MILAN — Gianfranco Ferré is injecting his brand with youth serum.

Over the next few months, he is launching a younger collection for men and women, expanding his business in markets like the U.S. and Japan, streamlining his distribution while opening new stores and investing in a pack of new products.

Next week, the younger GF Ferré line will bow here during the men’s spring 2004 shows, but the designer will present the women’s collection along with the men’s on the runway next Monday. “We want to show the full GF Ferré project,” said Enrico Mambelli, chief executive officer, in an exclusive interview. Mambelli joined the company last year, under the new IT Holding ownership.

Ferré is sparing little for his launch, inviting a cast of thousands to a postshow party where guests will dine on different menus ranging from vegetarian to Mediterranean and “urban,” dancing to house and techno music. Actress-turned-director Asia Argento will direct Ferré’s runway show, a first for Argento, who lives in Los Angeles.

GF Ferré, produced by Ittierre, replaces the former Gieffeffe and Ferré Jeans lines, former Marzotto licenses. The line will include denim pants, some with polyurethane bands on the seams, and some baggy, splashed with white spots and prints, and treated with silicone. Classic blazers and jackets will come in sporty gray sweatshirt fleece.

“I’m interested in and curious about the thousand intersecting ways of being young today,” said Ferré. “Different styles, tribes, ideas and choices that coexist…and create the richness of life — this is what I want to convey with GF Ferré: a total, global and strong project.”

The designer described the line as “urban” and “mix and match.” The total GF Ferré look includes accessories and eyewear. IT Holding will produce the accessories and Allison, owned by the group, will develop the eyewear. As reported, IT Holding chairman Tonino Perna announced last week the creation of Ittierre Accessories, a firm dedicated to manufacturing accessories for all Ittierre lines: Versus, Versace Jeans Couture, D&G, Exté, Just Cavalli and GF Ferré.

Among the GF Ferré accessories for next spring are the “space basket bag” in Plexiglas with arrows or polkadot patterns and the rubber-heeled shoes.The company also has signed a license with Unionseta for GF Ferré beachwear and innerwear collections. Ferré snatched up a former Victoria’s Secret designer to help create the lines. The beachwear also will launch for spring. Unionseta is already a Ferré licensee for the signature line, beachwear and innerwear.

A branded perfume will be launched next year, produced by IT Holding’s ITF unit.

A GF Ferré store will open in Las Vegas in October and in London by the end of the year. “Since these stores will target young customers, there will be videos running in the background and lots of plastic details,” said Mambelli, adding that they must be “functional, with self-service areas. Young people prefer to browse and be able to pick from the racks.” The company will convert 12 former Ferré Jeans stores and 10 former Gieffeffe stores into GF Ferré boutiques. There are also 10 existing Studio stores, but their future remains uncertain.

The line also will be carried in multibrand stores around the world. Mambelli said GF Ferré will be in the Emporio Armani or D&G price range.

Mambelli said he expected GF Ferré to generate sales of $106.5 million by the end of 2004. Dollar figures are converted from the euro at current exchange rates.

As reported, the company also has discontinued the Studio and Forma lines, previously produced and distributed by Marzotto. However, under the “black label” signature line umbrella, Ferré will introduce white and red labels, which pick up some of the Studio and Forma elements, diffusion and “comfort” lines, respectively. The spring women’s collections will be previewed at the end of June. “We are extending our brand range to a broader market, with multiple categories of use and greater accessibility also in terms of pricing,” said Mambelli.

Ferré’s jewelry collection, put on hold this year, is now under way and will be in stores in November. The line is produced with an outside supplier.

Mambelli said the firm is focused on further penetrating the U.S. and Japanese markets, which have been somewhat neglected in the past. Accordingly, IT Holding has opened a U.S. structure and signed a partnership agreement with Onward Kashiyama for distribution in Japan. The U.S. accounts for 5 percent of sales while Japan generates 15 percent.In the U.S., the Gianfranco Ferré line now will be available at Bergdorf Goodman, starting with this fall’s collection. The company is planning trunk shows over the summer. “We have IT Holding’s credibility,” said Mambelli. IT Holding acquired Ferré in 2000.

Mambelli also said the firm is entering those markets where Marzotto was “absent,” such as Germany, England, Scandinavia and Spain, with GF Ferré.

Since January, it has opened and restyled five boutiques in Milan, Paris, Cannes, Capri and Porto Cervo, Sardinia. By yearend, the company will renovate its New York Madison Avenue boutique and open stores in Dubai and Macao. There are currently 28 brand boutiques globally.

IT Holding, parent firm of Romeo Gigli, Malo, Exté Gentry Portofino and Ittierre in addition to Ferré, had sales of $775.8 million last year.

Meanwhile, IT Holding USA named Michela Piva as vice president of sales and marketing for Ferré as part of its ongoing development of the Ferré business in the U.S. Piva reports to Enrico Di Muccio, ceo of IT Holding USA, and will work at its New York showroom. Piva was most recently president of sales and merchandising of North America for labels such as Cerruti, Istvan Francer and Moncler under the Fin.part umbrella. She replaces Sandra Seroy, who left the company.

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