MILAN — Claude Arpels can’t wait for this round of fashion shows, which reflect the impact of his work over the past year.

Arpels, whose investment group took control of the Alessandro Dell’Acqua, Borbonese and Redwall brands between 2002 and 2003, said in an exclusive interview that he has been focused on “the groundwork and the machinery behind it all” — that is, Redwall Group’s consolidation of Cherry Grove, the production company Arpels acquired in May.

The firm, based in Italy’s northeastern region of Emilia, was a longtime producer for Ferré and Fendi. “Alessandro has taken advantage of Cherry Grove’s know-how in knitwear and ready-to-wear — a rare combination. These collections [his signature and Borbonese] will be much more detailed, with couture-like finishings,” said Arpels.

“Finally, I can do what I want to do,” agreed Dell’Acqua, who, upon the split with his former business partner, Gianandrea Cataneo, in January, lamented limited production and poor distribution by his previous manufacturer, Bellemaille.

Dell’Acqua said his collection for spring is inspired by two very different women: Kate Moss and Italian actress Monica Vitti, a favorite of film director Michelangelo Antonioni. “I believe in the return of Italian cinematography and this is my homage to that industry,” said Dell’Acqua.

For spring, shown today in Milan, expect a color palette brimming with purple and lime, offset by Dell’Acqua’s signature black and cream.

Although Arpels said he does not plan to buy stakes in other fashion houses for the time being, denying industry talkthat he was interested in taking control of La Perla —also designed by Dell’Acqua — he conceded he is banking on expanding his group through licenses. “I’m in talks with two young, promising American designers and two European designers, one of which is Italian,” he said, declining to reveal names.

Drawing from his experience in the American retail market as director of retail development at Van Cleef & Arpels, Arpels said he is now focused on penetrating the U.S. In New York, Arpels, a descendant of the family that founded the fabled jewelry house in Paris almost a century ago, plans to open an Alessandro Dell’Acqua boutique in the summer or fall of next year and a showroom in November.As part of this strategy, Arpels has tapped Jean Manuel Pourquet, from Charles Jourdan and Lanvin, as general manager for Redwall America. He will oversee the three brands. Arpels said Dell’Acqua lost momentum in the U.S. over the past couple of years, hindered by production and distribution glitches, but he remains bullish about the designer’s potential in that market.

Arpels will roll out a new store concept for the Dell’Acqua flagships. “We have an old-fashioned idea that product and design are more important than the name of the architect, so the creative drive is Alessandro’s,” said Arpels. Accordingly, Dell’Acqua will play withhis signature colors and with transparencies, varying the use of glass, light and texture. The designer opted for clean walls and traditional materials, such as black floorboards.

Arpel’s investments in retailing include the opening of a franchised Dell’Acqua boutique in Naples next spring and a four-story showroom in Milan that will house all the lines, management offices and Dell’Acqua’s design studios.

In Japan, Arpels plans to open a Dell’Acqua boutique in Tokyo at the end of 2004 through a partnership with Sanki, the designer’s distributor there.

There are 150 points of sale in the world that carry the Dell’Acqua brand. By 2006, Arpels expects the line to be carried in 300 doors and to also open 20 corners worldwide and shops in Milan and London, in addition to the New York and Tokyo boutiques.

Arpels said he expects to register group sales this year of $35 million (converted from euros at current exchange) and to reach $105 million by 2006, excluding licenses. Alessandro Dell’Acqua’s total sales last year were $21 million, but since Arpels decided to hold production of the men’s wear line and the A a Milano line, he said he expects sales of $11.6 million this year. The existing Dell’Acqua licenses are with Euroitalia for the designer’s fragrances, with Iris for footwear and Visibilia for eyewear.

“I’m confident in the diversity of our brand portfolio and now with Alessandro Dell’Acqua as part of the portfolio, there is less pressure to make Borbonese a fashion-forward brand,” said Arpels. Although he believes the accent at Borbonese should remain on its core accessories business, Arpels thinks the line should offer a total look. “Borbonese should be exciting, but not strictly fashion design — that’s for the Dell’Acqua line,” he said, adding the designer, who was tapped as Borbonese’s creative director in 2000, is working on making the brand more international and broadening its appeal.For spring, the designer added a sportswear touch and fluorescent colors to the collection, while giving a modern twist to the brand’s staple bird’s-eye pattern. By 2006, Arpels will open Borbonese boutiques in New York andTokyo.

At Redwall, Arpels tapped a new designer, Elisabetta Alberghini, to give a distinct style to the accessories brand.

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