By  on January 19, 2005

LOS ANGELES — It seems like everyone is doing it — renovating on Rodeo Drive, that is. Swiss luxury house Bally is the latest brand to reopen on the famed shopping street in Beverly Hills.

The location is the company’s first U.S. flagship, and the third of five worldwide that Bally is renovating: London, Geneva, Hong Kong and New York. Hong Kong is to open this month, and the New York unit is slated for this year in the General Motors building, though Bally is still in lease negotiations for the site.

Unlike its Rodeo Drive neighbors, Prada and Louis Vuitton, which were launched with celebrities and parties, Bally reopened quietly in November in decidedly Swiss style. A more formal opening is planned for mid-February.

Bally chairman and chief executive officer Marco Franchini, who took over the accessories and ready-to-wear company in 2002, is particularly proud of the 3,200-square-foot Rodeo flagship, the latest addition to the company’s westward expansion, which includes a store at the Caesars Forum Shops in Las Vegas and a renovation at South Coast Plaza mall in Costa Mesa, Calif.

“The product looks better now, which is why we basically wanted this new concept,” Franchini said during a phone interview from his office in Caslano, Switzerland. “We like to believe that it’s a more sophisticated product than in the past, but we are still loyal to our longtime customers.”

To commemorate the opening, Bally is launching a limited-edition handbag created in collaboration with the Rainforest Foundation. The Nature Bag features an abstract leaf print on satin with a beach-wood handle. The bag, which will be available in the U.S. in mid-February, will retail for $595, and is available only at flagships. Collaborations of this kind are not new to the company, which helped develop the rubber soles for the boots used in the first moon walk.

The new look and product are at home in California. Crisp white walls and natural materials, such as the Spanish white limestone used for the flooring, provide a fresh canvas for showcasing the updated, more fashion-forward leather bags, shoes and clothes helmed by design directors Luca Ragonese and Johnny Coca. The absence of metal keeps the store from becoming too austere, as do countertops and fixtures of walnut and chestnut.Unlike Los Angeles, the new flagship, which is the first in the U.S. to house the ready-to-wear collection, isn’t trying too hard to court a celebrity clientele, Franchini said. “We do have a substantial loyal customer base in L.A. [that includes celebrities], but we are more focused on the product itself than celebrity and celebrity testimonials.”

For Franchini, the new look represents not only a clean slate for the company, but a balance between modern and classic, a direction he hopes to be taking the company, which was founded by Carl Franz Bally in 1851.

Footwear generates 55 percent of sales; accessories, 35 percent, and clothing, the remaining 10 percent. The company operates 200 stores, with 12 in the U.S.

Franchini is optimistic about growth. The company has seen sales and traffic picking up globally. Sales for 2003 were $318.5 million, flat against the previous year. Bally has had a checkered history since Texas Pacific Group, a private equity investment fund, bought it in 1999 when sales were about $500 million.

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