Italy’s OVS Dips Its Toes in U.S. With Piombo
Italy’s OVS SpA has made its first move into America with the opening Wednesday of a Piombo store in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.
The 1,550-square-foot shop, located at 149 Spring Street, sells the affordably priced, colorful, mix and match Piombo men’s and women’s apparel and accessories designed by Massimo Piombo, who also serves as creative director of the OVS and Piombo brands.
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The first Piombo freestanding shop opened four months ago in Cortina d’Ampezzo, an Italian ski resort town. The third and fourth freestanding Piombo shops will open in Madrid on Friday and in Paris in May.
The opening of Piombo stores reflects OVS’ relatively rapid development into a platform of distinct brands, with a portfolio that includes the OVS, OVS Kids, Stefanel, BluKids, Croff, Baby Angel, Grand & Hills and Les Copains labels, as well as Piombo. The company has been strengthening its product development and diversifying its assortment with different brands to sharpen the appeal to different lifestyles and customer segments, and make shopping easier.
OVS launched the Piombo brand in 2019 with menswear; Piombo women’s was introduced a year later, and Piombo kids is in its first season.
“In the past, the items in our stores were almost entirely branded OVS. But we learned that to utilize only, or mainly the OVS brand to cater to every single different lifestyle of our customer base was really difficult. So we started [creating] a platform to provide our customer a clear perception of the different lifestyle that each segment of our offer was providing,” explained Stefano Beraldo, the chief executive officer of OVS, in an exclusive interview. “This means transforming gradually in the eyes of the customer from a pure vertical to a more versatile and tailored offer.
“Today, if you enter an OVS store which is 1,200 square meters [12,900 square feet] in Milan or Naples, or in any city in Italy where we have stores, you don’t see the OVS brand occupying the whole store anymore. You see different corners, each with a clear identity.”
For example, there’s a corner with Piombo product, which Beraldo characterized as catering to a 25- to 50-year-old, “well-educated individual more demanding in terms of style and quality, and basically a new customer compared to the original customer base of OVS.” Other sections of the store are delineated by different OVS brands, including Baby Angel young girls’ fashion, which was launched with the late Elio Fiorucci, and Grand & Hills menswear, among other brands.
“We try to make life easier for our customers by offering a clear segmentation,” said Beraldo. “We started this segmentation two-and-a-half years ago and this has been generating incredible results. Our market share is dramatically increasing even in the absence of growing in terms of square meters” of retail space.
“The champion of this strategy is Piombo,” Beraldo said. “With Piombo, it was kind of a risky move. It’s not bread and butter product. Every couple of years there are new trends and we are all followers but Piombo is not a follower. We now have Piombo corners in each of our stores in Italy; Piombo is successful with its men’s and women’s fashions, in and out of Italy.” OVS has 1,200 stores in Italy, including 500 company-owned and the rest franchised units. The Piombo corners are housed in the 500 company-owned stores. There are also 300 OVS stores in countries other than Italy.
“We are convinced that with the improvement that we made in our merchandising, we are more prepared to face a new wave of international expansion,” Beraldo said.
At the Piombo store in Cortina d’Ampezzo, “People wait outside the store for maybe 10, 20 minutes because the store is super small. They can’t enter because of the traffic. On the back of this success I decided to explore the interest of stand-alone Piombo stores, internationally.
“OVS, the full format, is quite big. It’s like another variation of H&M or Gap Inc. — companies with mandates to try to accommodate every customer need. But Piombo is very focused and unique.”
In the U.S., with Piombo, “I feel that we are offering something really new,” Beraldo said. “I know a little bit about the U.S. market. As a manager, an entrepreneur, a person, you can imagine how many times I have visited the States. Many years ago, I thought what J.Crew was doing was something really interesting. Since then, I haven’t seen many other new things in that price range, in that customer base range, maybe with the exception of Aritzia women’s.
“So that’s why we decided only with Piombo and not with all the OVS assets” to enter the U.S. “Maybe one small part of New York can appreciate what we are doing with Piombo. It’s more unique, more precise, more incredible, in my opinion. There’s nothing similar in the market in this moment, for sure.”
Asked if Piombo in SoHo is a test to gauge the viability of additional stores in the U.S., the CEO replied, “We don’t need 100 Piombo stores in the U.S. We opened one. Let’s see what happens and then we decide the next step. If it works, for sure we continue with San Francisco, Los Angeles, maybe Boston, but we will not go in the Midwest. I don’t think it would work there. So let’s be gradual.”
Do people in the U.S. have an awareness of the Piombo brand? “Not at all,” Beraldo admitted. “Maybe those addicted to fashion know Massimo Piombo the designer because of his history but I don’t think they know Piombo as a brand or as a store.
“Massimo is like a painter. If you looked at each of his colors independently, you might consider they wouldn’t work together, but he has this ability to combine colors in a fascinating way. He also has an incredible passion for textures, for fabrics, and the final result is a bit eccentric, if I may say, and is a bit extravagant, if I may say, but extremely commercial. So you can wear it to go to the office, maybe you have a small scarf that makes you different. You can combine shirts, a dress, the denim, a chino, the stripes in different ways that make you feel different.
“The whole SoHo store we painted in just one color, a very vibrant sky blue. It’s totally different,” said Massimo Piombo. “The most important thing is Piombo brings a new energy to the fashion world. It’s a completely different approach. It’s eclectic with a touch of fantasy and elegance, a touch of creativity and also classic and simple, sophisticated and playful, but all at incredible Piombo prices.”
OVS, while cautiously entering the U.S. with Piombo, is planning further maneuvers. According to Beraldo, starting in June or July this year Piombo will be available online in the U.S., and Piombo could open a second store which would be for Piombo Kids. Stefanel, acquired by OVS two years ago, “might come back in the U.S.,” Beraldo added, noting that the previous owner shut down all of the Stefanel U.S. stores.
“Let’s see. Give me some time for all of this,” Beraldo said. “Let me learn.”
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