MILAN — After nearly a half-century, the founders of Krizia have started to look at the next generation.

It’s not quite retirement time for Mariuccia Mandelli and Aldo Pinto, mind you, but a succession plan has been set in motion at the venerable house.

"I love my job, and I feel there is still so much to do — although I know many expect me to quit any day," said Mandelli, referring to the fact that she has been running her company with her husband, Aldo, who is chairman, since 1954.

A lack of energy is not a problem for Mandelli. An hour with the designer can be a dizzying ride, as she effortlessly jumps from topics as diverse as fashion to world politics; art to travel, and design to wine tasting.

"Believe me, my real job is to keep up with her," quips her stepson, Andrea Pinto, who, after 12 years working at Mila Schön and Nina Ricci, returned to Krizia last July as general manager of the company. "Her energy is boundless."

Andrea, Aldo’s son, is one part of the future for the house. On the creative side, however, after brief stints of Alber Elbaz and John Paul Knott at Krizia — a topic Mandelli declined to discuss — the designer has found someone she believes could replace her — not today and not tomorrow, but eventually: Hamish Morrow.

"He is extremely talented, we have a perfect understanding and he is a very sweet person," said Mandelli. Morrow, a young, avant-garde English designer, also has his own collection, which he shows in London. Morrow started collaborating with Mandelli at the end of last year. Krizia’s show will be Saturday at 4 p.m.

At the same time, Mandelli appointed Irish designer John Connor as artistic director of Krizia’s licenses. Connor has been working with Mandelli for seven years. "He’s grown and I want him to have more responsibilities," she said.

Over the years, Mandelli’s soft, deconstructed tailoring, pleated dresses and sweaters spiked with leopard and tiger motifs have become some of Krizia’s hallmarks. A hands-on designer and manager, Mandelli is known for her attention to detail and high expectations of her staff."I like to follow the company as much as I can, but it’s not true that I want to be at the center of it all. That’s why Andrea is here, and some of the attention will shift to him," said Mandelli in her studiohere, surrounded by framed paintings by Andy Warhol, Giacomo Balla and Tonino Guerra, wearing silver rings she designed.

The younger Pinto’s responsibilities include strengthening and renovating the company’s stores; developing new markets like China and Russia; reinforcing the commercial structure, and organizing Krizia’s manufacturing plant in Sesto Ulteriano, outside Milan.

"I’m really happy to be back, and I found the company has grown exponentially in the years I was away," said Pinto. The house’s sales have grown nearly 30 percent during the past two seasons.

Pinto said he is in talks with a licensee to launch a men’s sportswear line that will bow for spring 2004, but did not provide further details.

In addition to renovating its network of 18 stores around the world, excluding Japan, the company plans to open boutiques in Beijing, Shanghai, Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Seoul this year and next. After extensive renovations, the flagship here will reopen March 1, the evening of the designer’s fall runway presentation. "I wanted more light, more visibility and a direct access on the street," said Mandelli, who first opened the boutique 20 years ago on Via Spiga.

Mandelli, who first showed in China in 1997, said the world’s most populous nation has "tremendous potential — it could become [our] new Japan."

Japan is Krizia’s largest market, with 30 brand stores, managed by Sanki, and 400 multibrand clients. The company also has two licenses in Japan with Sanyo, for the production and distribution of the K of Krizia for men and women and Evex by Krizia lines in 147 brand stores. Wholesale revenues for these licenses amount to $78 million. Last year, group sales in Japan were $158 million.

For 2002, company wholesale revenues amounted to $240 million, including licenses. Krizia lists 38 licenses, including jeans with Sportswear International and a plus-size line with Miroglio. In 2000, the designer launched Krizia Top, a full-range collection also aimed at a high-end customer and an alternative to the Krizia line.Not content with a full-time job, Mandelli always makes time to attract writers and artists at Spazio Krizia, her meeting point for cultural activities, and to manage her hotel in Barbuda — the K Club.

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