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Yvan Benbanaste

Italian brand Pal Zileri’s fashion co-ordinator tells Khabi Mirza how the business is engaging with a directional casualwear customer.

At 36 you’ve had a more diverse career than many designers twice your age. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born into my father’s textile factory in Lyon, France. My father still creates silks for the couture collections. My first job found me creating contemporary fabrics for the men’s and women’s ready-to-wear markets. I then moved to Paris where I worked for a private label creating womenswear for H&M and Zara. At 29 I established my own atelier designing wedding gowns and cocktail dresses. Before joining Pal Zileri I was atA Testoni in Bologna, designing men’s shoes in exotic leathers which sold for up to £3,000.

It is unusual for a womenswear designer to switch to menswear. Why the move?
Creating shoes at A Testoni was the first time I created something I could wear myself. That was a fabulous feeling, but more importantly there’s more space for commercial growth in menswear. There’s too much competition in womenswear, with too many brands controlled by very few groups .

Where are the biggest international growth opportunities for premium menswear brands?
For Pal Zileri India, China and Russia are booming and South America is on the verge of exploding. We opened our second store in Mumbai just a month ago and India is our number one market for made-to-measure tailoring. Many think the metrosexual male is a Western phenomenon, but Indian and Chinese men pay attention to looks, body and health too. These guys are making money and they’re enjoying spending it.

How will these markets be affected by a recession in the West?
We’ve never had such an opportunity in the luxury business. I’m not preoccupied with the next five years because I know that even if our own economy is sick, the emerging markets will sustain our growth.

Describe Pal Zileri’s spring 09 design direction
We looked into the archives and decided to focus on our fancy handwriting. Menare buying more on impulse than ever before. Beautiful colours, soft, light fabrics and hidden details are all important. At the last Pitti Uomo, every tailoring brand was safe and commercial because of economic worries; it’s up to us to provide something interesting. Anyone can make a black suit.

You’ve altered the direction of Pal Zileri Lab, the brand’s fashion casualwear collection. What changes have you made?
It’s changed completely. We did a lot of research into our target Lab customer and while he’s a masculine and urban metrosexual, he’s not a fashionista. He’s curious about trends and travels a lot. We’ve improved the quality of our fabrics and given the brand a more northern European look.

In terms of price and retail positioning the collection sits alongside Hugo Boss. How can you convince retailers to take on Pal Zileri Lab instead?
We have better quality and a more creative product with no limits. This isn’t a merchandising collection, it’s a creative collection. In Scandinavia we are now taking business away from Hugo Boss. We see the same kind of opportunity here in the UK.

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