MILAN — There’s life beyond the shoe for Bruno Magli.

This Thursday, the Italian accessories company is launching its first full-fledged handbag collection produced under the supervision of managing director Alexander Zschokke, who was hired last year by Bruno Magli’s new owners, the investment fund, Opera.

In presenting the handbags for the first time, Zschokke said his team’s effort was to convey an “emotion” with the new look of the brand products.

“We realized the brand was connected to positive qualities, such as functionality and quality, but that it didn’t make you dream,” Zschokke said at the company’s new 5,400-square-foot showroom decorated in the signature Magli chocolate brown and warm red.

Zschokke, a former brand director at Salvatore Ferragamo and Bally, assembled a new creative team that includes Paris fashion designer Sharon Wauchob and Canadian shoe designer Franklin Elman. Industry sources said prior to the managing director’s arrival, the Bruno Magli collections lacked focus and had become a follower of trends rather than a leading player. Under the ownership of the Magli heirs, the company, which was founded by designer Bruno Magli in 1936, was a revolving door of designers, from Diego Dolcini to Bruno Frisoni and Ernesto Esposito.

Determined to give the collection a tight focus, Zschokke is banking on three main designs to steer sales come spring: the calf, python or crocodile ring bag with handles in sterling silver or leather rings and leather strips encircling its structure; a retro-inspired leather and satin structured bag featuring two lateral pockets with nickel snaps, and a functional, soft shopping bag in bright colors. The color palette ranges from candy pastels to powder pink and deep lilac.

While the shoes are all produced in-house, the company is manufacturing the handbags at three Italian small leather goods manufacturers.

The company hopes the handbag division, which currently accounts for 18 percent of sales, will grow to represent 35 percent of volume by early 2005. Retail prices range from $426 to $920, converted from the euro at the current exchange rate.

In the U.S., which accounts for 38 percent of the company’s sales, the brand is available at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s, and at Barneys New York with the men’s division.The Bologna-based company, which last year reported sales of $81.9 million, also relies on a network of 57 signature stores and almost 500 retailers worldwide.

Bruno Magli opened boutiques on Madison Avenue in New York and in Moscow this summer. Zschokke said he is in negotiations for a new Milan space between Via Montenapoleone and Via Spiga, which will either replace the current unit on Corso Vittorio Emanuele or the one in Via Manzoni. With an investment of $22.4 million, Opera plans to bring the number of Bruno Magli stores to 100 by 2005.

The company also is launching a selection of ready-to-wear, such as napa or python biker jackets in azure with a soft touch and feminine sartorial dusters in suede with hand-pleated cuffs in dusty pink.

“The collection is limited to items that don’t require a fitting room, for the time being,” Zschokke added.

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