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MILAN — During an informal lunch at Cova, this city’s oldest and quaintest cafe, designer Laura Biagiotti presented her latest project, “Dolls,” an apparel collection dedicated to little girls, and toasted the 30th anniversary of her namesake company.
Dolls spotlights cashmere knitwear, hand-stitched embroideries and high tech outerwear for girls between the ages of 2 and 14. The line is produced under a five-year licensing agreement with Mafrat, the Putignano-based children’s wear manufacturer. The line is projected to have sales of $4 million per season in the first year. The first collection will debut for fall-winter 2003.
Based in Southern Italy, Mafrat reported $15 million in sales last year. It employs 150 people and boasts a network of 1,400 points of sale in Italy alone.
At the same time, the Rome-based designer seized the occasion to address her three decades in fashion, saying, “It’s been a profound and exhilarating professional and human experience.”
Biagiotti, who has been dubbed the “Queen of Cashmere,” started her fashion adventure in 1972. After studying Christian archeology at the Sapienza University in Rome, the 59-year-old designer tried her hand at fashion in her mother’s small atelier.
“I realized that I had a creative message to express that was sort of suffocated by my studies,” said Biagiotti, who works and lives in a 15th century castle called Marco Simone on the outskirts of Rome.
Throughout her career, the designer has stuck to three constants: cashmere knitwear, white and softly tailored feminine silhouettes.
“White for me is more than a color, it’s a way of interpreting and living in the contemporary world. It’s also the color of positive energy and of the fairies,” said Biagiotti.
As for cashmere, Biagiotti defines it as the fiber closest to the sky. “After all, the goats live on the Tibetan and Mongolian plains that are located at 4,000 meters,” she added.
Biagiotti also praises cashmere’s ecological qualities — as spring breezes in, the goats automatically shed their heavy winter fleece by rubbing against bushes. “Like a book or a painting, cashmere is something you cling to because it defies fashion trends,” said Biagiotti.
In 2001, company sales, including licenses, topped $200 million, including sales at Biagiotti’s four freestanding boutiques in Milan, New York, Rome and Venice.
A forerunner in discovering new markets, Biagiotti flew to Peking, now Beijing, in 1988 before many of her peers. There she staged a fashion show with 30 Chinese models, who sashayed down the runway wearing 125 exquisitely embroidered cashmere and silk looks for day and night.
In 1995 she crossed the border to Russia where she was invited to put up a fashion show-parade, representing Italian style and culture, in Moscow’s Kremlin.
Her husband and business partner, Gianni Cigna, died in 1997. Their daughter, Lavinia, supports her mother on many fronts: at social events, in the public relations area and as a designer for the younger Roma ready-to-wear line, which was launched in 1998.