By  on February 27, 2002

NEW YORK -- As the bridge market sunk in the late Nineties, Mondi went right down with it. Now the Munich-based brand, bolstered by new ownership and a revamped, more skillfully detailed collection for fall, has begun showcasing itself again at 530 Seventh Avenue, in a showroom opened Jan. 2.

The new owners also project a return to respectable volumes, but the company has a long way to go to reach its historical highs.

"We have the potential to do $50 million in wholesale in three years," said Fehmi Chama, owner of Mondi, and a Munich-based agent and distributor, who has worked with Escada, Laurel, Joop and Louis Feraud in the past. Mondi's volume last year was about $10 million wholesale, including U.S. volume of $2 million. A decade ago, Mondi peaked at around $250 million.

Overexpansion, management changes and a failure to find a fashion identity that would stick nearly killed the bridge brand. Mondi did file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection in September 1999, when its parent, Investcorp, gave up funding the money-losing operation and negotiations with banks collapsed. A month later, Chama bought Mondi out of bankruptcy, purchasing the trademark and inventory. Chama, who had been Mondi's agent in the Mideast, blamed the brand's decline on sharp design shifts, from glitzy brights to overly simple, minimalist looks, and prices that were too high.

Last December, Chama sold the rights to distribute Mondi in the Western Hemisphere to Skender U. Perolli, a former senior executive at Escada, Merona and Chams who lately has been on the prowl to buy apparel brands. Under the arrangement, Perolli must buy $1 million of Mondi goods each year, with the figure rising to $5 million to $10 million over the next several years. Perolli attempted to buy the Joan & David business when it was bankrupt and before it was liquidated.

"Mondi does have a shaky past and had to overcome some bad publicity," said Perolli, who holds the title of president of Mondi. "Now it's time for a revival. We're enhancing the character and qualities. There's charm and elegance to the collection. It's a complete lifestyle collection for well-to-do, successful women, ranging from classic to contemporary, from morning to night. You can be sporty one day and conservative the next day, and there's still an overall personality to it."

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