MILAN — Lavinia Biagiotti spent a meditative summer, mapping out projects for the company her mother, Laura, founded 31 years ago.
“I’m turning 25 in October, and I don’t want to be considered just a [designer’s] young daughter anymore. I want to understand how I can mold the company, increase the one-on-one relationship with our clients and be up to date with the ever-changing fashion world out there,” said Biagiotti shortly after showing the signature spring collection here, a focused and spirited presentation inspired by the Fifties, Capri and a Jane Mansfield femininity.
Biagiotti said this is a revolutionary moment, where the success of fast-fashion retail chains is a sign that people have a “strong positive interest” in fashion, but that designer firms need to shape up to face this competition.
“We must streamline our operations, adapt to changes and operate quickly to be more competitive. We used to prepare medium-long-term projects; now we are focused on the short term,” said Biagiotti. “I see this is a turning point for our company. Fast fashion has an impact on second lines and we’ve reacted, raising the quality of Biagiotti Roma but becoming more competitive, pricewise.”
Biagiotti, however, believes fast fashion here won’t last: “I give it four or five years. It’s fun, but it’s not high quality,” she said.
In an effort to be more competitive and cut costs, Biagiotti said she will show the fall 2004 Biagiotti Roma collection in January with the men’s collection, calling it “sort of a pre-collection within the second line.”
The younger diffusion line, which is designed by Lavinia, was launched in 2001 and is produced by Swinger International, which owns Byblos. It currently accounts for 8 percent of sales. Last year, the company reported sales of $177 million (converted from 150 million euros at current exchange). Biagiotti said she expected sales this year to be in line with 2002.
To help fine-tune their strategies, build their business in the U.S. and Japan and expand their offerings, the Biagiottis turned to Andrea Pinto for advice as a consultant.
“Andrea is a friend and knows how to enhance a brand — its true value — and expand outside Italy, in particular in the U.S. and Japan,” said Biagiotti.Pinto, who has worked at Krizia, Mila Schön, Nina Ricci and with Biagiotti in 1989, said he’s strengthening the commercial office and planning a charity event in January with Ricci Burns’ London boutique. “The company has a lot of potential, I think, and for spring we expect a 30 percent increase in orders,” said Pinto.
The first signs of this collaboration are a new watch license with Bari-based Time Force Europe, the opening of a boutique in Los Angeles next year and plans to launch a sportswear line and to expand the footwear and handbags divisions, which together currently account for 5 percent of sales. For spring this year, the company launched a line of sneakers to add a contemporary and casual twist to its footwear.
This year, the firm signed an agreement with Color In Optics to distribute Biagiotti’s eyewear line, licensed to Visibilia, in the U.S. In July, Biagiotti opened corners at Bloomingdale’s and Saks.
In the American market, which accounts for 10 percent of sales, the signature line is carried in 15 sales points, and Biagiotti Roma is available in 90 multibrand stores and in the company’s New York flagship. “Cashmere is still our bestseller in the U.S., a market that requests special pieces, embroideries and elaborate workmanship,” said Biagiotti, referring to the signature line. “We also work a lot with personalized orders.”
This year, Barneys New York set up a Laura Biagiotti loungewear corner, which sells all cashmere and cashmere- silk pieces in the company’s staple color,white. A three-button, long-sleeved cashmere T-shirt retails from $800 to $1,000. Biagiotti’s cashmere, imported from China, is processed in-house in its plant in the Tuscan city of Pisa, Italy.
Besides the New York boutique, there are brand stores in Milan, Venice and Rome.
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