By  on January 30, 1996

MILAN -- Vittorio Giulini is quietly trying to carve a niche for himself in the U.S., hoping his high-end bridge label, Liola, will be able to compete with labels like St. John.

Giulini, owner of the family-run company, said despite a slowdown at retail and a saturated U.S. market, Liola's colorful but conservative clothing should be a big hit, filling a small but significant gap in the U.S. clothing market.

"There is not a wide variety of choice in the U.S. bridge market, which means there are many niches to be filled. Liola offers customers an unusual product, superior service, an exclusive distribution network and the Made in Italy label," Giulini said during an interview at the company's Milan headquarters.

The company's 1994 turnover was $35.6 million (57 billion lire), and sales this year are expected to increase by 10 percent. Liola exports 30-35 percent of its products, and Giulini said he would like to boost that figure to 50 percent.

"In the U.S., we consider St. John our most significant competitor. From what we've seen so far, Liola is selling very well alongside it."

Giulini said the key to Liola's success in the U.S. is and will continue to be an attention to service and tight relationships with clients. Giulini's promotion strategy for Liola fits neatly into a larger, far-reaching project he is heading to promote Italian bridge lines in the U.S. His goal is to encourage independent U.S. retailers to sell a wider variety of Italian bridge collections.

Giulini said his own company has a particular advantage when it comes to customer service and cultivating relationships with clients. Liola, which started in 1870 spinning and weaving cotton, today produces everything from fabric to the finished product. Liola has three different plants dedicated to cutting and sewing, knitting, and printing and dyeing. A creative team that includes color experts, computer whizzes and clothing designers turns out five collections a year. The most popular pieces can be restocked in a matter of days or weeks. The collections -- spring, summer, autumn, evening, formal and Christmas -- begin as color concepts. Liola's color experts choose a theme group of shades and oversee the dyeing of the yarns and fibers. Designers create the prints and knitwear patterns on computer screens and another group of designers creates the clothing samples.

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