He's the Boss

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 September, 2011, 12:00am


WITH HIGH-END luxury brands, instant recognition is key. One look at the multi-hue prints on a silken shirt of a man reeks of Versace. The interlocking C's are of course Chanel, and every fashionista can read the monogram print of Louis Vuitton a mile off. But Hugo Boss, with its long history of subtle sophistication, how do you stamp an imprint on the teeming masses? A sophisticated suit, with a conservative...

'No, I wouldn't call it conservative,' corrects Dr Gerrit Ruetzel, 37, the newly appointed president and chief excecutive Asia-Pacific of Hugo Boss. 'I think we're everything but conservative. When I think of the word conservative, I think of an older generation, I don't think of a young brand. We've been around for decades, but it's a modern brand. We're not the brand that your grandpa wears.'

Indeed, as a series of images from their campaigns, featuring actor Ryan Reynolds and professional racer Lewis Hamilton, unfold, there's nothing octogenarian about the look from this centennial German brand.

'There are a lot of brands that can make a nice suit, but very few that give you a modern look,' he says. 'With Hugo, we are more fashion forward, so I wouldn't call it a classic either. We want to give our customers options, to let them know they're perfectly dressed for any occasion. We give them a sense of security that you won't stick out in a bad way; at the same time, you're in vogue, you're modern, you are safe in what you're wearing.'

Easy to concur with the good doctor (Ruetzel has a PhD in International Management) as the notably young CEO moved to Hong Kong just a few months ago, after a two-year tenure in New York with the brand. Though the brand has been in Asia for years, there are some seismic ripples being made in the Asia-Pacific region.

With a grand re-opening of its signature store in Central's IFC Mall in the coming weeks, a strong presence of Asian models leading its new campaign (Japanese model/actress Devon Aoki having already modelled for them in the past, and Philip Huang appearing in the F/W 2011 campaign), as well as further inroads into China as more stores are expected to open within the next 18 months, there seems to be a heavy Asian focus in Boss' future.

But Ruetzel offers to clear up the notion of China being a new market in their economic strategy: 'We've always had a presence in China, so this isn't anything new. And as for using an Asian model, we didn't think of it as a specific strategy to encroach into the region. The casting of Huang was done a long time ago; he came in, we liked his look, he became the model for the global campaign - the same images will be projected in South America, Americas, Europe - the model doesn't change according to the region.'

The lifestyle of a young chief executive isn't all about jet-setting across the globe and hobnobbing with celebrities like Sienna Miller (a past brand ambassador). 'The best and the worst parts of the job are the same,' says Ruetzel. 'I get to travel a lot. It can be quite stressful as you're in meetings around the world, but I have the happy position to combine work and pleasure. The glamorous part of the job is hosting grand events and parties, but there's a tough business side too.'

The dwindling economy and its volatile share market hit luxury brands hard. But even in difficult times, there was the sweet smell of success. 'We had a meeting with our license partner, Proctor and Gamble, not long ago and the fragrances from our company have been amongst the top five brands actually. The perfume business has not developed as much in China as other countries, but we see a steady growth.'

Wonder if it's the heroic efforts of the Green Lantern's (actor Ryan Reynolds) new campaign that's creating a whiff in all the right circles? Ruetzel won't say, but he waxes eloquent on the current crop of faces that are creating brand awareness to a new generation.

'Working with successful, confident personalities has been a key factor,' he says. 'When we first dressed Philip Seymour Hoffman, we had no idea whether he would win the Oscar. We saw this man with great talent; he may not be the image of the Boss man, but we support the talent.

'There is no one prototype man that we're aiming for. It's anyone who's successful and confident.'