By  on May 25, 2006

MILAN — A new generation of Italian denim and sportswear brands, from Nolita and Franklin & Marshall to Seal Kay, Mash Jeans and Take Two, are elbowing their way through a highly competitive and saturated market.

Despite their Anglo-Saxon names, these companies are as Italian as it gets. Their volumes are still small compared with Diesel or Replay, for example, but they are positioned in top boutiques around the world, and some already have enough cachet to cater to celebrities.

Whether more established or up and coming, these companies share the same facilities offered by a web of craftsmen and manufacturing plants from Verona and Vicenza to Treviso and Padua, in Italy's northeastern Veneto region. Veneto is home to some of Italy's most famous production districts, such as Belluno for eyewear, Vicenza for jewelry and the Riviera del Brenta for footwear — hubs equally as powerful as Tuscany's Scandicci district is for leather goods and Biella for cashmere.

Although this area has generated tailoring and manufacturing giants such as Marzotto and Benetton, these denim brands go back to a single entity and three visionaries: the Genius Group, which included the Diesel and Replay brands, and was founded in 1978 by Adriano Goldschmied, Renzo Rosso and Claudio Buziol.

"Before anyone else, they elevated the work-related denim material to a fashion fabric used for everyday wear," said Gianmarco Bortoletti, chief executive officer of Replay.

In 1981, the late Buziol founded Fashion Box Group, taking control of the Replay brand, in Asolo, northwest of Treviso.

"In order to carry their project through, Goldschmied, Rosso and Buziol created a web of infrastructures around them to produce the clothes," said Bortoletti.

Renzo Rosso, who has grown the Diesel brand into a $1.2 billion business, described the district as undergoing a natural evolution.

"People working together absorb information and skills. More often than not, we see a spin-off, talented young people setting up their own separate business with the know-how they've acquired," said Rosso, who is himself one such example. "It helps that people who live here are usually very industrious."

Rosso said entrepreneurs and designers need "all the assistance and complements they can get" and thus create a network of suppliers close to their companies that will provide anything from studs to washes.

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