MILAN — The Arpels family, of the prestigious Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry house, said last week it has bought out the remaining 50 percent stake in Redwall Group that it didn’t already own.

Two years ago, Arpels acquired a 50 percent stake in the firm, which makes the Redwall and Borbonese lines, from the Rossi family, which founded the leather goods maker in 1924. Terms of the latest deal were not disclosed.

"We knew it was eventually going to happen because we had a shotgun option, but it was all very friendly," said Claude Arpels, Borbonese’s new chief executive officer, in an interview at the Milan showroom.

Arpels did not deny, however, that distribution issues "urged" him to "get more involved." He felt the company needed to work on expanding its retail network and increasing its business outside Italy. In particular, Arpels plans to develop the American market.

"Our main goal now is to open a store in New York in 2004," Arpels said. Italy is currently Borbonese’s main market, accounting for 66 percent of sales. In 2001, the group registered sales of $21.7 million, and Arpels expects sales this year to be $22 million.

Arpels spoke highly of designer Alessandro Dell’Acqua, who will remain creative director of Borbonese’s accessories and ready-to-wear line, calling his designs "a combination of elegance and sophistication, with the addition of a sexy edge. He is a genius at combining these elements."

Dell’Acqua was equally enthusiastic about Arpels. "We really have to start expanding our business and Arpels seems the right person to steer the company in this direction — and he knows the American market," said the designer in a phone interview.

Arpels was previously director of retail development of Van Cleef & Arpels, where he was in charge of strategies for the U.S. Dell’Acqua was also confident that Arpels would allow him to shed most of the "older" looks that do not fit in with the line.

Dell’Acqua has a full plate. Besides Borbonese, he has a signature line, and last week, as reported, was tapped to design La Perla rtw."Arpels fully supports this decision," Dell’Acqua said. "Borbonese is very different from La Perla anyway — there is no conflict."

Arpels said he plans to set no limits on Dell’Acqua’s creativity and to encourage him to be increasingly more daring.

"We are going back to the roots of the company, aiming at high-end products, real luxury, with a touch of artisan craftsmanship," Arpels said.

Borbonese was founded in Turin in the early 1900s by the Borbonese family as a jewelry firm. Through the years, it worked with such couture houses as Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent and Ungaro. The company later added leather goods, launching in the Seventies an exclusive material called OP, or soft suede with a dot-like effect known as bird’s eye.

"The OP pattern is great and even more recognizable than a signature," said Arpels, adding that he plans to take the brand back to more natural hues. "OP doesn’t really work in other colors, it’s better left an earthy shade, combined with other materials."

In 1971, Borbonese joined forces with Redwall, a leather goods maker based outside Bologna, which was best known for its soft bags without cardboard lining.

Arpels said one of his priorities now is to relaunch the Redwall brand.

"Redwall has great potential and complements Borbonese," Arpels said. Retailing at around $200 or less, Arpels said Redwall targets a younger customer. Designed by a team of four women, Arpels said the brand is more functional compared with Borbonese, but said the American market is a target for Redwall as well. While Redwall accounts for less than 20 percent of sales, Arpels said he wants to bring the line to account for half of company sales.

While the group used to be a licensee for designer accessories for Giorgio Armani, Moschino, Romeo Gigli and others, it has nolicensing deals now, and Arpels said he is not interested in new ones. "We are focused on growing our own brands," he said.

Future projects include the renovation of the Borbonese store here. "The concept is too retro and aged, we want to have a better layout and put more emphasis on the apparel displays," Arpels said. There are four other brand stores in Italy, one in Lugano, Switzerland, and five in Japan.Arpels noted he also intends to invest heavily in a new ad campaign for next fall, but said it’s too early to provide details.

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