United Colours Of Benetton asked over 10,000 people in seven countries what they thought of the brand and after taking a long, hard look at itself, and considering all that feedback, the brand has begun a rebranding process that reinterprets what made it one of the most talked-about apparel companies of the last 50 years.
At Benetton's headquarters in Treviso, Italy, a display of heritage knitwear had been set up to show what is at the heart of the brand's DNA. Some, like an outrageously bright fruitbowl on a lime green background, were shown on mannequins next to displays of designers' sketches and those legendary campaigns. Other examples, like a pretty frill-neck, fine-knit top from the Seventies, were photographed on contemporary models and displayed in large format, showing their enduring relevance to today's trends.
Taking the extensive archive as a starting point, Benetton has launched a capsule Archive collection, which lands in stores this week. With rejigged styles for men, women and children spanning every decade since the brand was launched fifty years ago in 1965, the knitwear is strong on graphic pattern and big on colour.
The Archive collection is one of four capsules that are part of a wider campaign, called A Collection Of Us. Nutcracker, a ballet-inspired collection for women in a delicate palette that makes much of wrap features and ribbed knits, will launch in December; Carnival, launching in February, and inspired by Venice's annual festival, has great geometric intarsia pierrot diamond patterns for men and women; and Sport, which will hit stores in April, taps into the activewear market with sporty performancewear in a mix of natural fibres and wool yarns for men and women.
The campaign to support, A Collection Of Us, stars five real women of varying ages sharing stories of their lives, from trying to re-enter the workforce after becoming a mother, to bullying, and making a dent in male-oriented professions. 'You fought so that you can be in charge of your own body,' says one of the campaign messages.
This all ties in to Benetton's renewed commitment to social campaigning. It announced a €2million contribution to its Women Empowerment Program which, following the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, will support initiatives including five considered as key priorities for women worldwide.
It's a warm message but a far cry from the shock campaigns of the past that saw a newborn baby in one and Pope Benedict XVI kissing the grand imam Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb in another. So the shock is that it doesn't shock. 'A creative campaign is always a very subjective thing,' explains John Mollanger, chief product and marketing officer, who joined Benetton in January from Asics. 'The campaigns were very attitudinal in the Eighties because [back then] there wasn't so much of that kind of thing. Perhaps today, I think a shocking campaign may not be so shocking anymore because we are used to more shocking things.'
'This is not the first trans-generational campaign but this is about being authentic to our core values of knitwear, colours and social commitment, and balancing that with the appetite to be completely unique,' he added. 'We felt it was much more important to be authentic even though it might be a risk that people might not take the time to go beyond face value.'
Mollanger said that this campaign and product launch is just the beginning of a strategy that he hopes will get the brand back on track. 'Now is the time to clarify and strengthen, or ten years from now, the brand could be a memory,' he said. 'There was a very pure conception of the brand when it was created and I would say that up until the very early 2000s, what people associated with Benetton – the colours, knitwear and social campaigns from Toscani – that was really tangible in a point of sale environment. Today, probably for all the right reasons, it's a little less true. We have some editing to so. We need to edit the product offering, the communication package and the store network to make sure our core values are better, more visible and more dominant.'
Those blown-up shots of models in archive pieces turned out to be just teaser for coming attractions. While he declined to reveal his broader strategy, Mollanger hinted that there was more of the Benetton 'Greatest Hits' to come. 'Would we have shown you this Archive collection and stop there? That would be a failure.'