“Our runway models are dancing and they’re not serious like they’re at a funeral, as are many models from other fashion brands”, said Borja Castresana, director of global marketing and communications at Desigual, a casual clothing line from Spain. His comment cut to the core of the brand’s positioning statement, “La vida es chula”, translated as “Life is cool.”
Castresana spoke during a Museum at FIT/Fashion Institute of Technology panel on Tuesday about Desigual and how the brand serves as an emblem for Barcelona where it’s based. Both the city and the brand convey similarly positive dispositions. As Spanish trends expert and author Gema Requena said, “the city as brand concept is key for competing in global markets.”
While major European cities like London, Paris and Milan are more top-of-mind in the fashion industry, Desigual and other Spanish brands have helped put Barcelona on the map as a leading fashion metropolis. Requena described the coastal Catalan city as inspiring creativity by having a colorful, vibrant culture, with a dynamic glam sport element after hosting the 1992 summer Olympics. It’s also known for its cultural diversity and warm Mediterranean vibe. She explained that he city’s catwalk, “080,” represents the code for all of Barcelona’s neighborhoods.
While 080 focuses on new designers, Desigual has been around for 30 years. All the while it’s retained the vision of its founder, Thomas Meyer, a Swiss-born, longtime Spanish resident. He set out to create fashion and styles to express emotions, particularly those of the Mediterranean culture. The company’s headquarters are located next to the sea, and as Castresana noted, those surroundings help to foster creativity.
Desigual’s M.O. is that “every day is an opportunity to enjoy life”, Castresana said. That optimism is conveyed in the brand’s colorful, multicultural spirit. It has consistently been applied to their visual merchandising, store decor, marketing materials and catalogs.
Their events feature customers at the center, Castresana said. They host paint parties where customers paint the stores, and their catalogs also feature customers on the catwalks. They even hold “semi-naked” events where customers arrive in their underwear or swimsuits in exchange for free outfits. (During a recent New York store visit, we encountered lively sales people, but the only bathing suits hung from colorful displays.)
Desigual has expanded globally, and now has a presence in 109 countries, though as Castresana said, they don’t merely do a “cut and paste” when they enter new cities. While only one-fifth of its products are produced domestically he said they are looking to increase local production (likely in response to Spain’s economic issues and high unemployment rate).
The brand departs from the norm by having a broader target audience, defined by Castresana as 0 to 99 years. Their ambition is to become a universal brand like Apple and Nike, with the goal of putting at least one Desigual item into everyone’s wardrobe. (After the bleak winter everyone on the east coast experienced, they may well increase their U.S. customer base).