MILAN — In its aim to build a new luxury goods group, the Arpels family bought Alessandro Dell’Acqua’s business on Wednesday for an undisclosed sum, confirming reports in these columns. Dell’Acqua’s company, founded in 1996, was owned equally by the designer and Gianandrea Cataneo.

Arpels now controls 70 percent of Dell’Acqua’s business, and Dell’Acqua owns 30 percent.

"I wanted to grow my company and take it to the next level," said Dell’Acqua in an interview at the designer’s headquarters here.

Although praising Cataneo for giving him his start, the designer said he felt his partner was not investing enough in the company, and that limited production and poor distribution stalled the growth of his brand.

"I owe Gianandrea a lot because he took a chance on me at the beginning, but it pained me over the past 2 1/2 years to hear retailers complain about failed deliveries," said Dell’Acqua.

"There is nothing to add on the product end," said Claude Arpels, chief executive officer of Redwall Group, the Bologna-based manufacturer of Redwall and Borbonese accessories and ready-to- wear lines. "We bring financial backing, which will result in more advertising and communication, improved distribution and the opening of brand stores. Alessandro’s business has the potential to become huge, but we need to meet the deliveries."

Arpels said he was particularly interested in expanding in the U.S., which accounts for 10 percent of sales. The line is currently available at Jeffrey and Henri Bendel in New York, and at Ikram in Chicago. Last year, the company reported sales of about $18 million.

In September 2000, the designer was tapped as creative director at Borbonese, six months after Arpels acquired an initial 50 percent stake in Redwall. As reported, Arpels took full control of the group last month.

"It was all a matter of proximity and close collaboration, and we’ve long been interested in Alessandro, so one thing led to another," said Arpels.

They discussed the deal over Christmas and Arpels said, "It all happened very quickly." For this reason, he said there was no definite business plan regarding specific financial investments in Dell’Acqua or further acquisitions. "I am working on a detailed plan that will be ready in April," said Arpels.The new luxury group, which is still unnamed, is backed by the Arpels family, which includes Claude Arpels’ sisters Arianne and Marisa, based in New York, and European and American private investors.

Last week, Arpels sold its remaining 20 percent stake in the Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry firm to the Swiss Compagnie Financiere Richemont AG. Arpels is a descendant of the family that founded the fabled jeweler in Paris almost a century ago. "In my mind, the sale was inevitable," said Arpels, whose goal is now to focus on his activities in Italy.

The first Alessandro Dell’Acqua collection under the new ownership will be shown in Milan for fall 2003 and will be produced by Redwall. The line was previously licensed to Bellemaille, owned by Cataneo. Arpels said the designer’s second line, A a Milano, and his men’s line will be suspended for a couple of seasons. Arpels said the existing licenses, with Euroitalia for the designer’s fragrance, with Iris for footwear and with Visibilia for eyewear, will not be affected by the change in ownership, nor will Dell’Acqua’s contract with either Borbonese or La Perla, the innerwear company for which Dell’Acqua designs rtw.

The designer said he is in no way limited by Arpels in his creativity. "On the contrary," said Dell’Acqua, "he drives me to be free and daring."

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