PARIS -- Is couture the foundation of a fashion house, or the cherry on top?<P>According to Louis Feraud's new managing director, Francois-Xavier de Monts, it's the latter. He unveiled a new strategy for the French house that is hinged initially on...

PARIS — Is couture the foundation of a fashion house, or the cherry on top?

This story first appeared in the June 13, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

According to Louis Feraud’s new managing director, Francois-Xavier de Monts, it’s the latter. He unveiled a new strategy for the French house that is hinged initially on its bread-and-butter suit line.

Since Escada AG took a 45 percent stake in Feraud last July, leaving the Dutch group Secon with 45 percent and executive Michael Rover with 10 percent, the company has been in flux. Its artistic director, Yvan Mispelaere, exited in March and Feraud put its high-fashion activities on hold.

On Tuesday, de Monts said Feraud might yet resume couture, and it hopes to show a luxury ready-to-wear line in October during Paris Fashion Week. But he stressed that the main de Monts collection, whose cruise and pre-spring offerings are on view here this week, will be the foundation for building the 52-year-old house.

“We are not starting from scratch,” he said in an interview at Feraud’s headquarters here. “We want to focus on developing the collection we have. Yes, we are still thinking of haute couture. For the time being, we have not made a decision. We might come back to it. It could be next year, or the year after. But for us, [couture] is not a start, it will be an accomplishment.”

De Monts said Feraud is nearing the end of a study to clarify the brand’s attributes, from which the house’s direction will flow. “This is needed so everyone works in the same direction,” he said.

The current collection boasts pink suede trenchcoats, washed organza tops and shapely cotton pique pantsuits. It was designed by a team lead by Matthias Heitzler, who joined Feraud last fall from Escada subsidiary Kemper, where he worked on the Cerruti 1881 women’s line. Feraud is sold in about 200 stores worldwide, including nine company-owned Feraud stores, 11 franchised units and specialty retailers including Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom in the U.S. Wholesale prices for spring start at about $450 for suits, $350 for jackets and $150 for pants.

De Monts said introducing luxury rtw represents the next logical step. “Obviously, we will have a designer, but we are still in discussions,” he said, declining to elaborate. As reported, Feraud has been talking to Paris-based designer Jean Paul Knott.

Meanwhile, de Monts said Feraud’s new image will soon be expressed in new ways. The flagship on Faubourg Saint-Honore here, shuttered last month for renovation, is slated to reopen with a new concept on July 22. Also, a new women’s fragrance is expected in fall 2003.

Feraud’s volume was about $28.5 million last year, and de Monts forecast growth of 15 percent this year, based on the new styling direction and its pricing policy, which puts Feraud at the opening ranges of its designer and couture competitors.