MILAN — Borbonese marks its 50th anniversary this year with the launch of the Tango bag, a collection of costume jewelry that bows during the brand's spring runway show here today and a coffee table book on the history of the company published this fall by Mondadori Electa.
"Our goal with the book is to show how the brand has evolved in a concrete, tangible way," said Claude Arpels, chairman of the Redwall Group, which has controlled Borbonese since 1992 but has upped its commitment to the brand since Arpels joined Redwall in 2002.
While compiling the book, the company created an in-house museum, finding archival pieces that had been boxed away for decades.
"The archive and the book helped us understand the soul of the brand," said Arpels who, together with Alessandro Dell'Acqua, tapped creative director in 2000, has been going back to the roots of the company to create high-end products while maintaining Borbonese's artisan craftsmanship.
Redwall Group also controls the Dell'Acqua business and works on licenses with Giorgio Armani, Moschino and Romeo Gigli.
While Dell'Acqua has been contributing an edgy touch to the ready-to-wear division, which was launched in February 2001 and has since caught the eye of celebrities such as Hilary Swank, Halle Berry and Paris Hilton, Borbonese's accessories remain its core business. Handbags account for 55 percent of sales, while footwear, a new license with Veneto-based Baldan, accounts for 15 percent of sales. Arpels expects sales of $36 million in 2005, up from $30 million last year.
The new costume jewelry venture is also a return to the brand's origins. Borbonese started out in Turin, Italy, under the ownership of Umberto Minestrone and Edoardo Calcagno, supplying necklaces, bracelets and other accoutrements to Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent, Fendi, Galitzine and Ungaro.
"Even more so than other accessories, costume jewelry reflects the times we live in," said Cristina Cortesi, who joined the company this March as chief executive officer.
For spring, the firm will revisit its iconic romantic motifs.
"There used to be lots of butterflies, as Borbonese played with their wings, which look like two Bs," said Cortesi.Dell'Acqua also has been revisiting the brand's chains and nameplate medals, which often feature Borbonese's iconic OP pattern. In 1971, the company developed the pattern for its first line of handbags in collaboration with the Bologna, Italy-based leather-goods producer Redwall. The pattern featured a subtle dot-like effect that was first interpreted in soft suede.
"The OP pattern is great and even more recognizable than a signature," said Arpels.
The pattern has been elaborated on over the years in numerous ways and remains a bestseller for the company.
Embellished with contrast stitching, the anniversary Tango bag, which wholesales at about $400, is available in calf, python and ostrich in a palette that ranges from white and biscuit to orange.
"Tango is a sensuous dance, and we think of our customers as sexy and feminine," said Arpels.
For spring, Dell'Acqua will launch the Alex bag, which revisits the brand's half-moon-shaped silhouette. It features the OP motif and a large flower in suede and calf.
"I have tried to reelaborate all the symbols of the maison — from the butterfly to the OP — in a modern way, while always respecting the brand," said Dell'Acqua. "I believe the success the latest collections have garnered, both in Italy and at an international level, is a tangible proof of this."
Over the past year, the company has fine-tuned distribution in the Middle East, the U.S. and Asia — in particular South Korea and Japan — with Borbonese's new partner, Tokyo-based Itochu. The company now counts 15 brand stores. It also is available at 330 multibrand stores worldwide.
This year, Borbonese has been expanding its home collection, as well, inking a new license with Desarts for tableware and with ABC Carpet & Home for carpets. The company continues its longstanding relationship with Somma and Rossi di Albizzate for its home linens and furniture, respectively.
Drawing from his experience in the American retail market as director of retail development at Van Cleef & Arpels, Arpels has set in motion Borbonese's expansion in the U.S., where he opened a company showroom in New York last year. The Borbonese line was introduced to American retailers with the fall 2004 collection."The company has gone through so many changes," said Cortesi. "But each step has left a positive sign and everyone has taken care to maintain Borbonese's artisan craftsmanship."
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