Benetton -- more than just brightly-coloured pullovers

Amel SAADI
1 / 4
Benetton is more than just a clothing company, but a sprawling conglomerate with annual revenues of 12.1 billion euros

Italian company Benetton, perhaps best known for its bright-coloured sweaters and hard-hitting advertising campaigns, has received a lot of unwanted publicity this week in the wake of the deadly bridge collapse in Genoa.

The Benetton family is the biggest single investor in Italian infrastructure group Atlantia, which operates the motorway on which the collapsed Morandi bridge was situated.

In the hours following the disaster, which killed 38 people, photoshopped pictures of the rubble appeared online superimposed with the words "United Colors of Benetton".

Italy's Deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio, mentioning Benetton by name, said that the money collected on toll roads should be reinvested in maintenance, "but in fact they share out the profits and then bridges collapse."

The Benetton family's holding company, Edizione, last year booked annual revenue of 12.1 billion euros ($13.8 billion) from a business empire that stretches far beyond trendy tops and toll roads.

- Clothing -

Back in the 1960s, three Benetton brothers, Luciano, Carlo and Gilberto, along with their sister Guiliana launched a homemade production line in Ponzano Veneto, a village near Venice. Their sweaters proved popular items in local stores and a brand was born.

Their signature soft wool jumpers made in a variety of colours quickly seduced the masses.

The company went from strength to strength especially between 1982 and 2000 -- its fame fuelled by daring ad campaigns by Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani, such as a 1989 poster which featured a black woman breastfeeding a white baby.

But for over a decade the brand has battled dwindling sales.

In 2017, following heavy losses, Luciano Benetton announced he was coming out of retirement at the age of 83 to retake the reins of the company.

The benetton group also owns the Sisley brand.

- Infrastructure and transport -

Less well-known to the general public, the group generates the biggest share of its revenue, 5.2 billion euros, from its infrastructure and transport divisions.

With a stake of 30.25 percent, Benetton is the biggest single shareholder in Atlantia.

Atlantia's prime asset is Autostrade per l'Italia, which operates the A10 highway where a segment of the overpass collapsed on Tuesday.

Shares in Atlantia have slumped since, amid a barrage of criticism from the government and other quarters.

The government has accused iAutostrade per L'Italia of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance -- a claim the company denies -- and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.

Benetton also has major interests in a number of other companies in the sector, including Aeroporti di Roma, which runs Rome's two main airports, the Nice Cote d'Azur airport and Getlink, formerly Eurotunnel, which operates the Channel Tunnel between England and France.

- Telecoms -

Benetton holds 29.9 percent of the Spanish Cellnex group, specialists in telecoms and broadcasting technology.

- Catering -

In 1995, the financial holding company Edizione branched out into the restaurant business, buying a majority stake in Autogrill, an Italian-based multinational good and drink company.

- Property and agriculture -

Edizione also hold a portfolio of 112 properties -- 59 in Italy and the rest elsewhere in the European Union -- for the luxury retail market.

On the agriculture side, the Benetton family also owns the Rome-based dairy company, Maccarese.

Benetton also operates several agricultural companies in Argentina via the Argentine Southern Land Company.

- Finance -

This year, Benetton has increased its stake in the Italian insurer Generali to 3.1 percent. It also has a 2.2-percent stake in Italian investment bank, Mediobanca.