the Shanghai store expects to attract a younger demographic since China’s Gen Z are crucial luxury consumers. In fact, Proli says it is one of the biggest opportunities China can provide. “[Attracting youth] will be new to us because we haven’t done it in the past as a brand, he adds. “We are known to have a solid consumer base over 40, but now it is time to enlarge it. We want to work in a clever way to keep our over-40 clients interested and to appeal to young people at the same time.”

The house’s transition toward widening its consumer base can be seen in its latest Spring/Summer 2022 collection, which features racy, barely-there tops, nineties hems & halter-necks, and more experimental cuts. Yet, the clothes still retain the classy glamour for which Missoni is known. As a brand that has always championed local craft and sustainability, Missoni could be a perfect match for a new generation of conscious consumers.

Opening a flagship store in China also makes sense since the brand recently invested a lot of resources in its digital channels. With the most sophisticated online shoppers worldwide, it makes sense that Missoni would want to reach China’s netizens.

Proli insists that Missoni’s integration into the country will be a marathon, not a sprint. But it does hope to open around 20 to 30 stores in China when the time is right. Maybe the Italian brand’s knit zig-zag will become a universal icon by 2025? Either way, we are excited to see its colorful garments brighten up the streets of Shanghai.


CEOs, Presented By Missoni