NEW YORK — Surrounded by her stylish signature coats in Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship, Cinzia Rocca said she is more interested in strengthening her business than promoting herself.
Regarding her first in-store appearances in the U.S., the Italian-born Rocca said, “I’m not used to it. I like to stay at home and work in my office.”
Even the designer’s four-year-old daughter, Chirara, sensed her trepidation about their first separation and advised, “Just go and have fun.” In some ways, their exchange offers a glimpse into the 50-year-old family-owned business.
Since the Cinzia Rocca label was introduced 13 years ago, the 37-year-old designer has developed a loyal following, especially in the U.S., where 60,000 units were sold last year — about an 8 percent increase compared with 2001. Unlike most European companies that secure their success before venturing Stateside, Rocca gained American fans nearly simultaneously. Her decision to visit Saks here, as well as units in Boston and Troy, Mich., marked the 50th anniversary of the Rocca family business. But the trip was also needed for future ideas.
“It is very important for my work to deal with the shoppers. I know what Italians and Europeans want and they are easier to understand,” she said. “Americans use fashion in a very different way from Europeans. In Europe, a woman will wear a mini from morning to evening. What I love in America is the way women dress for different occasions.”
Rocca’s father, Giacomo, founded Rodel, and started designing clothes 50 years ago in the hamlet of Dello, Italy. Early on the company was known asRodel and specialized in affordable skirts and dresses for women who had neither the occasion nor the wallet for couture. Rocca, who from the age of 10 had traveled around the country with his father selling fabric, wanted to take advantage of Italy’s economic boom in the Fifties.
He was fond of natural fabrics, especially heavy wools. His daughter has similar taste, favoring cashmere, baby alpaca and fine wools for her signature coats and suits. Rodel introduced the Cinzia Rocca label as a way to get into the designer business. Last year. the company sold 200,000 units worldwide.To a large degree, her customers are much like her — working mothers who “pay attention to fashion, but not too much,” she said.
“I don’t want to design for younger women. They change their ideas so much,” Rocca said. “I prefer women who have their own beliefs and mix things together.”
Rocca helped her father in the business, while working as a buyer for a decade, before joining the family business on a full-time basis. Her father continued to work until he died in 1998. Two of her four brothers, Jacopo and Matteo, also work for Rodel.
The company employs 400 people, with design, production and administrative offices all centrally located in Dello. That setup enables the company “to pay a lot of attention to customer service” whether it be providing on-time deliveries, maintaining quality or listening to customers, she said.
Denise Bongiorno, managing director of Rodel USA, said, “We want people to know there’s a face behind the name. That’s not the case with most designer coat names.” Not resting on the company’s estimated $40 million worldwide sales, Rocca is keen on developing the U.S. business by learning what makes Americans buy. During her Saks’ visits, she was eager to learn what interests customers when they shop and how people sell.
This wasn’t her first trip to the U.S. For years, Rocca’s father packed up his family to spend two-week Christmas breaks in different states.
“What is important to say is that what is working here is working all over the world,” she said. “I want to pay more attention to this market.”
Despite the firm’s healthy outlook, Rocca is not interested in suitors.
“Before my father died, he asked us to do this work,” she said. “But he also said, ‘If you don’t like it, sell.’ We won’t sell. In Italy, companies that are running out of money sell.”
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