Hugo Boss ‘It’s More About Substance than Packaging’

The chairman of German fashion label Hugo Boss, Claus-Dietrich Lahrs, speaks with Handelsblatt about modern man’s identity crisis, the power of women, and his new star designer Jason Wu.
German national soccer team wearing Hugo Boss suits in 2014.

Claus-Dietrich Lahrs left Paris in 2008, where he was the Managing Director of Christian Dior Couture since 2003, for the provincial German environs of Metzingen, south of Stuttgart, to take over the reins of fashion label Hugo Boss. But he’s made the best of it – for both the firm and its customers.

Handelsblatt: Mr. Lahrs, as one of the world’s biggest men’s fashion labels, you must know: What’s wrong with the German man these days?

Claus-Dietrich Lahrs: He’s just fine, even if we’re not tailoring things just for him, but also for men in the USA, Russia and China. Our fashion works just as well in Metzingen as Paris and Beijing, though Chinese men are a bit smaller and therefore receive appropriate wares, for example, with slightly shorter sleeves. On the other hand, American men start optimizing their bodies at the gym much earlier. That also has to be accounted for size-wise. But the suit remains the same. It’s just details changed by tailoring.

We were asking less about the body and more about the psyche.

One affects the other.

It seems as if men are having a true identity crisis in 2014.

How’s that?

Role models are changing. Women are rightly demanding more say and responsibility. There are talks of quotas for female managers in Germany. A Boss suit can’t help …

... or at least only superficially. In the end it’s naturally more about substance, not the packaging. It’s true old attitudes have broken down, such as: I’m a man and therefore I’m entitled to this or that. Nobody believes that, and I find that good.

The head of Hugo Boss since 2008: Claus-Dietrich Lahrs.

Does a men’s fashion label have to think about such developments?

It can’t be avoided. A lot has happened to men over the past ten years. They pay more attention to and spend more money on body care, cosmetics, accessories, fashion. I could imagine that these developments have to do with changes on the job market. The question “How do I present myself?” has simply become much more important.

That must play a much bigger role for those Boss customers that haven’t made it to the top yet, those still working on their careers, right?

Correct. The matter that drives us as a brand is predominately the path to success. The customer buying his first suit for an interview is important to us.

Do you think about the percentage of women in the Boss workforce?

We unfortunately don’t have any women on the board, but the proportion in the company is very high.

Do you have exact figures?

Across the entire firm, 60 percent of our employees are women. And roughly 45 percent of our management is female.

You don’t have to worry about any debate about quotas.

You naturally won’t find such figures at MAN or Siemens. But our business is very interesting for women.

Do you support a quota for female executives?

No, because it’s hard to dictate such developments from above. Honestly speaking, it’s a challenge to find enough women who are qualified for leadership positions. That requires experience that these women are only now gaining as society changes. And not all that could lead want to in the end.

It’s a challenge to find enough women who are qualified for leadership positions. That requires experience that these women are only now gaining as society changes.

Do you, as Boss head, fashion manager and man, understand women?

Every day a little better, I hope. Otherwise we wouldn’t have a rather important women’s fashion business. After all, we have turnover of around €250 million ($307 million) with it, which is far more than many international women’s labels.

Boss has made women’s fashion for the past 16 years, but your new designer Jason Wu didn’t know that when you hired him. For him, Boss was a pure men’s label. What went wrong?

When we got to know Jason at his New York studio, he was focused on completely other things. He had his own label, his own firm. You can’t hold it against him that he didn’t know every detail about Boss. But that changed quickly after he visited us in Metzingen the first time and saw our earlier women’s collection. He liked a lot of it, and some of it he didn’t. But that’s why we got him.

What didn’t he like?

Some of it was too feminine for him. But that had to do with our culture of looking at women’s fashion with men’s eyes for a long time.

Quelle: Getty Images
In June 2013, Wu was named as the Art Director of German fashion house Hugo Boss.

 

During the inaugurations of U.S. President Barack Obama, his wife Michelle wore dresses by Jason Wu – a priceless PR coup. You must be worried that in the future such commissions go to Wu’s own label rather than Boss Woman?

No, I don’t see it as a competitive relationship. That would also be mutually beneficial.

It seems as if your marketing budget is shifting from the men’s to the women’s label?

Certainly we’ve done more for the woman segment this year, but that will balance itself out again. In the future, our women’s collection will have a bigger presence in our stores. We are in the process of expanding our shops.

You’ve made Metzingen your home, but when you need to get back to the big city, what’s the fastest way to Paris?

These days with the train. TGV. It takes longer to fly.

 

The interview was conducted by Martin-Werner Buchenau and Thomas Tuma. To contact them: [email protected] and [email protected]