MILAN — Italian designer Luisa Beccaria is building a presence in the U.S. among the Hollywood crowd, as well as specialty retailers and their clients.

Her line has been hitting the trunk-show circuit and her new general manager, Jean-Luc Ayroles, aims to double thenumber of American doors in which her collections are sold in the next few years. Beccaria also is broadening her selection to include more casual items.

“Luisa Beccaria’s dressmaker point of view and tailoring are unique and her clothes are feminine and sophisticated,” said Linda Dresner, owner of eponymous boutiques in New York and Birmingham, Mich., that carry Beccaria’s ready-to-wear. Dresner said although sophisticated, the line has a young attitude and “looks perfect for any age.”

Beccaria’s signature colors, muted off blues, greens and golds and, for fall, elegant suits and velvet floral coats, were a hit at Dresner’s stores, which racked up trunk show sales of $60,000 in New York and $45,000 in Michigan last month. And during a trunk show at Ultimo in Chicago, the collection generated orders of $90,000.

Sarah Easley, partner in Kirna Zabête in New York, which will introduce the line for fall, called Beccaria’s clothes “what you dream of wearing to the prom.” She said the line is catching on with a larger market because “the moment is just right — there is a nostalgia, a Fifties-feel, romantic mood in the air and a desire for simpler times. The collection is all about fantasy and escapism.” At the same time, however, Easley said Beccaria’s clothes are a good investment because of their quality.

While the designer is being increasingly recognized by the industry and the international press, Beccaria is no new-comer to fashion. She was one of the first designers to combine art and fashion in the early Eighties, showing her designs at Milan’s Brera Academy of Arts, or against tableaux vivants by photographer Giovanni Gastel. In 1993, Beccaria showed her made-to-order collections in Paris for four seasons before returning to Milan. In order to keep a close watch over her own rtw collection in her hometown, Beccaria turned down a post at Chloé after Karl Lagerfeld left the company in 1997.“The moment of minimalism was over, and I thought it was the right time to design a haute gamme ready-to-wear line, with some couture details, but that would be available in other stores around the world,” said the designer in her Milan showroom, next to her boutique. Both are in the heart of the city, the Brera artistic district, and are being renovated and expanded.

Her evening, bride and couture-like designs are still a significant part of her business, but Beccaria’s immediate goal now is to expand the daywear portion of her collection and to introduce a cruise line, without betraying the exclusivity of the brand. “I think part of our success is because my clothes are exclusive and that my clients, and celebrities in particular, [don’t want to be] seen wearing the same dress as someone else. This way,their personalities stand out over a more global label,” Beccaria said.

The designer plans to add more knits, less formal items, and beachwear pieces for summer.

In the U.S., which currently accounts for 40 percent of sales, the line is available in 15 multibrand stores. Besides Ultimo and Linda Dresner, they include Nuages in Aspen; Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco, and Manhattan retailers Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman. Suits wholesale at around $500, dresses at $350and evening gowns at $1,000.

“We want to rationalize distribution with a balance between department stores and specialty stores,” said Ayroles. “In the next five years, we would like to be in around 100 multibrand stores — 30 in the U.S. — and five department store doors.”

The designer also wants to open stores in Paris, London and New York.

Last year, the company registered sales of $2.5 million. Ayroles said he plans to increase that figure to about $10 million in the next five years.

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