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United Colors of Benetton: Brilliantly Bold Since 1965
This brand's bright and bold personality has had as much of an influence on the fashion world as it has on popular culture. This season, it’s making a comeback that’s as colourful as ever and is, as always, ready to make waves. Discover or rediscover this Italian company that has a passion for innovation.
A Close-Knit Family
Everything started with a yellow sweater and a modest family from the Italian countryside. Giuliana Benetton chose a beautiful sunny shade of wool to use in making a gift for her brother, Luciano. He instantly loved the sweater's bright colour, which made it stand out from all of the neutral knits that were popular at the time. The sister and brother, who were 18 and 20 years old at the time, sold an accordion and a bicycle in order to buy a knitting machine and launch their business: Très Jolie. Giuliana made the garments while Luciano sold them door to door. Their brightly coloured knits were a huge success.
Ready to tackle larger markets, they brought their younger brothers, Gilberto and Carlo, on board to officially found the eponymous family company in 1965. Just four years later, they expanded internationally with a store in Paris. The brand made a name for itself with its special dyeing technique, done at the very last minute on a piece that had already been knitted in ecru. What resulted was a vibrantly coloured garment. The company continued to grow during the 1970s with the opening of a jeans manufacturing plant.
A Symbol of Forward Thinking
In the ’80s and ’90s, the brand began to gain international recognition. The driving force behind its rise to popularity? Its shockvertising that touched on controversial issues of the time, like war, AIDS, sexuality, religion, and politics. Due to their contentious nature, some of the ads were banned in Italy.
In 1991, the company founded COLORS Magazine. Still in publication today, this quarterly magazine presents hot-button issues alongside lighter topics like fashion. Pictures are the main medium used for expression, since images are a universal form of communication and make an immediate impact.
The Colours of the World
From the time of the yellow sweater to their daring glory days, the brand’s creative essence has remained the same: colour. It's still recognized for its signature colour scheme of primary and secondary shades. Creativity, enthusiasm, sensitivity, passion… each of these hues exudes a different energy. But beyond their endearing beauty, for the Benetton family and their team, colours act as an ode to multiculturalism. Their strength amplifies when united. All pairings are possible! There are no limits and no boundaries.
Diversity was the theme of the company's first major campaign. It showed a cheery image of people of different nationalities wearing bright, colourful clothing that was accompanied by the slogan “All the colours of the world.” The campaign went on to win many awards but also received some criticism, a sign that it was disrupting the norm. The style of this campaign greatly influenced those that followed, with subsequent ads revisiting this theme using flags and folk accessories. A few years later, the brand renamed itself “United Colors of Benetton.”
Castelbajac and a Wave of Colour
In 2018, after having retired from business for 10 years, Luciano Benetton resumed the reins of the company to help it enter a new era, naming Jean-Charles de Castelbajac as United Colors of Benettons’s creative director. The brand's first runway show in Milan in 2019 demonstrated how perfect of a choice Catelbajac’s was for the label. Castelbajac designs appealing and trendy collections that have a timeless feel. The colours are still a main component, sharing the spotlight with a cheery mix of motifs, like the brand’s iconic sheep. Emphasis is placed on exquisite fabrics and quality, as well as on environmental responsibility. The company has developed natural and non-toxic dyes as well as eco-friendly fabrics that are made from recycled fibres.
“When [the heads of United Colors of Benetton] suggested that I join them, it seemed natural to me. We have so much in common: a love of colour, fantasy, joie de vivre, and the same taste for style instead of trends.”
-Jean-Charles de Castelbajac interview with Le Figaro during Milan Fashion Week in February 2019
What does United Colors of Benetton have in store for us for spring 2020? The answer is a colourful trip along the Mediterranean’s marinas, from Saint-Tropez to Hydra. Nautical patterns and horizontal stripes are on the horizon, and we’ll be seeing pastels and navy pair up with bright colours.