By  on January 13, 2005

MILAN — Prada Group plans to run Jil Sander just as if nothing has changed — even though everything has, now that the namesake designer has left once again.

Just days before the last men’s wear collection bearing the German designer’s stamp hits the runway, Jil Sander chief executive officer Gian Giacomo Ferraris said he’s striving for creative continuity, along with a bigger accessories business, and, further down the road, the profitability to show for it.

“We are very energized to continue,” said Ferraris, the man Jil Sander handpicked to run the company only six months before she left it for the second time.

“Our task is not to make the same error that was made the first time,” he said, recalling the slump in sales and turmoil that resulted when Sander departed the first time in 2000 and was replaced by Milan Vukmirovic.

Ferraris admitted that Prada fumbled in hiring Vukmirovic and altering the brand image entirely. Vukmirovic’s retro-techno-rocker style never won over retailers or customers and Ferraris said he’s determined not to repeat that rocky experiment of years past.

On Wednesday, Ferraris indicated that this time, the company will rely on an in-house team of longtime Sander collaborators for creative direction. These designers, who returned with Sander when she came back in May 2003, will craft the fabric Sander selected before her November departure into the women’s fall collection that shows next month.

He’s also determined to get the company back into the black while continuing to lift sales. Ferraris revealed that Sander’s return propelled a 13.8 percent jump in full-year 2004 sales after revenue lost nearly 10 percent a year earlier, falling to 125.7 million euros, or $163.4 million at current exchange. But the Sander ceo is less bullish on a 2005 without the namesake designer. Ferraris initially forecast flat growth for the year, but later through a spokesman clarified that the company foresees a single-digit jump for 2005. As for fiscal 2006, management wants to generate a profit on the operating EBITDA level, which includes some one-time items.

“I contacted more or less every client and the majority of them…[begged us] not to change the product, not to change the image. This is my goal now,” he said, characterizing this second departure as less traumatic because Sander’s closest collaborators are staying on, including her longtime assistant, Akito Okuda.

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