Zegna Group, Tod’s, Brunello Cuccinelli stellar sales: How China is fueling the quiet luxury menswear growth

    Quiet luxury is winning in menswear, as latest brand financials show. How are Chinese consumers shifting the needle?
    Quiet luxury is winning in menswear, as latest brand financials show. How Chinese consumers are shifting the needle. Photo: Zegna
      Published   in Finance

    Last year was plagued by worries of a luxury slowdown. However, some brands, especially in the menswear and quiet luxury categories are bucking the trend.

    Just days after a successful menswear show in Milan by its flagship Zegna brand, the Italian luxury conglomerate Ermenegildo Zegna Group (which includes Thom Brown and Tom Ford Fashion) reported its preliminary financial performance data for the 2023 fiscal year. The group saw a remarkable 27.6 percent year-on-year increase in sales, totaling $2.13 billion (1.9 billion euros).

    Following the release of the financial report, Ermenegildo Zegna’s stock price surged by over 8 percent, resulting in a current market value of approximately $3.1 billion.

    It’s not just brands like Zegna and Thom Browne on the up. Tod’s, which posted a 11.9 percent rise in sales to 1.13 billion euros ($1.23 billion) last year, showed its strength in the market with China critically rising a whopping 24 percent.

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    Another Italian brand, Brunello Cucinelli, defied headwinds and showed remarkable resilience that translated into a 23.9 percent surge in its annual revenue for 2023, catapulting the brand’s sales figures to an unprecedented €1.14 billion ($1.2 billion), a milestone that remarkably outpaced its own ambitious €1 billion sales target by a staggering five years.

    The fourth quarter of 2023 (ended 31 December), one marked by cautious consumer spending and unpredictable market dynamics globally, turned out to be the best in Brunello Cucinelli’s history in terms of absolute value. It posted a notable 15.6 percent year-on-year revenue increase, topping off at €321 million.

    The Zegna Group’s fourth quarter also saw a higher growth rate of a whopping 40 percent, with sales reaching $638.4 million (570 million euros).

    Brand growth in detail#

    For Brunello Cucinelli, its business in the mainland market grew eightfold from 2011 and 2020. The founder told Jing Daily in 2022 that “today Asia generates about 24 percent of our revenues, and China alone accounts for about half of our Asian business. We see large room for development, but we hope to implement it fully over time while remaining true to our identity.”

    The Zegna brand and Thom Browne’s direct retail businesses experienced significant growth according to the latest report, particularly in the Chinese, European, and American markets. Both brands are apt at engaging and converting new customers from the younger generations while serving their longtime loyal clientele well.

    Ermenegildo “Gildo” Zegna, Chairman and CEO of the Zegna Group, remarked, “While we have seen broad-based strength, I am particularly pleased by the continued growth in EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa] and the very positive performance in the US ... [which] coupled with the rebound in the Greater China Region, are testaments to the soundness of our long-term strategy.”

    In China, Zegna’s activations, such as the Elder Statesman collaboration event in Chengdu last year, boosted sales and the brand’s presence.

    The Ermenegildo Zegna Group’s most recent earnings grew 27.6 percent. Photo: Shutterstock
    The Ermenegildo Zegna Group’s most recent earnings grew 27.6 percent. Photo: Shutterstock

    While conceding that the global environment “remains challenging” in a statement, Gildo Zegna singled out the group's integrated supply chains deployed in ready-to-wear, as well as Zegna’s made-to-measure and customization businesses, as key drivers going forward.

    Quiet luxury keeps rising#

    One thing that ties these brand on the up during tough marketing conditions is that they are all hinged on quality, elegance, and craft. Quiet luxury isn’t just a macro trend at this stage; it can be seen as a shift in consumer priorities and behavior. The preference for the understated over the overt reveals new priorities for subtlety, nuanced storytelling, and meticulous craftsmanship.

    In the Brunello Cucinelli earnings report, the company noted that “in various geographical areas, we have noticed a general demand for understatement, elegance, uniqueness and quality on the part of the end customer, who more and more often wants to find out and learn about the history and values behind the products they purchase.”

    While it resonates with a burgeoning group of consumers who place a premium on the inherent attributes of a product, cultural resonance, and the narratives and enchantment a brand embodies, the movement has gone mainstream, with fast fashion brand like Zara and H&M all releasing products that tap this style.

    China’s fashion-forward youth are also steering towards a nuanced sartorial shift, with timeless looks, calming colors, and culturally rooted crafts reshaping China’s fashion scene.

    Testament to this is the viral sweep of the “Maillard” (美拉德反应) and “Chinese old money” (中式老钱风) styles on Chinese social media. It seems that the power of neutral hues, timeless design, and subtly revamped heritage looks is going nowhere soon.

    Even during the pandemic, bar the months of brutal lockdowns in China, quiet luxury brands like Tod’s were boosted by enthusiasm in the China market as the US and Europe remained unsteady. And so with a country still in thrall of quiet luxury, we expect these menswear brands to make further inroads as wealthy clients look for timelessness, investment pieces, and quality in their fashion.

    In an industry where opulence, image, hype, and craft meets precision, these luxury menswear brands have upheld a heritage of craftsmanship alongside financial prowess, marking a year of remarkable growth and market dominance.

    • Despite luxury concerns, some menswear companies like Ermenegildo Zegna Group, Tod’s, and Brunello Cucinelli achieved impressive sales 2023 growth, with Zegna Group reaching $2.13 billion and Tod’s seeing 11.9 percent increase in revenue.
    • Chinese consumers are driving the success of these brands evolving preferences towards quiet luxury and timeless design. Tod's, for one, saw a 24 percent rise in China.
    • Quiet luxury, emphasizing quality, elegance, and craftsmanship, is gaining momentum globally, influencing consumer behavior beyond menswear and shaping attitudes towards understated elegance in fashion overall. But how long will this macro trend continue?
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