By  on January 15, 2009

Looking beyond the recession, Marc Ecko is heading upmarket for a new tailored clothing and sportswear line that will make its debut at retail this fall. Dubbed Marc Ecko Prescription, the label will be made entirely in Italy and features luxe fabrics and innovative finishing techniques, and even incorporates Ecko’s own oil paintings as design embellishments.

“I have great timing,” joked Ecko of unveiling the high-ticket product amid the  current retail malaise. “But I’m not positioning this label as specifically upscale — it’s more about being something rare and special. I’m not a luxury guy — I’m not that dude. This isn’t about price, but about creating something classier and a little more labor-intensive.”

The venture is a partnership with Montezemolo, a classic Italian suit maker based in the Prato region of Tuscany that will manufacture all the Prescription  product. “These folks have the capacity to do some really interesting finishes  — we’re using all-natural fibers, but adding a sheen to them,” noted Ecko. “It  allows us to do stuff we could never do somewhere else.”

Best known for his Ecko Unlimited streetwear brand that sells hoodies for $40 and jeans for $68, Marc Ecko Prescription will offer tailored jackets that retail for about $650; jeans and pants, for $220; woven shirts, for $220; reversible cashmere sweaters, for $530, and T-shirts, from $85 to $110. Wholesale customers will be able to custom order their assortments from a variety of styles and fabrics. In the dress-up offerings, suit jackets are available in two models — a narrow lapel and a shawl collar — in four fabrics. Dress shirts are available in eight fabric choices.

In the sportswear component, there are blazers, vests, cloth and leather outerwear, pants, jeans, woven shirts, hoodies, sweaters and T-shirts in the fall lineup. Additionally, there are handmade accessories that come in limited edition runs of 100 pieces, including bags, flasks, agenda books and belts, with prices available upon request.

The company is not setting a specific sales goal for Prescription — the name is  an homage to Ecko’s pharmacist father, and his own short-lived pharmacy college career — noting that it’s not meant to be a volume business, but rather  to cater to a select group of top-end specialty stores looking for a unique selling proposition. “Marc Ecko Prescription was not created to meet numbers in  our profit and loss statement — it was created by Marc Ecko to build something  without the limitations of mass production, minimum orders and big retail stipulations,” explained Rachelle Louis, senior manager for international and business development at Marc Ecko Enterprises.

The new label — which doesn’t have the actual word “Prescription” on the product, but rather a stylized Rx symbol — was originally created for the European market, but the company has decided to also push it in the U.S. The company established its European business in 2000, and operates wholly owned subsidiaries in Milan for the Italian market, Stockholm for Scandinavia, Munich  for Central and Eastern Europe and Paris for Western Europe and North Africa.

In the U.S., the collection will be sold out of the Marc Ecko New York showroom  in a dedicated lounge in Ecko’s personal office space to create an intimate vibe.

The partnership with Montezemolo was born out of a chance encounter between Ecko and the son of the owner of the Italian clothing house in 2007. “I was in Milan doing some speaking engagements at fashion universities, and a business associate introduced me to Lorenzo Guazzini,” recalled Ecko. “I thought he was  cool and had a great sense of style, and the more time we spent together, we talked about doing something together.”

The somewhat traditional Montezemolo — which sells suits and sportswear under its own label, in wholesale accounts and a group of company-owned stores — wasn’t an obvious match for the streetwear pioneer, and the companies are stretching beyond their natural comfort zones, said Ecko. “The first time I met  this young designer and his team from New York, I thought they were bischeri —  lucky to grow up in the age of easy money,” added Renzo Guazzini, owner of Montezemolo. “Then I observed Marc working in my factory, engaged until midnight to fine-tune little details. I saw how passionate he was in describing  his vision, along with his love and respect for our tradition of craftsmanship. We are a great match — he is an artist with a unique understanding of youth culture, and we bring our heritage of tailoring into the mix.”

The Prescription line is a step above Ecko’s current top-end line, Marc Ecko Cut & Sew, a men’s contemporary label that is sold in specialty and department stores, as well as 10 branded freestanding stores in the U.S. and two overseas units, in Montreal and Stockholm. (A second Cut & Sew store is slated to open in Montreal, and another in Moscow, by the second quarter of this year.) The Prescription line may be stocked in Cut & Sew stores this fall, but that decision has not been finalized.

In addition to the Ecko Unltd., Cut & Sew and Prescription labels, Marc Ecko Enterprises includes the Ecko Red junior line, the midtier Avirex brand, the Zoo York action sports brand, Complex magazine and Marc Ecko Entertainment, a production company that creates interactive entertainment and video games. Total retail sales for all of its products topped $1.5 billion last year, according to the company, which is owned by Ecko, his business partner Seth Gerszberg and Ecko’s sister, Marci Tapper.

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