By  on June 28, 2007

MILAN — Italy's first Ballantyne boutique here is the initial step in a new retail strategy for the brand. A boutique in Tokyo's Ginza district and one in Cortina are slated for the second part of the year, while a boutique in Portofino will open in 2008.

"The collections are growing and wholesaling alone does not allow us to present the brand's entire range of product, from shirts to jackets and accessories," said Alfredo Canessa, chairman of Ballantyne, which is controlled by Italian equity fund Charme.

However, chief executive officer Matteo Di Montezemolo underscored that "quality is more important than quantity" and that stores are planned only if and when appropriate locations emerge. "We focus on product and its right positioning, which is pivotal in a market that is overflowing with brands," said Di Montezemolo.

The 3,240-square-foot store is located on Via Sant'Andrea, one of the city's exclusive streets in the major shopping district between Via Montenapoleone and Via Spiga, and replaces the boutique Marisa, a shopping landmark here. "The location was a great opportunity for us," said Di Montezemolo.

Main elements in the store, which was decorated by an in-house team, include teak wood in a honey shade and large mirrors, which are both at times embellished with the brand's iconic diamond shape, reminiscent of its argyle cashmere sweaters and a recurring decorative theme throughout the store, as on the door handle at the entrance. At the boutique, the company introduced its first bag, called the Diamond Travel Bag, for men, and plans to launch a women's version in the fall. Di Montezemolo said it was an archival bag from 1960 that was never put on the market and features diamond-shaped details.

Perhaps the most striking feature in the store is a wall that displays up to 200 cashmere sweaters in more than 60 colors — similar to the concept of a denim wall in sportswear stores. "Color is in the nature of the brand," said Di Montezemolo.

Teak blinds on the five windows overlooking the street, Bergere armchairs, soft pin-striped rugs in gray and plum — the main colors of the boutique — and cashmere curtains help "convey a feeling of elegance in sync with the luxury positioning, yet exude a warm, cozy, familiar mood," said Di Montezemolo."The concept is perfect for our product: a modern take on British spirit," concurred Canessa.

The company was founded in 1921 in Innerleithen, Scotland, and the brand has been popular with celebrities from Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly to Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts. Canessa bought the company from Dawson International in 2002 and Charme took control of 80 percent of the firm in 2004. Ever since its sale by Dawson, Ballantyne has revamp­ed its image and expand­ed its product offer. Di Montezemolo said sales have doubled since the Charme acquisition, grow­ing from 15.5 million, or $20.1 million, to 30 million euros, or $39 million at current exchange.

In August, the company will reopen its London boutique, inaugurated in 2005, refurbished along the Milan model. The Tokyo store will open in mid-October, the brand's first in Asia. "Japan is still small, accounting for about 5 percent of sales, but it's growing significantly," said Di Montezemolo.

Italy and Great Britain are the company's main markets, followed by Japan. Next season, Ballantyne will open corners at Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York. "We had a store on Madison Avenue, but closed it last year as it was not strategically positioned and in line with our current image," said Di Montezemolo. The brand is available at 500 points of sale around the world.

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