NEW YORK — Catherine Malandrino wants to show her other side.
The designer, who launched her namesake contemporary collection in 1998, is embarking on several initiatives, including putting the spotlight on her designer-level Malandrino line, launching Malandrino footwear, opening her first boutique in Paris and designing a hotel in Florence.
Where once the designer used the runway to showcase her contemporary Catherine Malandrino collection, she decided this season to change strategy and is presenting Malandrino instead. She started the more upscale line two years ago with 15 pieces, but it has since grown into a complete collection with up to 100 styles a season, available in the designer's four freestanding boutiques and select specialty stores worldwide. Malandrino is more tailored than its contemporary counterpart. The idea came to her when the designer was looking to create unique and handcrafted silhouettes, in fabrics such as silk taffeta, linen cotton blends, cotton voiles, organzas and jacquards.
"[Malandrino is] the most focused part of my whole work," the designer said of her decision to show it on the runway. "I can really achieve the feeling of tradition and innovation in clothes."
Malandrino wholesales from about $250 for blouses and T-shirts to $5,000 for hand-embroidered coats. To better serve the Malandrino collection, the company this week opened a new showroom at 30 West 57th Street. Ellegi is the distributor for the line and Alessandra Volpi will handle its sales. "The Malandrino showroom has been designed to fit the Malandrino concept with silver polished walls and furniture by Christophe Pillet," she said. "It looks like a living room, very cozy and homey."
The designer, who projects retail sales of $60 million in 2006 for her overall business, declined to give projections for Malandrino, but said: "We want to keep it exclusively distributed. In the first year, we hope to have it in 30 to 50 doors."
By comparison, the contemporary Catherine Malandrino collection is available in 250 doors such as Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. It wholesales from $120 to $500, and will be presented to buyers by appointment in the Catherine Malandrino showroom at 275 West 39th Street.At the Malandrino show, the designer also plans to unveil her first shoe collection under that label. The shoes are manufactured in a production license with Italian firm Roland, though sales and marketing are handled by the designer here. The collection, which wholesales from $250 to $350, features 25 styles that are "refined with a masculine edge," she said.
Malandrino also created five ballerina shoes in a cobranded collaboration with French firm Repetto. Each shoe in the collection is named after iconic New York places such as Broadway, Harlem, TriBeCa or Brooklyn, with Americana prints such as stars and stripes. "When I moved here eight years ago, I had these little ballerina shoes in my suitcase. They were from Repetto and they were always following me," she said. "They were my lucky shoes."
Malandrino currently operates four freestanding boutiques: two in Manhattan; one in East Hampton, N.Y., and one in Los Angeles. The designer just leased a 1,000-square-foot space in Paris' St. Germain district, on the corner of Rue du Grenelle and Rue des Saint-Peres, for a Malandrino shop, scheduled to open this holiday season. "It's a very emotional step for me," said the designer, who was born in Grenoble, France, but grew up in Paris.
Next year, she plans to add three more boutiques and said she has singled out Las Vegas, Miami and Los Angeles as potential locations.
By then, she could even have some home accessories to offer in her stores. Malandrino just signed a deal to design a hotel on the outskirts of Florence. She was recently approached by Italian businessman Francesco Salesia, whose family owns the 16th-century palazzo that is being converted into the hotel. Malandrino expects to put her design touches on everything from linens and tableware to furniture.
"It's such an incredible dream come true for me," she said. "I always imagine my customers and their lifestyle — what they eat, drink and what music they listen to, and what furniture they like."
Construction on the palazzo will begin next year and is expected to be completed by mid-2007. The hotel has not yet been named. The designer has one wish: "I hope I will have a room in the hotel, so that I can come and experience the charm of Florence," she said.
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