MILAN -- After several slack years, Italian knitwear is gaining a new place in the sun on the U.S. market, according to a number of leading manufacturers here.
Italian knitwear exports to the U.S. were off 16.5 percent in 1990, down a walloping 31 percent in 1991 and off 7.2 percent in 1992, according to statistics from Italy's national knitwear association.
But with the dollar up an average of 30 percent against the lira in 1993 compared with a year earlier, and a new appetite for designer knitwear on the part of the American consumer, the negative trend may have come to an end.
In fact, Italian knitwear exports were up 5 percent in the first six months of 1993, the most recent period for which statistics are available, and knitwear producers ranging from Benetton to Missoni are optimistic that the outlook will continue to improve.
In the high-end segment, which commands prices ranging from $300-$700 for a cashmere sweater, most of the Italian knitwear companies export between 10 percent and 17 percent of their total production to the U.S.
Brunello Cucinelli, who exports some 70 percent of the production of his fine cashmere collections bearing the same name, said his export sales were up 30 percent from the beginning of the year. Growing demand from American consumers for top-quality knitwear products has even encouraged some Italian producers to make new investments in U.S. distribution and retail networks.
For example, Alfredo Canessa, chairman of Manifatture Associate Cashmere, Europe's largest producer of luxury cashmere knitwear, recently opened his first U.S. boutique in New York for his Malo label. The Loro Piana brothers also recently opened a custom tailor shop in New York, which also sells Loro Piana cashmere knit accessories.
"The American customer has been developing a stronger taste for designer clothes; this creates a higher request for improved quality and fashion," said Piero Cividini, chairman of the Cividini cashmere and silk knitwear company.
Cividini said he has focused on quality in all his collections as a strategic principle.
"We strongly believe in 'Made in Italy' as one of the essential features that can make our products competitive," he said. "For this reason, research and innovation, together with an extreme accuracy in manufacturing, have always been our main concern."One example, he said, is his research last summer with indigo dye in an effort to achieve varying shades with different oxydations. For the upcoming fall-winter '95 collection, innovation with natural colors is going to be particularly important, along with new manufacturing approaches rarely experimented with in cashmere knitwear, Cividini said.
Cividini is known for refining the tubular stitch used to finish sleeves, now widely used by knitwear manufacturers. The company has also developed a long-haired cashmere yarn and a silk and cashmere blend.
In order to safeguard the standards of their trade and combat rising competition from countries with lower labor costs and less know-how, Italy's leading cashmere knitwear producers have recently banded together to form "The Cashmere Club." "For highly demanding customers, nothing can be roughly done. Quality is a key element, and this is why we also decided to create the 'Cashmere Club,' which accepts among its members only producers who impose precise quality standards on their products," said Brunello Cucinelli, one of the club's founding members. Other members are Malo, Anna Purna, Zegna and Loro Piana.
Vittorio Missoni, commercial director for Missoni, emphasized the importance of quality and style in differentiating the high-end segment, particularly in view of the widespread imitation market. "For this reason we don't want our collection to be included in the knitwear department, but only in designer departments, in order to emphasize the quality and style of our manufacturing," Missoni said.
The favorable exchange rate is also generating growth for the bridge market, according to Patrizia Spadafora, chairman of Spadafora USA. Spadafora, which is known for the Marina Spadafora first line, is also developing a significant U.S. business for its Gispa bridge line, with annual U.S. sales of more than 100,000 units per year, at retail prices from $150 to $300.
"Our strength is that we can offer the style of coordinated collections along with a sophisticated technology capable of any type of manufacturing," said Spadafora. In the mid-market segment, the Benetton group is also taking advantage of exchange rate factors to boost sales of its colorful knit sportswear. With some 80 percent of production in Italy, where labor costs are notoriously high, the strong dollar/weak lira has enabled Benetton to slash its U.S. prices and go head-to-head with competitors such as The Gap and The Limited.
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews
“Stranger Things” is getting a new cast member for season 2. Meet @sadiesink_, the 15-year-old who will be joining the Netflix series for its new season. You may recognize her from “The Glass Castle” with Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, but the Texas native’s next role goes in an entirely different direction. She describes her character, Max, as “a rough and tumble skater girl [who] becomes friends with the boys at school.” The second season debuts on October 27. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdeye
Amid the Harvey Weinstein controversy, there’s another sector that’s being put under the spotlight for sexual abuse: the modeling industry. While rumors about abuse and sexual harassment of female and male models — and the photographers, agents and others who perpetrated it — have circulated within the fashion world for years, model @cameronrussell started posting stories from models on Instagram last week about abusive situations they’ve encountered — from sexual harassment and molestation to attempted rape. Over 75 have weighed in so far. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews
To celebrate its 16th anniversary, @dylanscandybar tapped designers and celebrities to create mosaics out of candy. The mosaics will be auctioned off to support the philanthropic cause of each participant’s choice. Pictured here is the mural created by @aliceandolivia's Stacey Bendet. For a first look at some of the other artwork being unveiled tonight, go to WWD.com. #wwdeye
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye