By  on January 10, 2008

FLORENCE — After an eight-year absence, Italian denim brand Meltin' Pot is back at Pitti Uomo, the international men's wear exhibition, topping off a six-month makeover spearheaded by general director Augusto Romano.

"We are ready to become a more international brand," Romano said in an interview at the fairgrounds here.

Although available at about 2,000 points of sale around the world, Romano said the company has been working on different fronts, from product and style to communication and marketing, to fine-tune its strategies for the next 10 years.

A key element is the company's production arm, Romano SpA, based in the southern region of Apulia, which does work for designers such as Stella McCartney and Karl Lagerfeld and which feted its 40th anniversary last year. A photo exhibition, "Blue Workers," by Paolo Pellegrin, celebrates the people and expertise behind the firm and is set to be turned into a book.

For fall 2008, the company, which is expanding with a new group of designers and commercial teams, has redesigned its signature five-pocket jeans with a more modern, stylized and stitched M logo on the back pocket.

"We feel a design should be basic, but eye-catching and unique at the same time," said Romano, adding that it is not necessary to flood the stores with a wide range of products. "A pair of jeans defines a brand and that is not something European distributors have caught onto, compared with American retailers, for example. They still think that if a customer buys a pair of Meltin' Pot jeans, they'll want a Meltin' Pot sweatshirt. That's not the way customers think now. They are increasingly turning to specialized brands, they buy from those brands that have know-how."

For this reason, the company has focused on selected products and expanded variations of those themes. Despite changes at the brand, the price range will not vary, set at $160 to $180. Denim accounts for 70 percent of the company's sales, split between women's and men's wear.

As for styles, Romano said the denim industry is in a transitional mode.

"The trend is toward large, but the bulk of our sales still comes from slim fits," he said. "Another shift is toward lighter washes, but we are still not there yet. Indigo is still too relevant for denim."The key requisite is for increased comfort, Romano said.

"Thanks to new technologies, even stretch denim, which was often considered cheap-looking in the past, now has a chicer, more elegant edge," he said.

In the U.S., the brand is available at 100 points of sale, from American Rags and Atrium in New York, to Riccardi in Boston and Villands in San Francisco. The market accounts for about 2 million euros, or $2.93 million at current exchange. Romano wants to significantly boost that figure.

"We had a two-year learning period, but we are now ready to tackle the U.S., which is much more competitive and dynamic than Europe," he said.

The company opened in New York's Meatpacking District in April 2006 to better penetrate the U.S. market.

"We feel the visibility of a product on the market is more important rather than being in a specific store, which is still not perceived in Europe," said Romano, who is also working on a store concept with architect Fabio Novembre, with an eye on opening signature units by the end of this year or in the first half of 2009.

Communication is a top priority for the company. Romano has tapped marketing expert Armando Testa for Meltin' Pot's spring ad campaign and has earmarked 10 percent of sales for communication. The company generated revenues of 60 million euros, or $88 million, last year, in line with 2006.

Asked to define what the brand stands for, Romano said: "Our customer is contemporary, absorbs different stimuli from around the world, making them his or her own, entirely in tune with his or her surroundings."

He challenged the perception that there are deep problems in the denim sector.

"This is a cyclical business, but it's constantly growing and is part of our culture," Romano said. "There are no alternatives to this fabric in the mind of the consumer."

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