By  on June 27, 2007

A fashion pioneer in terms of style, Valentino Garavani was also among the first to foray into product extension.

The designer launched a lingerie collection in 1966, followed the next year by accessories — bags with a golden V logo, created by Italy's Coppola and Toppo. Fragrance bowed in 1969 and, in 1972, he opened his first furniture store, Valentino Più, on Rome's Via Condotti, followed by Paris and New York.

"Valentino has always been ahead of his time, inspired by his own passions, projecting what he was about and what he liked into his designs," said Giancarlo Giammetti.

So forward-looking was his Più furniture collection that it required three artisans per piece and was finally deemed too complicated to produce, Giammetti said. "He mixed glass with straw or ceramics, for example, and it was increasingly difficult to find the right manufacturers at a time when the world of design furniture did not even exist. It's a pity, but we had to give it up."

While Valentino focused on maintaining the exclusivity of the brand's core ready-to-wear business, Giammetti worked to overcome the company's dependence on the "seasonal ups and downs of the fashion industry and the output of a single person." He struck several lucrative licensing deals in the Seventies and Eighties, including one inked in 1979 with Gruppo Finanziario Tessile. Now defunct, the Turin-based manufacturing giant produced Valentino Miss V, Valentino Studio, Valentino Carisma, Valentino Uomo, Valentino Beachwear, Valentino Night and Valentino Boutique.

In 1985, Valentino ventured into the sportswear business with a line called Oliver, which the company said would allow it "to move beyond [its] traditional customer." Valentino signed a venture with P.A.G., which he coowned with Italian manufacturer Staff. The line, which featured a letter V and a pug in its logo, was eventually stalled in the late Nineties by insufficient distribution and international trademark problems. In the U.S., for example, the brand was called Oliview. (Its intended replacement, V Zone, a women's and men's sportswear line priced 25 percent below the Boutique collection, launched in 1997. The brand was put on hold after a single season due to delivery and payment problems with its licensee, Forecasting Srl, a producer based in the Veneto region.)Still, by 1989, licenses contributed to the bulk of revenue, generating $41.5 million of that year's $70.4 million in sales. Today, though, Giammetti concedes that, where brand integrity is concerned, money was not everything.

"Licenses allowed us to expand our business, maintain the couture collection, open boutiques; but in hindsight, a number of those licenses backfired because there was not enough control. Licenses work if they are under a partnership format."

In 1998, Valentino's new owners, Holding di Partecipazioni Industriali, set out on a mission to purify the brand name and polish the company's image, slashing collections and licenses that were no longer viable. Licenses at the time generated nearly 60 percent of revenues, but HdP took a knife to deals in China, Japan and other Far Eastern markets while strengthening relationships with Valentino's biggest licensing partners, including Elizabeth Arden for cosmetics, Warnaco for innerwear and Safilo for eyewear.

Rather than resuscitate V Zone or Oliver, the firm launched a more approachable collection, Valentino Roma, which bowed for spring in October 2000. At the time, the company banked on couture; Valentino, the high-end luxury line formerly called Valentino Boutique; Roma, and Valentino Garavani, the accessories line launched in 1999.

Despite some difficulties, HdP put in motion strategies that were later extended under the Marzotto ownership: building up the accessories business, fortifying Valentino's retail and distribution networks and streamlining its licenses. That said, in 2003, Marzotto introduced R.E.D., a young leisurewear collection licensed to the Veneto-based SINV SpA.

"Licensees' contributions in terms of advertising can be huge," said Michele Norsa, Valentino's chief executive officer at the time. "It must be more like a partnership…and one requirement is that [the licensee] must be able to handle a global business."

In 2005, Norsa inked deals with Ratti for ties and scarves; with Compagnia Italiana del Cristallo for a Valentino Home Collection, and with the Barcelona-based Pronovias Society for a bridal collection, a natural step for the designer of wedding gowns for the likes of Jackie Kennedy and Jennifer Lopez.

Stefano Sassi, Valentino's current ceo, said licenses are "key for anyone with goals to develop new projects, expand one's visibility and complete the brand's perception," and that it's "fundamental to create the right balance between licenses, accessories and clothing, which should remain Valentino's core business."In keeping with this strategy, earlier this month, Sassi tapped Dante D'Angelo as business development and brand director. D'Angelo said he viewed licenses "in a modern way — a few strong partners with a strong structure, a logic of projects rather than numbers." Licenses today include agreements with Timex for watches, Ciwifurs for furs, Wolford for hosiery and bodywear, Safilo for eyewear and Procter & Gamble for fragrances. Accessories are now produced in-house, and a new prototyping and sample facility was set up in Scandicci earlier this year to better control production of this category. Accessories have been growing at an average of about 35 percent each year, and the company expects double-digit growth in the next few years.

Former Fendi accessories designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli were tapped in 1999 to boost Valentino's accessories business. Accessories have been especially strong in the U.S. market. Graziano De Boni, president and ceo of Valentino USA, said wholesale revenues of accessories in 2007 will reach $20 million, up from less than $500,000 in 2002.

"We don't believe in the 'It' bag. We'd rather promote iconic, long-lasting styles," De Boni said, noting that the price point is also helping sales. Bags retail at around $1,700 and shoes at $600.

Despite the uptick in accessories sales, all of the executives agreed apparel should remain Valentino's core business. "Accessories are important, but we are not an accessories company, and the rule should be that you do what you know how to do at your best," Giammetti said.

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