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Ballantyne Rejuvenates Tradition Again

MILAN — Ballantyne Cashmere is all about Scotland and its tradition, but it’s also about Italy now, too. <br><br>With a new Italian creative director Massimo Alba, a new Italian president Alfredo Canessa, and new Milan headquarters,...

MILAN — Ballantyne Cashmere is all about Scotland and its tradition, but it’s also about Italy now, too.

With a new Italian creative director Massimo Alba, a new Italian president Alfredo Canessa, and new Milan headquarters, Ballantyne is initiating a rejuvenation of its brand, product and image with this fall’s collection. And, for the first time, coats and jackets will be entirely produced in Italy.

Ensconced in a residential district here, with windows overlooking a garden, Ballantyne’s Milan showroom is filled with an array of color: cashmere sweaters in bright acid hues or pastel bubblegum tones hanging in dizzying rows.

“We are not [upending] the brand, but we are giving it a more modern touch,” said Alba, who was creative director at Malo until 1999 and had a two-year stint at Agnona. “At the same time, we want to redefine Ballantyne as a lifestyle brand with a European identity, more than a Scottish one.”

That said, the company’s tag stitched on the garments is a reminder of its origins: “This is an original Ballantyne knitted in Scotland since 1921 from exclusive colors in pure cashmere.”

Alba said he wants to add a more feminine touch to the line and to lose some of the perfection often associated with cashmere knits. “Scotland evokes tweed and masculine fabrics and designs — we want to lose some of the obsession with perfection,” said Alba.

Accordingly, the designer added inlaid abstract flowers, butterflies, bees and such. “I want to tell a story with these drawings,” he said. Alba also introduced the “random” knit, with cashmere yarns in different colors cropping up irregularly and casually on the sweaters.

To back the new course of the company, Ballantyne is introducing a new retail concept and further penetrating the U.S. market, which currently accounts for about 5 percent of sales. This summer, the company plans to open stores in London and Tokyo and will restructure London’s existing Bond Street store and the New York Madison Avenue boutique. They will follow the new retail concept: walls covered by a linen tapestry with a colorful flower pattern from the Sixties designed by Joseph Frank and solid wood furniture. “The product was very traditional and never thoroughly entered the American market,” said Canessa, who owned Malo and sold the company to It Holding in 1999. In the U.S., the line is also available at Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman. Cashmere sweaters retail between $480 and $800.

Japan, which accounts for 30 percent of sales, is one of Ballantyne’s main markets, with three branded stores and 20 in-store shops.

Canessa said in three years, he wants the women’s division to account for 70 percent of sales. Today, it accounts for only 20 percent of sales.

Ballantyne is owned by Dawson International plc, which also owns Joseph Dawson (dehaired cashmere) Todd & Duncan (cashmere and blended yarns) and Barrie and Glenmac (knitwear).

Canessa said “the scale of the restructuring inhibited short-term financial performance during 2002, but that positive results will begin to flow during 2003.” In 2002, Dawson registered a loss of $7.8 million on sales of $97.9 million, down from $120.8 million the year before. Dollar figures are converted from pounds at current exchange. The company did not break down sales for the Ballantyne division.