NEW YORK — Wolford’s becoming more hands-on in the legs business.
And, while the Bregenz, Austria-based company is going through some structural changes, international marketing and sales director Roberto Geronzi says it is standing firm in the U.S.
On a recent visit to New York, Geronzicategorically denied market reports that the company was scaling back its U.S. operation because of weakness in the legwear category.
As reported in WWD, Karen Schneider, president and chief executive officer of Wolford America, stepped down last month, and the firm eliminated that position.
"We are trying to clean up that level of management," Geronzi said, claiming that the development was a result of Wolford’s new strategy: The Austrian parent plans to take a more hands-on approach, controlling global sales and marketing in direct communication with regional sales, retail and marketing executives, rather than presidents overseeing each division.
Worldwide, Wolford operates 11 sister firms, and Geronzi noted that each is undergoing similar structural changes.
"We felt the need to be more hands-on," he said. "Our company continues to be dedicated to the market, but we now have a slimmer structure. We want to make sure we are prepared for the future."
Schneider, who headed Wolford’s American division for five years, oversaw the transformation of the company’s retail business from nine partnered boutiques to 25 company-owned stores in the U.S. Her responsibilities are shared by Kevin O’ Boyle, vice president of finance and operation; Maria Basquil, national sales manager, and Jennifer Puckett, director of retail stores.
"We are facing the same problems every other luxury company is facing," Geronzi said. "The value of shares is plummeting, and it’s better to cut costs where you can.
"We wanted to make [the operation] slimmer," he continued, "more individual, and more strongly dedicated to sales and marketing."
The company’s most recent results for the fiscal year ended April 30 registered a net loss of $4.95 million. All figures are converted from the euro at current exchange rates. Full-year sales dropped 4 percent to $137.2 million, compared with $143.4 million in the prior year.In July, Wolford said it slashed costs, cutting its head count over the last year by about 10 percent to 1,693 workers, compared with 1,892 workers at the same time last year. In the U.S., Wolford wholesales to 311 specialty and department stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Jeffrey New York. The company recently closed its unit in Palo Alto, Calif., but it is opening an 1,800-square-foot unit nearby at the new Santana Row mall in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday. At the moment, the company has no additional store-opening plans.
Geronzi said the U.S. represents about 12 percent of Wolford’s total business, which would give the operation here a volume of about $16.4 million. Total American legwear sales are about $3 billion.
Basquil pointed out, "We see growth in multibrand specialty stores rather than department stores. There’s at least another 200 doors we can be in. Sincespace is becoming smaller and moving off of prime locations [in department stores], it’s become more difficult. We are fighting to keep the same space, but it is difficult to keep the growth."
But, she added, "the legwear business is doing well. I am 22 percent ahead of last year, and we anticipate a 15.6 percent increase by the end of our year on April 30."
This month, the company plans to launch two collections specific to the sport and bridal market, with deliveries planned for late March. The company would not disclose further details on these lines.
For fall, the company teamed with Vivienne Westwood to design a six-piece collection of hosiery and knitwear.Featuring a pink, yellow or black argyle motif, Geronzi said the collaboration is continuing through spring. Also expected to top spring selling are fashion looks like the "Boogie" tights with a thin, striped pattern down the leg.
"There is really no competition for Wolford," said Anne Caetano, divisional merchandise manager for intimate apparel and hosiery at Saks Fifth Avenue. "They have done a tremendous job with marketing, and that is key. They launch revolutionary fabrics, they have new ideas. Wolford has such a loyal customer, which gives them an edge in legwear."Fashion legwear — novelty colors, prints and textures for tights — accounts for about 35 percent of total legwear sales, and Geronzi said Wolford is aiming to increase that business in the future.
"With basics in legwear, a lot of the production now comes from China, Turkey and Israel," he said. "They have good quality at a low price. We suffer in basics…so we want to diversify [with fashion]. We are obliged to go ahead."
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast