Chervo prepares for the world stage

Italian-based apparel company to use being a licensed 2023 Ryder Cup merchandiser as a way to break into the American consciousness

Italian-based Chervo, a golf and sportswear apparel brand founded in 1982, will be on full display at September's Ryder Cup outside of Rome as it is a licensed merchandise supplier.

E uno dei segreti meglio custoditi d'Italia. Translated: It is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.

For the better part of 40 years, Chervo has designed and manufactured luxury Italian golf and sportswear on a global scale. Yet to the loyal consumer, the brand has commonly been found in Italy or Europe.

With recent news that the company will be a licensed merchandise supplier to the biennial Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in September, Layne Dempsey, managing partner of Chervo USA, views it as a seminal moment.

“The majority of the people, obviously, will be coming from the U.S.,” she says via video. “It is a huge opportunity for us as a brand, because there will be a lot of exposure for the brand and tying it back to Italy.

“Americans like all things Italian, including Italy itself. It will be a big audience capture for us, and then for them to make the connection to ‘Oh, yeah, I can get the brand in the States, too,’ will be important for us.”

The company, founded in 1982 by brothers Manfred and Peter Erlacher, has been focused on steady growth.

As of late, the brand can be found in 41 countries. Germany and South Korea represent its largest markets, according to Dempsey. So, it makes sense to break into the American market, which Chervo is banking on considering seven of its 67 employees are based in the U.S. The rest work out of its of the Costermano (Verona), Italy headquarters.

There is little interest in the brand becoming ephemeral in the U.S., especially with new leadership taking over in about one-and-a-half years.

It was in 1982 that the company first cut its teeth on ski wear, namely because Peter Erlacher had been on the Italian National Ski Team and wanted to apply technical properties from that sport’s outerwear. As the chief designer, he had been instrumental in the Chervo AquaBlock technology, based on a fabric that was light, fully waterproof and breathable. Better yet, it translated to golf rainwear and provided a critical entry into the sport. Today Chervo has 19 technologies.

In an interview with medium.com last year, the Erlacher brothers provided a five-principled snapshot for successful fashion, applying each as Chervo grew. They touched on vision, brand resonation, cognizance of strengths and weaknesses in a competitive fashion arena, building loyal staff and setting prices reasonably as related to recognition.

In that same interview, Manfred Erlacher’s clairvoyance shone.

“We learned a big lesson for future years, [that] an innovative product may speak for itself, but without appropriate marketing it does not go very far,” he said.

Over the past few years, Chervo showed its commitment to marketing by heading toward the golf sponsorship on-ramp. It signed deals with the likes of Kurt Kitayama (PGA Tour), Jenny Shin (LPGA), Johannes Veerman (DP World Tour) and Ben Silverman (Korn Ferry Tour).

In the 2000s, Tiger Woods took brand awareness to a new stratosphere by strategically dressing each round to sponsorship satisfaction. Red polos became synonymous with Sundays, with him saying during his victorious 2008 U.S. Open run that he wears power red on Sundays “because of mom, and you always listen to mom.” But, of course, there was more to it than that.

“It’s become a very important thing for us, that maybe the brand was a little bit overlooked the past few years simply because we were trying to figure out the connection between luxury goods, which we are, and the everyday golfer,” says Dempsey in relation to the sponsorship deals.

The irony, she says, is that Chervo has been ingrained in golf since the early 1990s when the Erlacher brothers gave more attention to the sport.

“We were making golf clothes cool and sporty and well-fitting before anyone else,” she says. “So in the early 1990s, the stuff we were making is the stuff everyone is wearing today. We were ahead of the trend and we try to stay ahead of the trend with our fashion. It’s pretty cool to see the game of golf and style catch up to where we have always been.”

Circling back to the Ryder Cup, Chervo is prepared. A small capsule collection, which has already launched on the European side, will be sold on-site. Dempsey says the collection gives “nod to the Roman-nostalgic patterns and all the history that is Rome, Italy.” There are plans to launch the line in the U.S. late spring.

Even though the consumer leans toward “a more mature audience,” the brand has brought appeal to a younger audience. As of recent, Dempsey adds, there’s been a push on the men’s side that catapulted its consumer base to a 50-50 split with women. And with Chervo in more than 160 U.S. pro shops, there’s a desire to partner with family-owned stores — as an alliance to Chervo’s family-owned tenets. 

All in all, though, the ebullient Dempsey can’t help but feel bullish about the brand. It comes back to this little Italian company, its heritage and nascent U.S. growth.

“Our story is pretty cool,” says Dempsey. “And it’s a true story.”

Or, as in, one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.