Cosabella owner Sergio Oxman waxes rhapsodic over pasta, poetry and — what else — provocative lingerie.
There’s nothing like lingerie for bringing out the romantic in all of us. Take Sergio Oxman. He may be designer and co-owner of the red-hot firm Cosabella, but he considers himself first and foremost a poet. "I spend all of my days writing poetry. I’m very much into Shakespeare and his love sonnets," he says.
But apparently, Juliet and Desdemona are not his true muses. "I’m also kind of stuck in a time warp of the Forties and Fifties where women wore feminine dresses with fitted jackets, high heels and hats with veils. The whole look then was very romantic and inspires my poetry as well as lingerie that is feminine and sexy looking."
And while Oxman’s personal poems may not make it into the syllabus of Lit 101, certainly the racy fare for which Cosabella is known is more than enough to trigger thoughts of romance and more. The firm is known for unabashedly provocative thongs and sheer bodysuits that leave little to the imagination. And a name drop or two on HBO’s "Sex and the City" hasn’t hurt that reputation one bit.
Donna Wolff, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and hosiery at Bloomingdale’s, calls Cosabella "a West Coast phenomenon that grew in popularity and made its way across the country," despite the fact that it’s a Miami-based firm. "It has a great name, and it goes hand in hand with the Hollywood scene," she says. "Many celebrities wear Cosabella thongs — that’s the feedback I’ve received from our Bloomingdale’s units on the West Coast."
The daywear and underwear company services 3,000 retail accounts and generates annual wholesale of $20 million in the U.S. Oxman projects yearly volume in Europe will reach $3 million to $5 million by mid-2003.
Oxman, the son of Russian parents who immigrated to Argentina, where they now own vineyards, has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years. He founded the company in 1982 with Ugo and Valeria Campello, who share design and merchandising ideas with him. Oxman’s self-proclaimed forte at the company is finances. After studying marketing, business and sociology at the Sorbonne in Paris and at UCLA — and traveling and working in a number of sales and marketing jobs — he met the Campellos through a mutual friend from Miami. The three pooled their meager resources — $2,000 total — and decided to try their hand at fashion lingerie, which they considered to be a relatively unexplored market in the U.S. They chose the name Cosabella, which means "beautiful thing" in Italian, because, Oxman says, it represents "the beautiful things you can’t readily see in a woman. It doesn’t necessarily represent underwear, just femininity. Cosabella is for the younger woman, the corporate lawyer, or for a wife who wants a super-sexy date with her husband."He describes the company’s early years as an adventure. "We really worked on faith," Oxman says. "My partners weren’t making a salary for several years, and I was making about $150 per month. But we were very avant-garde." He says that they brought stretch Italian laces and bodysuits to the markets and shook up a conservative status-quo with their racy look. "Stores in particular weren’t ready for our G-strings and thongs. But we went door-to-door convincing retailers that this was a big trend."
The team’s efforts came to a brief halt in 1989, when the Cosabella warehouse was dealt a blow from Hurricane Andrew, which destroyed many homes and businesses in Miami. Oxman said the warehouse was flattened to smithereens. "There were thongs flying all over the place," Oxman recalls. "For a short while, all merchandise had to be stored in Ugo and Valeria’s home."
The 2002-2003 resort collection is inspired by various tropical locales. That means lots of vivid colors — mango, apple, mandarin, fuchsia, sky blue — reminiscent, Oxman says, of seaside marketplaces with fresh and exotic fruits and flowers. Fabrics include stretch laces, mesh and printed and solid microfibers. Wholesale prices range from $8 for a G-string to $33 for a cropped cami and $75 for slips that can double as dresses. Overall, the firm uses 27 contractors in Italy and the U.S. to manufacture the goods. Italy is also the company’s primary base for sourcing fabrics.
Oxman said his wife, Paula, test-drives many of the company’s products, noting that she is "Sicilian and extremely opinionated." She’s also in charge of inventory control, of a sort: She’s been known to pop out to stores and pay retail for a style they’ve run low on or a look that sold out to the trade before she could buy it for herself.
Linda Vinciguerra, owner of Linda Lingerie in Staten Island, N.Y., says, "We sell Cosabella like crazy. The thongs are constantly sold out. It’s hard to keep up."
No wonder it’s tough to meet customer demand. "We get love letters from women and men thanking us for what Cosabella products do for their lifestyles," said Oxman. "It’s like a very pungent Italian pasta," he says, meaning that the racy fare is not for everyone. "But when it’s good, it’s very good."