Just Cavalli’s new creative director, Daniele Lombardo, is proposing a bold concept: rather than simply being viewed as the youthful offshoot of Roberto Cavalli, Just Cavalli should establish its own distinct brand identity.
One morning approximately nine months ago, Daniele Lombardo, the extensively tattooed and newly appointed creative director of Just Cavalli, addressed his team with a proclamation: he intended to revolutionize the brand’s perception from the very foundation. Like numerous diffusion labels that provide designer names at affordable price points, Just Cavalli has faced challenges in recent years due to the evolving landscape of luxury brands brought about by new technologies and globalization. Lombardo, far from being disheartened, perceives this transformation as a remarkable opportunity for a significant overhaul.
“People are waiting for Just Cavalli,” he tells MAXIM on a recent video call. Instead of being a ‘secondary line’, Lombardo, 44, revealed far greater plans: a pivot of sorts towards cutting-edge streetwear and an identity separate from Roberto Cavalli. “We are not the afterthought of Roberto Cavalli. We are currently repositioning to be in the competitive high-end streetwear, this is going to be our new challenge.”
The outspoken designer hails from Calabria, a region rich in fashion history as the birthplace of Gianni Versace. Mr. Lombardo says that he was more preoccupied with football than clothes while growing up. “I knew Versace had come from Calabria, but fashion wasn’t something so mainstream. It was a lucky thing. I never was thinking to become a designer and it was not in my future coming from a small village in southern Italy.”
It was a chance conversation his father had that saw Lombardo attend a local fashion school when he was about 18. “I knew how to design; I was always sketching on everything: desks, notebooks… anywhere I could, and a friend of my father asked him, ‘Why don’t you send your son to the fashion school?’ My father was very modern and open-minded to start me on this journey 25 years ago. During those days, it was important to do a job that secured your future like a doctor or a lawyer, fashion was not on the list.” After graduation, Lombardo worked for countless design firms across Europe and North America, including a seven-year stint as Creative Director for Buffalo David Bitton in Canada, before taking up the Cavalli gig. “Everyone knows Roberto Cavalli, and Just Cavalli was a line for a younger customer,” Lombardo explains.
Founded in the year 2000, Just Cavalli proved to be immensely profitable and played a pivotal role in expanding Mr. Cavalli’s business into new markets worldwide. Historically, Just Cavalli drew inspiration from the higher-end Roberto Cavalli line, featuring iconic animal prints and incorporating them into products like sweatshirts and sneakers. Lombardo asserts that Just Cavalli will no longer be positioned as a secondary line, instead, it will focus on denim and streetwear. While Mr. Cavalli’s influence is evident, Lombardo swiftly redirects the conversation from dwelling excessively on the history of Roberto Cavalli. The underlying message is crystal clear: the new Just Cavalli brand will stand confidently on its own merits.
Drawing inspiration from various sources, Lombardo is deeply connected to current cultural trends and references in preparation for his upcoming Spring 2024 collection, which will serve as a test for his new creative direction. The designer intends to convey a “generational story” heavily influenced by HBO’s Euphoria. Lombardo was captivated by the show’s mesmerizing cinematography, diverse characters, and candid portrayals of sexual fluidity on screen. He believes in the importance of absorbing global influences, observing the emergence of new trends and ways of life, which stirs his curiosity and enhances his creativity to delve deeper and comprehend this cultural phenomenon. Recognizing his own limitations serves as a reminder that he is still on the right path of continuous learning and growth.
Lombardo’s journey to success also encompasses the exploration of “cross-brand collaborations”, a cunning marketing strategy that brings together two companies with different product offerings yet sharing a certain sense of affinity. He deeply admires brands that are revolutionizing the industry and demonstrating the audacity to delve into novel concepts, ranging from cross-brand collaborations to innovative marketing campaigns. Lombardo firmly believes in the importance of reinstating a strong presence, stating, “We must demonstrate to people that we have returned.” With over 25 years of experience in esteemed design studios across two continents, Lombardo undoubtedly comprehends the essential qualities required of a prominent creative director. Presently, the brand is showcasing its new collection to potential buyers at the Milan showroom, and Lombardo actively participates in meetings with major clients to personally present the collection.
“I want them to feel the energy and I need to sell the attitude,” he says. “Rebuilding something like Just Cavalli, you must do it with consistency and it’s a big job. I want them to be part of this project – I’m selling the dream.” We press Lombardo on whether there’s a danger in veering too far into streetwear territory – after all, for every Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, there’s a cautionary tale like Villasenor at Swiss luxury brand Bally.
When engaging in conversation, the designer from Rhude recently departed from Bally in less than 18 months, despite previously proclaiming his intention to revolutionize the company in a manner reminiscent of Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. This sudden change of direction came as a surprise, particularly considering that Bally CEO Nicolas Girotto had expressed confidence in Rhuigi’s vision to rejuvenate the brand a year prior. Instead, Rhuigi abruptly left after showcasing three complete collections, opting to return to his own brand. Consequently, this departure has left a trail of unsold inventory and an “updated” logo that is likely to be abandoned in the near future.
Lombardo, who reveals he read my Girotto piece, believes the partnership with Rhuigi was “brave” and he appreciates the courage to “try and change”. Despite the focus on the new generation, Lombardo insists that Just Cavalli is an “attitude”, a way of being and showing up in the world. “Anyone can be a Just Cavalli customer,” he says. “I’m not here to sell you a T-shirt or a jacket, I’m here to sell you an attitude.”