By  on August 9, 2005

NEW YORK — With the sale of the Casual Corner chain to Gordon Brothers Group a done deal, Claudio Del Vecchio can now spend his time enhancing specialty apparel retailer Brooks Brothers.

"We want to exploit the potential that we have there," Del Vecchio, president and chief executive officer of Retail Brand Alliance, told WWD.

RBA was established in 2001 and one of its early acquisitions was Brooks Brothers from Marks & Spencer. Other brands under the RBA umbrella are Adrienne Vittadini and Carolee Designs.

Del Vecchio is considering a product expansion and a store expansion to markets where Brooks doesn't have a presence.

"Men's is very much improved from where we were. Women's is doing very well, but we're still not where we need to be yet," the ceo said.

Women's accounts for 20 percent of the business. In the newer stores, however, where there's more dedicated space to women's fashions and accessories, sales per square foot nearly rival that of the men's business, Del Vecchio said.

Also on the drawing board is a new line for girls. The ceo expects to launch the girls line in a few years. Brooks already has a boys collection. Another potential growth area is the gifts category.

"We've already launched a holiday gift catalogue, and this year's will improve on last year's catalogue. China used to be a part of Brooks years ago, but hasn't been offered for a while. [The plan is for] some gift items to be available only for holiday and other items offered year-round in selected stores," Del Vecchio said.

Meanwhile, RBA will use some of the proceeds from the sale of Casual Corner — said to be near $250 million — to invest in its Internet business and to refurbish some of the Brooks stores. The company is also looking at several sites for expansion, preferring a space that is between 10,000 and 12,000 square feet. The goal is to open between 10 and 15 stores a year.

"Claudio, in revitalizing Brooks, is bringing it back to its past glory, which is nothing short of spectacular. Brooks now has 180 stores in the U.S., with five in Europe and four more within the next 12 months. Brooks is also very strong in Asia, where there are almost 100 stores. The job of revitalizing the brand and the opportunity to expand Brooks on a global basis will take a tremendous amount of energy," said Gilbert Harrison, chairman of investment bank Financo Inc., which is RBA's financial adviser.RBA is also working on enhancing the product offerings for Vittadini and Carolee, although either one or both could eventually be sold. "Neither one is actively being marketed, but if a buyer emerges for either of these properties, and the price is satisfactory, the brand will be sold," Harrison said, adding that of the two, Carolee is likely to be sold first.

"Do we consider Carolee a major brand for RBA? I can't say that. We're not actively trying to sell it, but if someone made a nice offer we would be open to discussion ... The brand is nice to have, but we don't have to have it," Del Vecchio said.

RBA operates 20 Carolee stores, as well as 30 Vittadini locations. On Thursday, the company launched a new label for Vittadini, AV by Adrienne Vittadini. Where Vittadini is a bridge line, AV is considered the brand's better collection, which is available in all 30 Vittadini stores.

RBA has a focus group analyzing the brand to determine what other offerings could be introduced. While Vittadini has accessories, that's not the case with AV. "We're testing some Vittadini accessories to complement the AV line and at some point will possibly offer some AV accessories," Del Vecchio said.

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