By  on January 25, 2005

MILAN — Malo doesn’t just want customers to wear its sweaters. It won’t be happy until they’re lacing up the brand’s shoes and using its tabletop products in their homes.

Stefano Ferro, who has been chief executive officer of the knitwear company for two years, said the brand, which recently made its foray into leather accessories, is pushing into even more product diversification as it strives to become a lifestyle brand. Malo has just inked a licensing deal with Italian firm Ballin for footwear, for example. And there are also plans in the home furnishings arena for items such as bath towels and tabletop products.

“As every ceo starts his new job, the first part is ‘What’s new?’” Ferro said in an interview at the brand’s showroom during the men’s fall-winter shows last week. “We have to evolve….The risk is that you are not a brand but you remain a knitwear manufacturer.”

A risk indeed. The knitwear market is as competitive as any other, with brands such as Brunello Cucinelli, Ballantyne, Pringle and Loro Piana all vying to lure customers with supersoft cashmeres or punchy patterns. Malo is trying to break from the pack by rounding out its sherbet-hued knits with pieces such as hand-stitched cashmere jackets, embroidered flower-motif bags and shoes.

Ferro, who worked at Genny, Bally and GFT before joining Malo, noted that accessories, excluding shoes, generate about 15 percent of Malo’s sales and could hit the 30 percent mark within three years. 

Malo also is trying to rev up its image with a new advertising campaign, featuring Eva Herzigova seductively arched on a sphere. It bows this spring in regional publications where Malo has stores and in monthlies such as W (WWD’s sister publication) and Town & Country.

“Eva Herzigova is fashion,” Ferro said, explaining that past campaigns focused on still life images of product rather than on personalities.

It looks like attempts to rejuvenate Malo are working so far. The company, which IT Holding bought in 1999, doesn’t release financial figures, but industry sources estimate that Malo SpA’s 2004 sales rose 10 percent to about 56 million euros, or $72.7 million at current exchange, and that the brand generates about $125 million a year at retail.Industry sources also noted an 18 percent jump in sales at Malo’s network of 30 stores, located in both metropolitan areas, such as New York and Paris, and in ritzy resort towns, such as Portofino and Aspen.

One of Malo’s geographic priorities is China. Last year, the company bowed in Chinese department stores, both in Hong Kong and on the mainland. Ferro said Malo plans to open freestanding stores this year in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Ferro said that China has proved to him that Malo can make the jump from being a knitwear name to a luxury brand. Chinese customers, devoid of past contact with the brand, immediately embraced Malo as he wants the rest of the world to see it.

“In the new market, we are immediately perceived as a fashion brand,” he said.

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