By  on March 9, 1994

MILAN -- For years, Carlo Rivetti worked quietly in the shadow of his cousin Marco Rivetti, chairman of GFT SpA and a champion of Italy's designer apparel boom.

Now, as GFT struggles to get back on its feet and the former oracle of Italian pret has faded from view, Carlo Rivetti is pushing forward with his own ideas.

Rivetti is convinced that the next big wave is going to be in the sportswear, rather than the designer-label business. And that's where he's put his money and effort.

Last year, along with his sister Cristina, Rivetti founded a new company, called Rivitex, and bought out GFT's sportswear division, Sportswear Company SpA, for some $30 million. Rivetti had been president of the division when he worked at GFT.

He has restructured the operation, signed on Romeo Gigli to design for his C.P. Company label, opened a showroom in Milan, and now he's hoping the collections will sell.

"I am convinced that clothing for leisure time, informal wear, is going to see very strong development," Rivetti said during an interview in his new Milan quarters, which opened last month. He noted a growing trend toward casual days at work and moves by industry to allow employees to work from home on certain days of the week.

"If Mr. IBM is working at his home computer, I somehow don't think he's going to be sitting there wearing a jacket and tie," Rivetti said.

Sportswear Company, which is based near Modena in central Italy, posted 1993 sales of $42 million, and Rivetti expects an 11.4 percent increase to $47 million this year. The company employs 170 people and controls subsidiaries in the U.S. and Spain.

Sportswear Company produces its own brands, including C.P. Company, Stone Island, Boneville and Taverniti and also has a license to produce Fendi's Fendissime line. It owns a C.P. Company store in the Flatiron Building in New York, and also sells to such clients as Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys and Louis of Boston. This year, Rivetti hopes to double his U.S. sales from $900,000.

"Now, instead of being part of a huge group, we are a small business, which means we can be more flexible, get closer to the market," Rivetti said.His first move has been to bring out a women's line for C.P. Company, which was limited to men's wear and unisex items. The line is designed by Romeo Gigli, who now also designs the men's line. Rivetti denied rumors that he was Gigli's mysterious financial backer. Last year, Gigli announced he had a new financial backer, whom he has repeatedly declined to identify. Rivetti said his business relationship with Gigli is limited to the design contract, adding that they are good friends.

"I would be proud to be his partner, if he were to ask me," Rivetti said.

The C.P. Company collection, which is both sporty and refined, has signature Gigli touches such as jewel-colored, quilted linings for jackets, textured fabrics at necks and wrists, unusual color combinations and spunky shapes. It wholesales from $120 to $420. Rivetti expects women's to account for 20 percent of the C.P. volume this year.

Meanwhile, Rivetti has also launched a new collection of men's tailored wear under the name C.P. Collection. Rivetti himself designs this collection, which consists of jackets, suits and pants. The clothing is classic, with items such as tweed and denim sport coats and pinstriped suits, but with attention to detail in fabrics, cut, buttons, button holes and more.

Finally, Rivetti has brought out another pet project under the C.P. Company line. He calls it the "Archivio Storico," or Historical Archive, and it consists of 10 classic outerwear pieces that C.P. Company has produced over the years. Each piece has its own name and is sold with a book giving the background of the item and its design with pictures of famous figures wearing similar styles. For example, the trench raincoat is called "Miller," for Arthur Miller, the duffel coat is "Montgomery," the bomber jacket is "Pan Am."

"It's really a marketing program," Rivetti said. "In this day and age you need to get to know your customer, gratify him, make him come back to the store. Now is the time to invest, and I am convinced the efforts we have made will be paid back."

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