When Daniel Grieder was named chief executive of German apparel maker Hugo Boss AG in June 2020, the outlook for the brand’s core suiting and office wear was shrouded in uncertainty — the appointment came during the height of the pandemic, when the return to in-person work and events looked extremely far-off.
But by the time he officially took the reins of the company a year later, signs of hope had started to spring up as demand for occasion wear came roaring back with the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions around the world. Clients’ flexible lifestyles sparked demand for comfortable, contemporary tailoring — with some customers seeking blazers and trousers cosy enough to wear at home, to the office, or to coffee and yoga.
Boss rolled out a revamped visual identity, updated its marketing message and started mixing in tailored pieces with a streetwear-infused casual offer that sought to recontextualise work attire as an opportunity for individual empowerment rather than promoting a neutral business uniform. “Be your own Boss” has been the slogan on ads with a new cast of celebrity spokespeople, including Kendall Jenner, Khaby Lame and Matteo Berrettini.
In 2022′s second quarter, sales at Hugo Boss rose 29 percent above 2019′s pre-pandemic levels as the company targets doubling annual revenue to over €4 billion (approximately $4 billion) by 2025.
BoF: Casualisation and the decline of the office have led to some really challenging years for formalwear. A lot of people who used to have two separate wardrobes now only need one. Has that meant clients are spending less, or simply shifting the spend to different categories and price points?
Daniel Grieder: Before Covid, tailoring [already] became a bit more smart-casual. It became more comfortable, fewer ties, more relaxed but still a blazer and pants. That was the trend. Then Covid came and everybody said, ‘Suiting, tailoring is out; nobody is going to wear it at home.’ In the beginning, that was clearly the case.
However, when we slowly came out of the pandemic and events started to resume, we were impressed by how fast the swing back to suits actually happened.
BoF: With what kinds of suiting is Boss seeing that momentum? It doesn’t feel like people just went back to dressing how they were before.
DG: The suiting for occasion wear continues to be more traditional, wearing a suit nearly [always] with a tie like before the pandemic. And the demand for that is much bigger than we expected.
Then for [everyday] suiting, we needed to continue [to be focused on that]; at Boss it’s in our brand DNA. We had to try to develop the suit of the future, a suit that is probably more comfortable, that is maybe a bit more technical.
We call it “dressletic.” We were looking at how so many people when they take a plane wear an Adidas tracksuit. We thought [tracksuits] is not our DNA, but that comfort, if we can bring that into a suit, it would be incredible.
BoF: It sounds like that would respond to people wanting more options for day-to-night dressing: a suit you could wear, say, on a day when you’re going to pop into the office for a meeting, but also go for drinks.
DG: People want to dress up after the pandemic. It’s a clear trend that they want to dress up in a smart-casual way, but they don’t want to wear something that is not comfortable anymore.
So we put a lot of effort into this performance suiting — that’s stretch, it’s water resistant, you can go on a plane in it , it’s wrinkle-free, it’s light, it’s [worn in] sunshine or rain. People don’t just go to the office [in it]; it’s so comfortable that you nearly do not want to wear anything else. It’s more comfortable than jeans, it’s more comfortable than anything.
This performance suiting that we now offer in our stores is sold out every day. It’s the supply chain that is our biggest issue, to even be able to deliver on that demand.
BoF: Do you see demand varying among age groups? During fashion weeks [in 2022], we’ve seen a lot of the very young influencers and TikTokers wearing suits who just a few seasons ago would have all been in hoodies and sneakers.
DG: It’s true that with Gen-Z, we are selling suits again but in a very modern way, that could even have side pockets on the pant or the jacket is shorter. It’s maybe even a bomber jacket you wear with the pants.
With Millennials, it’s a bit more casual. That hoodie [from our campaign] was the best-selling item we ever had. It’s sophistication, but still something more casual or smart-casual that is well received.
Older consumers are dressing more traditionally and probably these are the ones that love the occasion dressing most. However, they are open to more comfortable materials.
BoF: How has the return to more formal dressing impacted footwear? Are most people excited to pick up a fresh pair of brown shoes or high heels again or is the momentum still focused on sneakers?
DG: Sneakers are definitely the big trend. It’s an endless boom.
To be honest, brown shoes are still going down, except for occasion dressing, and even there, if you mix in something new, it’s probably a more casual shoe.
BoF: One priority you’ve set for Boss is to boost its share of womenswear, and you recently tapped some major womenswear stars like Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber as spokespeople. What sort of impact is that having?
DG: We wanted to reintroduce Boss as a new name [separate from “Hugo”], saying, ‘Everybody can be a boss, as long as you stand for something; as long as you do something, as long as you be your own boss.’ It doesn’t matter if it is a man or a woman. Suddenly Boss was relevant in the womenswear business again, as well as for young consumers.
Currently women do want to wear a dress, they want to wear a suit, but it has to be comfortable. It has to be maybe an oversized suit, maybe also in more colours.
BoF: Where is the price sensitivity headed for tailoring? People, especially men, used to be willing to pay so much for suits because they would wear them almost every day to the office. If tailoring is being framed as more of a fashion and lifestyle piece, will that change how much people spend?
DG: It depends on the target group. The demand is here for both [luxury and accessible luxury]. Where I think it’s under pressure is the mass market. When you buy a suit, you want to have a suit that is from a brand that is known as a suit brand. And if you are a brand, that also shows the consumer you think about sustainability, they’re willing to spend more. We are upgrading more often than downgrading in terms of pricing, but it means we put more quality or sustainability into the product.
I think we are in a sweet spot, being an accessible luxury brand. If the world is going well, people are willing to buy more expensive pieces, but when it gets a bit more tough, they still want to have a good brand, a good product with a good price value.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This article first appeared in The State of Fashion 2023, an in-depth report on the global fashion industry, co-published by BoF and McKinsey & Company.