He's bookish and eccentric, and Kean Etro will tell you a good laugh is the key element in all his collections. This is the man who greeted his guests with chirping toy frogs at Tuesday's show, who sent a shaman in an evening gown down the runway, the man who decided to stitch messages like "Buongiorno" or "Want to start a family?" on the inside fly of Etro's men's trousers. Kean, Etro's creative and design director and a son of the company's founder Gimmo Etro, is helping his family turn the laughs into loot. That's especially true in the U.S. market, where Etro is focusing much of its energy. Last year, Etro opened a showroom in TriBeCa and a flagship store on Madison Avenue, housed in a six-story palazzo the family built. The company's U.S. sales hit $1.7 million in this fiscal year, and in 1998, they're expected to jump to $6 million. Over the next three years, Etro expects U.S. turnover to reach $25 million to $30 million. Worldwide, Etro's sales were $140 million in 1997, and the company is projecting a 10 percent rise in 1998. Half of Etro's worldwide sales comes from textiles and the other half from its ready-to-wear and accessories collections. This company produces such luxuriously beautiful fabrics that it's no surprise the fabrics rather than the shapes were the focus of the spring collection Kean showed on Tuesday. He tosses together pieces--oversized linen men's shirts, straight-leg pants and blazers--in a quirky, haphazard way. It's as though one dressed in a hurry with untucked shirttails, sleeves half rolled up and scarves peeking out of crop tops. There were some pretty dresses in layered silk chiffon that were as romantic as some of the accessories--the beaded peach satin backpack and the velvet tote with appliqued roses. Kean says his long-term goal is to make Etro's collections lighter, with softer silhouettes, colors and prints. "I don't want people to be weighed down--I want them to smile and enjoy themselves when they put on Etro clothing."
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