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How Benetton brightens up every wardrobe

How Benetton brightens up every wardrobe

Famous for its colourful knits and controversial campaigns, Italian brand United Colours of Benetton was founded in 1965 by Luciano Benetton. What began as a single collection of colourful sweaters has since expanded into 6,000 stores in 120 countries. The secret to its success? Thinking outside the box. For instance, one of their early strategies was to swap coloured yarn for plain wool and then dye the finished knitwear. This meant they were able to replenish supply quickly and efficiently.

Benetton also tapped into a key market. In the 1950s, with the post-war economic boom in Italy, the younger generation had more downtime and more spending money than ever. They needed a new way to dress. Benetton’s sweaters, which they described as “the peak of democratic dressing” were trendy, practical and unisex. What’s more, they were reasonably priced. Luciano’s vision “to produce stylish quality clothes and accessories at affordable prices” was right on the money, so to speak.

Indeed, over the 50-plus years of its existence, the label has earned a reputation for being the high street’s answer to the question: Where can I get some well-made casual clothes without spending too much?

“If I have a client who is into the Ted Baker or Paul Smith aesthetic, but doesn’t necessarily want to spend that amount on basics, then I'd suggest Benetton as a more accessible way into that style," says Thread stylist Freddie Kemp. "It's a great place to go for your neutral staple pieces, but there’s a ton of pattern and colour in there as well."

With the recent return of the brand’s art director Oliviero Toscani – the man behind its most provocative adverts – Benetton is having something of a renaissance. He was the man who made billboards out of interracial and homosexual relationships, AIDS victims and soldiers and, in the move that originally cost him his job, death row inmates. But it wasn’t all about shock – he saw advertising as a medium for social change and Benetton as a brand that could help open people up to new ideas and experiences.

His return comes at an appropriate time, as 90s nostalgia proliferates through everything from art to fashion to music. Because if there’s one decade that Benetton is associated with, it’s the logo-heavy era of Britpop and Cool Britannia. Consider the fact that the company has revived its classic punto maglia (or ‘stitch’) insignia, despite having retired it three decades ago, and you’ll see that Benetton is betting big on our current preoccupation with the decade.

“Its iconic branding is really suited to the logo-buzz at the moment," says Freddie. "As well as the great price point, Benetton has such distinctive and consistent branding. Guys don’t tend to shop out of brand loyalty any more, but this kind of label reinvigorates it."

True to form, Benetton's latest collection builds on its core range of essentials such as knitwear, sweatshirts, polos, tees, and jeans. “The brand has been going for over 50 years, and it manages to maintain that longevity because categories like knitwear are a fundamental part of every guy’s wardrobe," says Freddie. "And Benetton does knitwear exceptionally well. I mean, cashmere for £50? That's the dream, right? It doesn't need to be confined to special occasions only. This helps bring it into the 'staple' section of your wardrobe.

“Also, when a well-established, down-to-earth brand does colour, it feels less intimidating than when we see it on the runway. Guys are less likely to see that as a passing fad, and embrace it instead."

Today, the once-controversial brand is steering clear of shock tactics and relying instead on its long history of social values, a penchant for colour and strong knitwear heritage to attract customers. Consider us sold.


Words: Theresa Harold
Photography: Chris Howlett
Styling: Brooke Philips