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Forte’s Mission: Growing D&G’s U.S. Business

<CS:BOLD>MILAN -- Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have big plans for the U.S. And they have a soft spot for the Americans, as well.<BR><BR>"We owe a lot to the American market and press. They've believed in us from the very beginning," Stefano...

MILAN — Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have big plans for the U.S. And they have a soft spot for the Americans, as well.

“We owe a lot to the American market and press. They’ve believed in us from the very beginning,” Stefano Gabbana, chairman of the company, told WWD.

The recent appointment of Gabriella Forte as president of Dolce & Gabbana USA is the first step of their expansion in the U.S. market. Gabbana praised Forte’s experience and personality.

“We’ve always thought very highly of Gabriella Forte: her name is a guarantee,” said Gabbana. “We’ve known her for a long time and have always wanted to work with her, but the timing was always off. Now we’ve finally come together. We have a feeling with her, there doesn’t necessarily have to be a specific reason,” said Gabbana. Forte will report to Gabbana and Domenico Dolce, managing director of the company.

Reached for comment during her first week on the job last week, Forte said: “They’re very nice people. I’ve known them from Italy since they started. We’ve always been respectful of each other, and they are very talented.”

Forte, who is based in New York, said it was too soon to elaborate on her plans for the company.

Gabbana had no doubts about Italian-born Forte’s ability to tackle the American market. “Our company is deeply Italian — who better than an Italian could speak for us and convey the nature of our label? At the same time, she has a thorough knowledge of the American market and is very capable,” said the designer. Before serving as president and chief operating officer at Calvin Klein Inc., Forte headed Giorgio Armani’s U.S. operation.

“The U.S. has a very high growth potential, and we can develop that market so much more,” said Gabbana. Although the designer said the company had “lots of plans,” which included the improvement of distribution and the opening of new stores, he said it was too early to name specific projects. “For sure, our investments in the U.S. will increase,” he said.

The U.S., which accounts for 30 percent of sales, is one of the company’s main markets. Italy, the rest of Europe and Russia together account for another 50 percent of sales. As of March 2001, company sales were about $365 million. The company expects to report annual sales of $441 million next month.

Armando Branchini, vice president of InterCorporate, a luxury goods consultant here, commented about Forte” “Gabriella Forte will be an incredible…boost for Dolce & Gabbana’s business in the U.S. I believe the designers are planning a drastic change in business and strategies for the year 2003, especially in the U.S., and that Forte will be pivotal in this….If there is the right feeling between all the parties,…her managerial experience will help grow and develop the company.”

In the U.S., there are three Dolce & Gabbana directly owned boutiques in New York, Beverly Hills and Bal Harbour, Fla, and shop-in-shops at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. This spring, the company will open a D&G store in Bal Harbour, in addition to the existing store in New York. There are also two D&G franchised stores in Los Angeles and Costa Mesa, Calif.

“We’ve often asked ourselves the reason why Americans are attracted to our clothes,” said Gabbana. “In addition to believing that they are open to experiments, I think the best answer was perhaps given to me by [actress] Isabella Rossellini once: ‘You have the Italian manufacture and the right fit with the added touch of glamour, which is often difficult to find in the Made in Italy labels.”‘

Dolce & Gabbana also plans to open a directly owned signature line boutique on Avenue Montaigne in Paris. There currently is a franchised D&G store in Paris.

For its spring advertising campaign, the designers were influenced by the rainbow, and have offered up colorful, enthusiastic and optimistic ads. The ads once again feature Gisele Bundchen and Matt Duffy, who were shot by Steven Meisel in California.

Dolce & Gabbana said that this campaign is in the same context of the movie-inspired ads of the past. “Now the nomads of the previous campaign seem to have found their roots: the Mediterranean air, the sun, the plants,” said Gabbana.