Hugo Boss’s striking headquarters in Metzingen are the embodiment of the brand’s ethos. While its location adheres to the chocolate-box ideal of a quintessential German town, with half-timbered façades and medieval spires, the brand’s nerve centre is a gleaming glass and steel structure set among gardens manicured with exacting precision: a bastion of stark modernity against tradition. This description could be applied to the Hugo Boss label itself, as the brand has become renowned for its fresh, contemporary style in a market that hasn’t historically been at the forefront of the fashion industry. Despite Karl Lagerfeld’s German origins and the dominance of sportswear brands Adidas and Puma, Germany cannot quite match the style prestige of the UK, France and Italy.
Hugo Boss has always sought to change that. The brand was launched as a small clothing company in 1924; its eponymous founder faced various obstacles, including a bankruptcy which left the entrepreneur with only six sewing machines to his name. Against the odds, this committed businessman went on to steadily build the brand. Today, just over 90 years since it was founded, Hugo Boss has grown into one of the world’s largest and most successful fashion brands, with a portfolio encompassing numerous ranges under the Hugo and Boss labels, products ranging from bespoke suiting to fragrances, and an international network of over 1,000 stores.
Though styles have changed over the years and the brand has adapted with signature German pragmatism, it’s been the working wardrobe that has come to define Hugo Boss’s fashion identity. In 1950, the house started creating men’s suiting and developed innovative ways to produce off-the-rack tailored items – a powerful skill in an era where creating a suit of quality was generally a painstaking process.
A real flair for catering to the businessman – and, later, businesswoman – has been an underlying influence on everything Hugo Boss has designed over the years, including its high fashion offerings, and the brand’s universal appeal can be seen in its ability to adapt the Boss signature style to suit multiple markets. Catwalk collections strike a contemporary note with sleek suiting, impeccable tailoring, narrow cuts and single-breasted shapes. With the founding of the Boss diffusion line in 1970, the label expanded its reach, making its wares available to those who might previously have found the cost of luxury clothing prohibitive. In 1998, the house’s womenswear collection made its debut, boldly addressing the emerging trend for power dressing: shift dresses and elegant, sleek, feminine suiting spoke clearly to a new audience.
Jason Wu: a new chapter for Boss
Today, the label is more current and dynamic than ever. This is largely thanks to the deft hand of New York-based designer Jason Wu, who has brought the trademark Hugo Boss refinement and sophistication firmly into the modern day. Wu, creative director of womenswear since 2013, has steered the line into a territory that’s both glamorous and directional. A young, contemporary designer renowned for his low-key glamour might seem like an odd fit for a 91-year-old German heritage brand, but he has become a household name. When US First Lady Michelle Obama chose to wear a Jason Wu creation at her husband’s inaugural ball in 2009, she cemented Wu’s reputation as a master of understated elegance, making him the perfect figurehead for a brand that has spent nine decades perfecting a similar aesthetic.
When approached by Hugo Boss chief brand officer Christoph Auhagen to take on the role, Wu’s first thought was ‘why me?’. ‘It seemed like the oddest match,’ he has said. ‘I thought of Boss as a menswear brand and I wasn’t super-knowledgeable about the women’s side, which is only 15 years old.’ Wu was won over in part by the bold modernity of the Boss headquarters in Metzingen, which he describes as ‘like the set of the movie Gattaca’ – and the deal was sealed. Since joining the label, Wu has already added a sharpness and a sense of cool. His latest collection features ice-white layers and blouses, muted grey and dove-toned dresses, sleek black minimalist gowns and soft yellow racer-back tops and dresses.
Sailing to glory
If more proof were needed that Hugo Boss is literally going places, in autumn 2015 the label sponsored a branded racing yacht. The boat, which features graphic design by esteemed industrial designer Konstantin Grcic, will take part in the 2016 Vendée Globe yacht race, skippered by record-breaking sailor Alex Thomson. With Wu as creative director, an ever-increasing range of products and stores, and now this new nautical endeavour, it’s tempting to describe Hugo Boss as a brand which is sailing ahead. Trite as this may sound, however, it is nonetheless true – this is a company with its sights set firmly on the horizon.