By and  on September 6, 2007

MILAN — Alessandra Facchinetti is getting another chance at a major label.

On Wednesday, Valentino Fashion Group confirmed Facchinetti's appointment as creative director of the Valentino women's collections. WWD first reported on May 25 that VFG was courting Facchinetti, the former, and short-lived, head of women's wear at Gucci.

In her new role, Facchinetti, 35, will be responsible for the brand's couture and ready-to-wear collections, along with the RED and Roma secondary lines. She takes the reins from Valentino, 75, who on Tuesday revealed plans to step down in January 2008, along with his longtime business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti.

Neither Valentino nor Giammetti was available for further comment Wednesday as to their surprise decision to retire after insisting for the last nine months that they had no plans to do so. But one source said Valentino had low regard for Permira, the private equity fund whose subsidiary Red & Black Lux Sarl currently holds just over 60 percent of VFG.

Late Wednesday, Permira issued its own statement, describing Valentino as a genius and unique player in the global fashion and luxury arena. "The strength and distinctive values of the brand that Valentino has developed during his extraordinary career are the basis of the ambitious growth plan elaborated by the management and shared by Red & Black," said Gianluca Andena, co-chief executive officer at Permira.

"The Valentino business, with its strong potential, represents a key asset of the development and value-creation strategy for the whole Valentino Fashion Group," added Andena.

The news of Valentino's retirement on Tuesday threw the Italian media into a tizzy. The evening news on both public and private channels covered the announcement, with images of the designer on the runway and of his 45th anniversary retrospective at Rome's Ara Pacis in July flashing on the screen. The extensive coverage continued Wednesday in the Italian newspapers.

But while sources said Valentino's sudden decision reflected either friction with VFG's new owners or failure to reach agreement on a new three-year contract, the VFG statement Wednesday stressed that it worked with both Valentino and Giammetti to reorganize the brand's creative team.

"I am honored to be part of this project. Mr. Valentino has always been a point of reference for me, an icon of style and elegance. My admiration and respect for him are endless," said Facchinetti in the statement. "I will dedicate myself to this new adventure with great passion and enthusiasm, treasuring all that has been done to this day to present my first collection in March 2008."Facchinetti could not be reached for further comment.

In another sign of the changing times at the house, longtime accessories designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli have been appointed creative directors for the fast-growing category. There are also plans to strengthen the men's wear division in the near future.

In an interview in Valentino's Milan headquarters, Stefano Sassi, ceo of Valentino Fashion Group and Valentino SpA, acknowledged Facchinetti emerged from the crop of international candidates because of her sensibility toward the brand. "Talent aside, Facchinetti had the strongest sensibility and affinity for the Valentino brand. We spoke a lot and often and her enthusiasm was very evident," said Sassi. "Valentino's creative genius was able to develop style codes that have created a unique and exclusive brand with a great potential to be still explored."

He added that her personal style and presence mirrors the designer's idea of a chic woman. "Let's say that she represents Valentino better than Alber Elbaz's suspenders," he joked.

According to Sassi, the timing for Permira to unveil its plans for VFG, which also owns Hugo Boss AG, is still uncertain.

"When a group like Permira acquires a company like VFG, it's because they have done all the evaluations and considerations possible," said Sassi. "Right now they are still very focused on the current process [its ongoing tender offer for the outstanding shares in the fashion company], but after that they will be much more active in the [group's] activities."

Sassi wouldn't elaborate on the role of Matteo Marzotto, president of Valentino SpA, though sources indicate he is on his way out.

Facchinetti's lack of experience in couture, a key segment for the brand more in terms of image than revenues, doesn't faze Sassi. Dismissing any intention of shuttering the couture business, which he defined as the core of the brand, Sassi said that any designer with a strong background in both couture and rtw is over age 50. He believes Facchinetti is pragmatic and talented enough to take the couture in her stride, thanks to a well-oiled atelier that operates under the vigilant eye of its director, Gabriella Battiti, who's held that role since 1967.The atelier currently employs some 90 workers who produce about 160 pieces per year.

The accessories business was first seriously established under Marzotto in 2001 with the arrival of Chiuri and Piccioli, who are said to have contributed to the creation of the Baguette bag when they were at Fendi. Sassi said accessories currently account for about 22 percent of sales, or 50 million euro ($68 million), with a 35 percent increase in 2006. In the first half of 2007, VFG's sales were just over 1 billion euros, or $1.36 billion at current exchange rates.

In addition to accessories, other priorities for growth include Valentino's licensed categories, namely eyewear, fragrances and timepieces, and daywear, which Sassi defined as "underexploited."

In terms of markets, Sassi stressed he believes in upping the brand's presence in Europe and the U.S. before expanding aggressively in the Far East. Sassi added that there are bullish plans in terms of a new store concept and boosting Valentino's retail network.

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