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Byblos: Second Time Around

VERONA, Italy — Byblos isn’t exactly a "venerable" brand, but it certainly has a history: It was the launching point for Gianni Versace, who, as well as the duo Alan Cleaver and Keith Varty, helped develop its identity and turned it into a...

VERONA, Italy — Byblos isn’t exactly a “venerable” brand, but it certainly has a history: It was the launching point for Gianni Versace, who, as well as the duo Alan Cleaver and Keith Varty, helped develop its identity and turned it into a hot brand in the Eighties and Nineties.

Its new owner, Swinger International, hopes to build on Byblos’ brand awareness to revamp the line and freshen its image. “The brand has a lot of potential, but must be repositioned,” said Mathias Facchini, chief executive officer of Swinger, during an interview at the company’s headquarters here. “Over the past few years, the brand lost its identity and continuity, because too many designers had been tapped for brief stints.”

After Cleaver and Varty were ousted by then-owner Donatella Girombelli in 1995, following a series of dismal reviews, designers as diverse as Richard Tyler, John Bartlett, Martine Sitbon and Sandy Dalal failed to leave a lasting, successful mark on the brand. Last year, Prada Group acquired Genny and Byblos from Girombelli. While Prada chief Patrizio Bertelli decided to hang on to the state-of-the-art Genny production facilities, he sold the Byblos brand to Swinger in April. Facchini said he paid $16.8 million for the brand and its licenses. (Dollar figures are converted from euros at current exchange rates.)

Facchini said he had always liked Byblos.

“The brand is young and modern, and is well integrated with Swinger’s capacities, skills and history,” he said. Swinger was founded in 1971 by his parents, Dino and Lilly Facchini, and garnered a reputation for production and distribution of denim and sportswear lines, including a Swinger line discontinued in the Eighties. “My parents named the company and the line after Swinging London —it sounded good,” said Facchini, who is 33. The company also grew as a licensee for young designer lines: In 1988, the first license was signed with Italian designer Rocco Barocco for his jeans line, which is still in existence. This was followed by a jeans license for Fendi, which recently expired. Swinger also signed licenses with Ungaro for Ungaro Fever, with Vivienne Westwood for Anglomania and with Laura Biagiotti for her Roma line. “The acquisition of Byblos does not preclude the licensing business, which we plan to continue, but we wanted to balance it with a company-owned label,” said Facchini.

This story first appeared in the July 16, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The first men’s collection under the Swinger ownership bowed for spring 2003 last month in Milan. The women’s spring line will be presented in Milan in September. In the first year, Facchini projects Byblos’ combined men’s and women’s sales of $9.9 million. Total Swinger sales this year are $49.4 million, and Facchini said he expected sales of $59.2 million in 2003.

Facchini is focused on Byblos’ core business — clothing — and, to revive the line, enlisted three designers who were working together at Mila Schön: Greg Myler, Stefano Citron and Federico Piaggi. “We see Byblos as young, eclectic and modern,” said Piaggi. “We want to bring back the brand’s identity. The designers recently before us all had strong personalities and Byblos became about them,” he said. Piaggi said they had gone back to the brand’s origins, to Versace, Guy Paulin and Cleaver and Varty.

The designers fired off descriptions and ideas: The spring 2003 women’s collection will feature short dresses in fluid materials, such as silk jersey, combined with jackets or pants in cotton with a rigid, chalky effect. Colors range from black and military green to soft powder pink and white, with strong accents of strawberry red, orange and green. There will also be T-shirts and denim in classic blue with special cuts, and lean cigarette pants without pockets. “It’s a mix between utility and classic, such as we presented for our first men’s collection last month, where we showed zips on elegant jackets,” said Citron.

The designers have a friendly relationship, and their different personalities and backgrounds blend well and balance each other: the English Myler has a minimalist attitude, Piaggi has a sartorial and couture background, and Citron, who is also a photographer, is described by the others as always “experimenting and thinking about something new.”

Prior to Mila Schön, Myler was at Erreuno — when Giorgio Armani designed the line — then moved on to Krizia and French Connection. Piaggi, an architect, worked at Valentino couture, Max Mara and Trussardi. Citron worked at Krizia, and was Donatella Girombelli’s assistant for six years during Versace’s stint at Byblos. “At Mila Schön we were more confined and expected to comply with a series of guidelines,” said Citron. “At Swinger, we have carte blanche.” The designers also praised the solidity of the company and the “timely deliveries.”

The designers are also in charge of the second line, Byblos Blu. Facchini described Byblos Blu as “easy to wear and trendy, for teenagers and young women up to 30 years old at the most,” and said that Byblos Blu will follow the main line’s parameters. While Facchini said it was too early to discuss prices for Byblos’ women’s division, he said the men’s division retail prices were about $98 for pants and under $500 for suits.

Facchini pointed out that Byblos and Byblos Blu were produced in-house, noting the Genny production facilities were obviously no longer available. Byblos Blu had been made by Sportswear International under license. Facchini praised the “two excellent licenses” Byblos had with Luxottica for eyewear, which accounts for sales of $16.8 million, and with Diana De Silva for fragrances, with sales of $7.9 million. Currently, there are four Byblos fragrances, with two more expected by the end of the year. There is a also a license with Novarese for men’s shoes, due to expire with next spring’s collection, and with Simod for production of Byblos Blu bags, which has been in existence for a few years.

Facchini said he planned to expand the American market via department store distribution. The U.S. currently accounts for 10 percent of sales, where the brand is available in specialty stores. After Italy, one of the most important markets for Byblos is Japan, which accounts for 25 percent of sales. There are two stores and five corners in Japan.

Facchini said he plans to reopen a flagship here in the city’s fashionable golden triangle within a year. The store that used to be on Via Spiga was closed under the Genny ownership a couple of years ago.

“We want to give a strong signal to the market and be able to fully present the Byblos world,” said Facchini.