By  on June 13, 2007

MILAN — Antonio Marras' decision to launch a second line for fall 2008 marks yet another step in the ongoing democratization of fashion.

Marras has signed a license with the Italian manufacturing firm Interfashion, owned by Stefanel Group. Marras is known for his handcrafted pieces, intricate embroideries and experimental fabrics, and the license will enable him to cater to a new customer with less spending power but one who is still eager to tap into designer fashions. The still unnamed collection will be positioned between designer and bridge.

In addition, the publicly listed Stefanel's more than 2,300 points of sale and boutiques around the world will give Marras increased visibility.

But both Marras and Giuseppe Stefanel, chairman of the group, were quick to dismiss any similarity with H&M tapping designers for one-season collaborations. "That kind of price range is untouchable; we should not compete by lowering our prices, and this license is a long-term project spanning over 12 years," said Stefanel, noting that Interfashion, based in Rimini, Italy, can count on the added asset of a tradition of craftsmanship and quality manufacturing.

Indeed, Stefanel said the license with Marras was a way to breathe new life into the company since the long-standing license with Marithé & François Girbaud expires with the spring 2008 collection. "We were at a crossroads; we were to either sell the company or find new ways to fill the void left by that license," said Stefanel.

The executive did not disclose projected sales for the Marras line. However, he said he hoped sales from the new collection as well as Interfashion's first company-owned brand, High, designed by former Marithé & François Girbaud designer Claire Campbell, will within the next three years approach the annual sales of the French brand. The Marithé & François Girbaud line has revenues of about 90 million euros, or $121.2 million at current exchange, annually. In 2006, Stefanel reported sales of 298 million euros, or $375.5 million at the average exchange rate for the period.

"Interfashion is the ideal partner to translate my design codes, which are often difficult to interpret and understand, in a more commercial way," said Marras.The Sardinian designer was also upbeat about the project because he has succeeded in buying back the 40 percent share in his namesake company previously owned by BVM, which also controls the Les Copains brand. It has been no secret in the industry that Marras had been trying to buy back the shares as he felt BVM had not fully capitalized on his brand's potential.

The designer, who bowed at Rome's couture shows in 1996, has a small business, with sales of about 15 million euros, or $19 million at current exchange, a year, and a niche customer base, relying on two brand stores and 200 points of sale around the world. Marras, who is also creative director of Kenzo, currently has no backer, but he said he was "optimistic and hopeful" for the future, feeling this step will help him turn a new leaf.

"I feel born again," he said, declining to say how much he paid BVM. "It was a lengthy negotiation, but now I am free to manage and promote my line."

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