By  on April 23, 2010

Uniform Srl, which has manufactured military uniforms for Italy for more than 40 years, has created a civilian collection called Usai.

The label launches with men’s and women’s outerwear for fall and plans to develop a full ready-to-wear collection for spring 2011. The men’s wear was revealed Tuesday in New York, and by then a dozen U.S. retailers — including Stanley Korshak (Dallas), Tootsie’s (Houston), Jimmy’s (Brooklyn) and Susan of Burlingame (California) — had already picked up the women’s collection.

The name Usai is the surname of one of the two families that control Uniform, and also an acronym for United Soldiers and Industries.

For decades the Uniform factory in Brugnato, near La Spezia, focused exclusively on the production of uniforms for armed forces, especially the Italian Navy, with its major sea logistics center and dockyard in La Spezia on the Ligurian coast. (Years ago the company was called Consorzio Liguria.) In the early Eighties, Uniform had seven factories and 2,500 workers, but the business contracted after Italy repealed compulsory military service.

Chief executive officer Arnaldo Usai, whose background is in finance and consulting, joined the family business five years ago and immediately began pushing for a civilian collection, he said.

“If you make uniforms and military clothing for 40 years, you see there is a lot of know-how that is absolutely important to convey to the market,” he said. “The tradition in Italy is not massive production. It’s much more linked to the sartorial world.”

Historically, military garments have had enduring appeal with civilians, especially men, due to their utility and familiarity. Many iconic outerwear styles have military heritage, and right now the look is especially fashionable for women thanks to Balmain, Marc Jacobs, Comme des Garçons and others.

But Arnaldo Usai regrets the fashionable timing.

“I don’t want to be confused with someone aggressively looking at the market with a military flavor. We’re talking about something very particular and made in Italy and true. It’s a matter of identity and tradition. I don’t want it perceived as derivative or [attempting to capitalize on a fashion trend.] This project started five years ago,” he said.

The result is a range of utilitarian, natural-hued outerwear rendered in fine wools, cashmeres and treated cottons. The clothes are complex in construction, with highly detailed interior finishes and functional features like flap pockets and waist cinchers. Some are reversible, including styles that reverse to rabbit fur. Others are two garments in one, having two fully finished layers.

Retail prices range from $900 to $2,000.

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