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Ungaro Looks to Cortazar for Stability

Emanuel Ungaro said Friday that it has hired Esteban Cortazar as the house's new women's wear designer, confirming a WWD report the 23-year-old Colombian...

PARIS — Emanuel Ungaro said Friday that it has hired Esteban Cortazar as the house’s new women’s wear designer, confirming a WWD report the 23-year-old Colombian would become the latest person to try to reinvigorate the firm.

“I believe in his talent,” explained Ungaro chief executive officer Mounir Moufarrige of Cortazar. “He has a very fresh understanding of the female body and a new take on fashion that excited me.”

Cortazar’s first show for the house will be during the upcoming fall collections here. Moufarrige said Cortazar’s contract was “long term,” underscoring a desire to bring stability to the house, which was founded in 1965 by the couturier Emanuel Ungaro.

“Stability is what the house needs,” admitted Moufarrige. “We’ve gone through the jitters and we lacked strategy. The brand has aged and it needs buzz — and fast.”

Cortazar, who gained attention when he launched a signature line in New York at the age of 18, joins Ungaro, known for its sexy draping and vibrant prints, at a rocky time. Over the last few seasons the revolving door has seen come and go the likes of Vincent Darré and, most recently, Peter Dundas. Both designers failed to meet management’s expectations.

In fact, the house has been floating without a firm hand on the rudder since the departure of Giambattista Valli, who took over after the retirement of Ungaro in 2004.

Ferragamo, which purchased the house in 1996, sold it to high-tech entrepreneur Asim Abdullah in 2005. Sources estimate Ungaro had wholesale sales of about $250 million last year. The brand operates 14 freestanding boutiques around the world and is carried in about 75 retail accounts.

“Sales reached a peak [under Valli],” said Moufarrige. Though he admitted sales had improved recently, Moufarrige said the house needed a more vibrant identity. “The brand needs to be younger,” he said. “We need to take the DNA of the house and reinvent it and modernize it.”

Moufarrige said he interviewed 18 candidates for the post. The likes of Christopher Kane, Sophia Kokosalaki, Hedi Slimane and Marios Schwab are among those Moufarrige is believed to have approached.

“Esteban knows what makes a woman tick,” said Moufarrige, who is known for making surprising designer choices. (When he was president of Chloé, Moufarrige hired the then 25-year-old Stella McCartney to replace Karl Lagerfeld.)

“I liked that he had a very fluid hand and that he was very Latin and young,” continued the executive. “Talent has no age. Kids today surprise us. Mozart started at nine. Chopin at seven. I think [Cortazar] has been called a prodigy. He’s very clever. When you talk to him, you think you’re speaking to a man of 35.”

Cortazar, who will devote all of his time to Ungaro, garnered a reputation in New York for his intricate cocktail confections and romantic dresses.

Moufarrige recently appointed designer Frank Boclet to energize Ungaro’s men’s business.