MILAN--Italian fashion's bustling youth movement is translating into a gold rush for designers. Born as less-expensive options to designers' signature collections, these so-called "young lines" have, over the years, developed their own personalities and clientele. Most importantly, they have become cash generators for many fashion houses, representing up to 35 percent of a company's overall sales. "These lines saw a boom in growth in the Nineties, a boom that will continue into the future," said Armando Branchini, vice president of InterCorporate, a consulting firm here. "They will grow because they have a style and brand name that's recognizable, they're affordable and, in general, they are more wearable than designers' first lines." Aeffe, the designer clothing manufacturer owned by Alberta Ferretti and her brother, Massimo, is a case in point. Sixty percent of Aeffe's volume comes from the young lines it produces and distributes: Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti, Cheap and Chic and Future Ozbek. The remaining 40 percent comes from the signature collections it manufactures for Alberta Ferretti, Moschino, Rifat Ozbek, Jean Paul Gaultier and Narciso Rodriguez. Aeffe, based in the Adriatic coastal town of San Giovanni in Marignano, works closely with its designers and provides each with separate workrooms, business offices and staff. "Sales of second lines have doubled in the past two years, and we expect them to grow a further 20 percent for the spring 1998 season," said Massimo Ferretti, chairman of Aeffe. He stressed that Aeffe's young lines have a separate identity from designers' ready-to-wear collections, but still bear the unmistakable imprint of the designer. "We have made a big effort to develop collections that are easily identifiable as being from a certain designer. To sell, second lines have to possess the essence and style of the first lines," he said. Another young line that's growing rapidly is D&G, which was launched for fall 1994. According to a company spokes-man, sales of D&G and Dolce & Gabbana Jeans make up 30 to 35 percent of the company's volume and are growing at a rate of 10 to 15 percent annually. "We've changed along with the market, and that's been the secret to the success of D&G," said Domenico Dolce. "Over the years, the line has definitely matured. In the past, D&G's image was more edgy. Today, it's still strong, but more sophisticated." D&G is made by Ittierre, the manufacturer that specializes in developing young lines for top designers. It makes and distributes D&G, Dolce & Gabbana Jeans, Versus, Versace Jeans Couture and Gianfranco Ferre Jeans, among other lines. Ittierre was founded in 1986 as a company that would "offer what the new, more savvy customer was looking for: quality designer clothing with a sensible price/quality ratio," the company's managing director, Giancarlo Di Risio, told WWD. Like Aeffe, Ittierre works closely with designers, giving each an autonomous two-story office complex--complete with its own business and design staff--at its headquarters in Isernia, in central Italy. Ittierre has plans to go public by the end of this year and use the money to finance Ittierre megastores around the world. The money will also go to build separate boutiques for the Versace and Dolce & Gabbana lines Ittierre produces. There are already 60 Versus, 10 Versace Jeans Couture and 40 D&G shops around the world, both directly owned and franchised. By the year 2000, Ittierre plans to open 200 more Versus and Versace Jeans Couture stores and 30 more D&G stores. One of the oldest and most established young lines is Emporio Armani, which made its debut in 1981 and is sold in 133 name brand stores around the world. Today, Emporio Armani sales make up about 12 percent of the company's volume. "Above all, Emporio is a store," Giorgio Armani said. "It offers a whole range of models from basics to eveningwear; a complete selection of accessories, including watches, underwear and swimwear. The Emporio client, he added, is different from the customer for his signature line. "The Emporio customer is normally younger and more interested in the latest trends. Emporio suggests a style of dressing that is free but not disheveled, fashionable but not exhibitionist or aggressive--these concepts are alien to my character--with a soft touch of glamour and subtlety," he said. Both Alberta Ferretti and Miuccia Prada have described their young lines as "dream collections," because they are free to be spontaneous, offbeat and experimental without having to worry about scaring off traditional customers. Ferretti has called her Philosophy line, unveiled in March 1994, "a precious sketchbook where I let my imagination run wild. Because the prices are well below those of my top line, I feel much more free in designing. The customer already knows the pieces are trendy, that they don't have staying power, so she doesn't need to make a major investment." That doesn't mean the lines aren't serious business. Take Miu Miu, Prada's young line, which has blossomed into a moneymaker since its debut in 1992. "It started as a joke, but it's not that way anymore," said Prada. "It requires much more commitment and attention than in the past. Today, a 50-year-old woman's concept of avant-garde is everyday dress for a young woman. I have to bring the line forward, yet preserve its mood." Armani says the future is bright for young lines, mostly because people are living longer and thinking younger. "People are searching for a better quality of life and want to feel younger by wearing younger clothes," he said.
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