By  on February 20, 2007

BOLOGNA, Italy — La Perla still wants to be synonymous with lingerie, but is out to show it can be a comprehensive ready-to-wear and accessories brand, as well.

"Innerwear remains our core business, but we are seeing a strong development of our apparel collection, which expresses the essence of La Perla," said Alberto Masotti, chairman and chief executive officer of the family-owned company based here.

The rtw line, which shows in Milan today [Tuesday], was designed by Alessandro Dell'Acqua. To further deliver a lifestyle concept associated with the brand, Masotti said he had inked licensing agreements with Finduck, parent of Mandarina Duck, for a handbag and small leather goods collection, and with footwear company Baldan to produce and distribute a La Perla shoe line.

The footwear division will make its debut this fall; the handbag and accessories collections for women and men, under the Grigioperla label, will bow for spring 2008. In the meantime, the company plans to launch a La Perla icon bag in its boutiques globally this fall. "Accessories are part of the way of life we want to propose. Credibility and consistency of product are our top priorities in this expansion of categories," said Masotti.

In line with the strategy, the company last year terminated its money-losing venture Intimo 3, which was set up in 2004, to focus on luxury products. "The Intimo 3 goods were in the medium-low range of the market, with a chain of 120 stores, but this is not our kind of business, and we decided to shutter it," said Masotti.

Intimo 3 hit La Perla's balance sheet, and the group posted a loss of 21 million euros, or $27.2 million at current exchange, in 2006. Last year, group sales reached 178.2 million euros, or $230.9 million. Masotti said he hoped to reach breakeven in 2008.

The brand also has licenses with Morris for fragrances, and with De Rigo for eyewear.

Last year, La Perla launched a feminine, body-hugging denim line in a continuing drive to attract a new, younger customer. "We approached the denim world late compared to a number of our competitors, but I am very pleased with this division and the technical qualities of the collection. It completes our ready-to-wear offer," said Masotti, who just returned from a trip to Asia.In January, La Perla opened two boutiques in Beijing and one in Bangkok. This year, the firm will open its fourth boutique in Moscow and one in St. Petersburg, as well as stores in Warsaw, Bombay, Bangkok and Hanoi. Today, there are 71 stores globally, nine of them in the U.S.

Masotti said that, in addition to developing the Russian market with partner Bosco dei Ciliegi, the brand was garnering exposure in the Middle and Far East. "In Saudi Arabia, we are mulling the idea of a Palace La Perla concept to convey a message of quality pleasure, containing a spa, for example," said Masotti. "We are working toward the renovation of boutiques to make them a richer place, not only destined for shopping, but also for a more complete entertainment experience."

Masotti described China as a "fast-paced, energetic and volcanic market," where customers just "can't get enough of our lace pieces," noting how lace — one of the brand's iconic materials — in China is considered "extremely precious." La Perla is produced entirely in Italy.

To mark the opening of the boutiques in Asia, Masotti worked on creating special events, such as a co-marketing project with Maserati, a collaboration with Swarovski, a photo exhibition of the brand's advertising campaigns since 1948 and an exclusive party at Beijing's Dinner Club Lan, which was designed by Philippe Starck. Masotti said he had planned for a 25 percent to 30 percent increase in the company's spending on public relations and marketing for 2007 compared with last year.

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