By  on November 7, 2007

Thirty years ago, Ludwig Kuttner founded mainstream knit resource Hampshire Group, which produced brands like Designer Originals and Spring + Mercer that target department stores.

Now he has created Ava, a better-priced knit line named after his granddaughter. Kuttner said he had harbored the idea for some time, but Hampshire's board passed on the concept.

Kuttner exited Hampshire as chairman and chief executive officer last year after the company suspended his employment. An audit found that he had made about $1.5 million in fraudulent charges to the firm, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Kuttner sued Hampshire and arbitration is pending.

"This has been going on for 17 months and nothing has happened, which speaks for itself," Kuttner said, declining further comment. Hampshire declined comment.

Kuttner recruited Spring + Mercer's design director, Sanjiv Thakkar, to be Ava's creative director, and Jonathan Ozdemir, whose misses' line, Jane Identified, had developed projects with Hampshire a few years earlier, to be Ava's president.

"When everyone was trying to grow department store business, we thought, 'Let's look at specialty stores,'" Ozdemir said. "We are trying to grow in niches where no one is going."

Shown out of its New York-based showroom, Ava is designed to fit the body rather than the hanger, Kuttner noted. Novelty ranges from covering a cardigan completely in white sequins to cutouts down the arms of a black long-sleeve sweater. The line also offers more basic pieces like a long, slinky turquoise cardigan.

After a capsule fall collection, the spring line wholesales from $38 to $75 for most pieces and is being carried in more than 200 specialty retailers. Kuttner estimated the firm will see as much as $2 million in sales its first year.

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