Established 1959 in Italy by tailor Leonardo Servadio, sportswear brand Ellesse is turning 60 this year. To celebrate, the Pentland Group-owned brand has fine-tuned its DNA, returning to its tennis roots and tailoring finesse. We caught up with Ellesse’s brand director Simon Beckon at Pentland Group’s London headquarters, where we got to rummage through the archive while discussing the outcome – and future – of the brand’s strategic reboot.
Ellesse’s identity has been sharpened up. What are the pillars of the strategy, and what’s the thinking behind it?
Ultimately, our aim has been to transition from a ’90s nostalgia brand into a global sports player. A lot of people associate us with the ’90s and we’ve definitely capitalised on this, but the ’90s trend will die eventually – and there’s so much more in Ellesse’s archive and heritage to build on. It felt particularly relevant to focus on Ellesse founder Leonardo Servadio’s mission, namely to bring tailoring into sportswear. His creative vision could be summed up as ‘flamboyance with tailoring finesse’, incorporating colour and attitude along with the precision and craft of tailoring. So we’re back to what he believed in, and over the next few season you’ll see evidence of this coming through in our collections across apparel and footwear.
How has this strategy manifested itself in product?
We’ve elevated the product into more of a premium fashion expression. There’s more focus on tailored sports silhouettes – with a return to our tennis roots – and modern interpretations of our heritage and archive highlights. Look at our archive and you’ll find so many excellent sports silhouettes along with prints and details. For example, Ellesse created the classic jet stripe, which has since been adopted by brands like Gucci – very few people are aware of this. There are different kinds of stripes and chevron designs, all of which can be elevated to fit into the contemporary fashion context across our core lines, Sport and Heritage.
Another key move is our archive-inspired sneaker range. It’s a big step for us and it’s taken us a while to develop this range as we’ve had to perfect new lasts and silhouettes in a way that is a true expression of our archive styles. Tanker is key. This is a court shoe designed in 1982, and the first collaborative shoe between Ellesse and industrial designer Marc Sadler, who went on to create quite a few amazing twin-cup styles for Ellesse in the ’80s. It’s been modernized for SS20 with contemporary materials and cool colorways.
Please introduce us to another few archive-inspired sneakers.
Tremiti is another sneaker that highlights Ellesse’s tennis roots, just like Tanker. The re-launched version is a twin cup sole style inspired by one of our ’80s court shoes. Sparta, meanwhile, is an early 1990s style. This is one of the more fashion-led sneakers in the street-style sense of the word – you could describe it as a bold, oversized running silhouette. But I also feel it’s a good option to adopt once the trend for super chunky soles eases – which I predict it will do eventually.
And then there’s Indus, which references Ellesse’s skiwear heritage with design details such as saw-tooth sole units inspired by early snow boot designs. We think of it as a women’s shoe but we’ve had requests for a men’s version, which we’re working on.
You’ve had great success with your slides in the last couple of years – what’s the latest version?
Yes, our slides have been on fire and we’ll continue bringing innovation to this category. One of the key styles for SS20 features terry toweling and embroidered logo design, directly referencing tennis sweatbands and court kit in a fun way that is typical of Ellesse’s character.
Moving on to apparel – how would you define the Sport line and what is its point of difference? Also, how does it complement the more fashion-led Heritage line?
The Sport range is a performance-based offering, for which we’re using technical materials, but I wouldn’t describe it as ultra-technical. The SS20 tennis silhouettes are created to wear on-court, but they work equally well as part of the everyday fashion wardrobe, and indeed alongside pieces from our Heritage collection. We’ve returned to our tennis roots, and our 1980s references are particularly strong. Personality and color is our point of difference, and a key feature for SS20 is an archive-inspired chevron pattern that you’ll see in different formats across pieces such as tennis dresses and track tops. The colorful take on it is really bold, with a palette of neon yellow, black and grey. Our brand ambassador, tennis star Johanna Konta, wore it at Roland Garros 2019 and she looked fantastic.
The Heritage line, meanwhile, is much more fashion-led with a streetwear vibe. Our tennis roots and tailoring edge are evident here, too. Key pieces for SS20 include tees, jackets and shorts, all of which feature the bold Ellesse semi-palla logo.
What’s next product-wise?
We’ll be introducing a new line – Court Couture – for SS21. This top-end offering centers on a blend of Italian-style tailoring with a strong sports personality rooted in tennis. The line will feature an original LS logo from the archive, along with a few strong patterns. Sneakers will be part of this line, too, with which we’ll target more premium retailers such as End and Oi Polloi.
A new retail model has been developed – please tell us about it.
We’ve been working on a new store model that will be rolled out over the next three years. The concept is experiential, bringing our tailoring heritage to life in a modern way through the introduction of a modern tailor’s table, customization areas and a digital trend wall. We’re planning on opening standalone stores in ten key cities including London, LA and New York, as well as shop-in-shops. Our Chinese market is also expanding rapidly – our first flagship store will open in Hong Kong at the end of August, followed by a further 30 stores by the end of 2019.
And what’s happening on the e-commerce front?
We’re placing increased focus and investment into our own e-commerce channels and have recently optimized and relaunched our global e-commerce site. This is important for us, not solely in terms of sales, but also from a brand-building perspective because we use it as a platform to storytell, inform our retail partners and consumers about our heritage, and update them on Ellesse news and product drops.