Loyalty, creativity, and a calm, easygoing disposition are just a few of the reasons why Ingo Wilts is such an effective and beloved chief brand officer for Hugo Boss. Just days before the Boss show, the charming creative explained how he rose through the ranks to become one of the biggest players in fashion today.
Tell us about your early years!
I grew up in the north of Germany in Leer, close to the Dutch border. I went to school there and left at 18 years old to study fashion design. I studied there, and was the sportswear assistant at Henri Vetter in Amsterdam, after which I joined the Bavarian company Miltenberger as product manager for Daniel Hechter. I started with Hugo Boss in 1997, with some back and forth since then.
Have you always been a fashion guy?
My uncle worked in fashion as a buyer. My aunt was artistic, and I did a lot of painting with her. She taught me how to paint. When I was younger, I was so happy to go with my uncle to the fashion fair. When I was a kid, it was the biggest thing on earth for me. The rest of our family was in finance, so fashion was a different world.
What was your first position when you started at Boss in ’97? Did you ever think you’d end up where you are today?
I never even thought I’d be where I’ve ended up now. I started as a product manager for sweaters, leather, shoes, and accessories, and that is still my passion. Maybe because I started with this, I still like it so much. The tailoring part came much later. I was a product manager, and [my responsibilities] got bigger and bigger and bigger. At one point, I was responsible for Boss men’s, shoes, and accessories, and then I left and moved to New York for a few years, and then they called me to become a board member.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful at the company?
I started at Hugo Boss when I was so young. When you work for a company for 10 years, you create work that you really like, which made it a good fit. The brand is always the top. You can’t do your own thing, but over the years what I liked and what was right for the brand came together. We’ve rethought the women’s line to make it more approachable and closer to the men’s side.
You’ve really focused on making the women’s and men’s collections more cohesive.
You can make men and women totally different or go the opposite way, but at Boss, we are grounded in tailoring. When I looked into men’s and women collections, I looked there first. It represents where we came from, and it’s good to continue with this direction.
What is Boss today?
What I always want to hear when somebody talks about Boss is that it’s approachable, sophisticated, and of very good quality.
Your show is imminent — what’s your current state of mind?
The funny thing is I’m super calm. I start getting nervous when the first model goes on the runway. If someone would touch me, I would totally freak out. Before any of that, though, I’m super calm. We have so many teams working on the brand — if I’m getting nervous, they will, too! When I was young, I went horseback riding a lot. My stepdad always said that when you get nervous, your horse gets nervous. It’s better to stay really calm and guide the whole team in one direction.
Let’s talk about the Fall collection! What will we be seeing at the show?
The name of the collection is Boss Curated. The idea came when I was strolling around the galleries in Chelsea. We want to make everything unique. It’s more curated, the best of the best for the brand, and also more individual and personal for each client.
Why do you want to be a part of the NYFW calendar?
We’ve looked into different cities, but New York has always been a perfect fit for us. A lot of inspiration over the past few years came from the city, including this collection.
What’s your favorite part of putting on a show?
The moment I enter the room at the fitting and see the whole collection and start working with the models.
Do you ever take in how big of a production this is?
No. We are a huge global brand, and there is so much pressure to do the right thing, but I never take it in. If I did, I would get nervous. I don’t want to feel the pressure. I know all the people who come to New York to work on the show. They’re the people I work with in Germany. It’s a normal state of mind.
Where do you live?
That’s a good question! I spend most of my time in Metzingen, Germany [home of Hugo Boss], but my main apartment is in Amsterdam, and I also have a place in New York.
What is Metzingen like?
It’s a small town, south of Stuttgart. One part is traditional and the other has the most modern places that you ever could envision. We can focus on our jobs there, which is a beauty. Most of my head designers are not from Germany, so we all go traveling all the time. I spend a lot of time in London these days. While you are traveling, you get inspired, which is important, especially for the design team.
What do you do when you get home from work? Do you cook?
I’m not really a cook. Actually, I can’t cook. I’m very simple—avocado and goat cheese could be my dinner.
How do you want to see Hugo Boss move forward in the future?
We’re on a good path right now. Since I returned, we developed a collection in a modern and sophisticated way. We brought the men’s and women’s collections together. Our advertising is consistent right now. We developed a new store concept. At the moment, we have to continue with all these projects and take them to the next level. We have to build and be more consistent. It’s so important for the consumer. In the past, we’ve gone left, right, and center; now, we are consistent, and we’ll build on top of that.
What was your reaction when you got the job?
Moving back to Metzingen was a big step. But I was happy, because I love the company and the people. We work so closely together. I was super excited, but I knew I was going to miss Amsterdam.
What kind of boss are you?
I give every person their own creative space in our office. If it’s not the way I want it, I might tell them in a nice way. In New York, you express yourself differently than in Europe. I work closely with my team in Europe. If I don’t like something, they know it in a second.
Any fun post-show plans?
As we say, “After the show is before the [next] show…”
Check out the rest of the Boss Fall 2019 collection below.