NEW YORK — IT Holding is restructuring its stable of Italian brands under a newly relocated commander of its U.S. operations, who has ambitious retail plans for labels including Gianfranco Ferré, Just Cavalli and Romeo Gigli.

The company said last week that brand operations are now under the control of Enrico Di Muccio, chief executive officer of IT Holding USA, a 13-year veteran of the Italian conglomerate who recently relocated to New York. Di Muccio is expected to strategize growth opportunities for several IT labels in the wake of a restructuring of the company’s long-standing relationship with Dolce & Gabbana, which brought the marketing and sales side of its licensed D&G collection back in house.

During an interview at IT’s Fifth Avenue showrooms last week, Di Muccio outlined plans in the works for several of the other brands that are either licensed or owned outright by IT Holding, which include a new retail concept for Ferré; the relaunch of its secondary collection as GF Ferré; bringing back the Romeo Gigli label to the U.S., and various launches of full accessories collections, eyewear and fragrances over the next two years.

Di Muccio, who reports to IT Holding chairman and ceo Tonino Perna, also clarified IT’s ongoing relationship with Dolce & Gabbana will continue as the licensee for D&G through 2006, although the collection will now be sold directly by D&G through its showrooms, while IT will produce the line. The license was renewed last year with the altered relationship following reports that it might not have been continued after the appointment of Gabriella Forte as the U.S. president of D&G.

As a result of the restructured deal, Patrick Guadagno, who was president of IT Holding USA, also left the company within the past month. Guadagno is believed to be joining D&G in-house in a senior management position for the U.S., although the company would not confirm his appointment.

Despite the sudden lack of what was an overwhelming presence by D&G in the IT showrooms, Di Muccio expects the U.S. market to become increasingly important in the growth of the overall company through its other brands. IT’s overall sales in the U.S. have increased by about 17 percent for each of the last two years from $40 million in 2001 to $47 million in 2002 and a projection of $55 million to $58 million for this year. Those figures indicate that the U.S. accounts for less than 10 percent of IT’s global sales, so the company expects this could become an explosive market for its brands.“We have a huge potential to grow our business over the next year,” said Di Muccio, who started at IT in 1990 as a marketing manager and took on additional credit and customer care responsibilities through 1998, when he was promoted to sales director and then ceo of IT’s subsidiary Ittierre Hong Kong.

Following the acquisition of Ferré, he took responsibility of that brand, as well as Malo, and in 2001, he became ceo of IT USA.

“We are going to invest a lot of money, seriously, in the U.S.,” Di Muccio said. “We want to do more here because, in terms of potential, the demand for these brands is increasing tremendously year after year. I see equal potential for each single brand.”

To that end, Di Muccio listed several notable developments for IT’s labels:

Since completing its acquisition of Gianfranco Ferré SpA last year, the company has initiated a repositioning of the signature collection to focus on three labels: the black label runway collection, priced to retail from $1,500 to $2,500; the introduction of a white label with broader international distribution for spring 2004, priced from $900 to $1,200, and its existing, similarly priced red label that is focused on large sizes.

As reported, IT is also folding its many Ferré diffusion lines and turning its jeans line into a broader youth-oriented collection that goes beyond denim into sportswear and eveningwear, called GF Ferré. The new men’s and women’s collections will be shown on June 23 in Milan during the men’s fashion week.

Additionally, for spring 2004, the company will launch full accessories collections for Gianfranco Ferré and GF Ferré, with a dedicated showroom space for the entire concept, while a new fragrance concept is expected to launch in September through ITF, the company’s perfumes and cosmetics division.

Last week, Di Muccio signed a lease for a new Gianfranco Ferré flagship to open in October at 870 Madison Avenue on the west side of the street, which will replace its existing store on block south at 845 Madison. Both locations are about 4,500 square feet. The new location will feature a new retail design focused on rich woods, the color red and prominent video screens, a look that was created by Michael Gabbelini and unveiled in Paris in January. Next year, the company will renovate its shops at 2 Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles and in Bal Harbor to also reflect this concept.Meanwhile, the Ferré Jeans store in Bal Harbor will be replaced by a GF Ferré store and Di Muccio is also negotiating for a GF Ferré location in Las Vegas to open by the end of the year, after which he plans to open a New York flagship. That store concept is being created by Studio Monti in Milan.

“There has to be a more important and complete collection that incorporates a lot of the elements we did not have in the jeans line,” he said. “With Gianfranco Ferré, we would like to have a total look that is more defined.”

Building on the surge in Roberto Cavalli’s signature business in recent seasons, IT also plans to build up its licensed Just Cavalli collection, which has been sold in the U.S. for the past three years in more than 100 stores. The relationship with Cavalli was renewed last year and is a 15-year license, Di Muccio said.

IT’s plans for the brand include opening five or six stores around the country between the end of 2003 through 2004. The first target location is Las Vegas, followed by Manhattan.

For its high-end cashmere-based Malo division, which was acquired in 1999, IT plans to continue to develop its ready-to-wear, leather accessories and small leather goods to create a lifestyle image that will appeal to a broader and more younger customer base.

The company will launch its first eyewear collection for Malo this year through Allison SpA, an eyewear company IT also bought in 1999 that produces lines for Extè, Romeo Gigli and Anna Sui, among others.

“Accessories right now is one of the best product categories that consumers really appreciate,” Di Muccio said. “We think if we have the right product at the correct price, the customer is going to buy it.”

IT is planning a significant relaunch next year of Romeo Gigli, another brand acquired in 1999, which would include opening a flagship in Manhattan. The Gigli collection is currently sold in the U.S. only at Bergdorf Goodman.

Overall, Di Muccio’s outline would call for about a dozen new stores or renovated locations for IT brands over the next two years, an ambitious plan by any standard, yet ostensibly more so during such a difficult economic period for the U.S. and other global markets. Still, Di Muccio said there are better real estate opportunities as a result.“Even in this crisis, there is an opportunity to increase the business,” Di Muccio said. “We have to move ahead carefully, but we are investing money in this plan because we really believe this is the right moment.”

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