By  on March 28, 2007

MILAN — The late Franco Moschino may have added Couture! to his label to poke fun at fashion in his unconventional, tongue-in-cheek way, but there is a new twist to this expression when it returns with the house's spring-summer 2008 collection — and nostalgia has nothing to do with it.

The reintroduction of the Moschino Couture! tag, which was dropped in the fall-winter 1998-1999 season, is a tribute to the essence of the brand and points to the exclusivity of the goods, said Thierry Andretta, the company's new chief executive officer.

"We want to underscore the sophisticated elegance of the brand," Andretta said in an interview at company headquarters here.

The soft-spoken Andretta, who was previously president of Replay US and held executive posts at high-end sportswear company Belfe, Emanuel Ungaro, Celine and Gucci Group, said the firm's goal is to evolve towards an even more "refined" product across the board.

The house also is revisiting the Moschino Jeans brand, produced by SINV, the Italian clothing manufacturer that controls 30 percent of Moschino SpA, and has launched a "red carpet" men's project.

As the brand garners customers among celebrities — from Kylie Minogue and Beyoncé Knowles to Patricia Duff, Jessica Alba and Dita Von Teese — Andretta said the company is working on "providing a male counterpart au par to this female standard." The men's division is licensed to Venice-based Gruppo Forall.

"We were not really focused on men's wear before," Andretta said.

Moschino also is investing in the accessories division, which is posting a "triple-digit" rise, "just below 100 percent growth," for both the Moschino and Cheap & Chic brands, Andretta said. The Muffin bag in different sizes and materials is Moschino's current bestseller, with a waiting list of months.

"After all, Rossella Jardini [creative director] can count on her early experience at Bottega Veneta, and you can really see her talent with accessories, too," Andretta said.

A longtime friend and collaborator of Franco Moschino, Jardini took over the creative reins after the designer died in 1994, growing the company without ever veering from the spirit of the founder. In 2006, accessories accounted for 10 percent of sales. Andretta underscored the importance of offering a wide choice of accessories, differentiating them depending on the region they target."We are making structural changes, so that we can offer smaller bags for the Asian customers, for example," Andretta said.

Moschino is one of the companies — along with Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, Fendi and Burberry among others — that agreed to open an accessories corner at Milan's La Rinascente department store last year, which is being revamped by chief executive officer Vittorio Radice.

"We are very happy with our business at the store," Andretta said, adding that a clothing corner will also open in May at La Rinascente. Shoes and bags are produced by Pollini, controlled by Aeffe, which owns 70 percent of Moschino SpA and the Alberta Ferretti business.

Moschino also plans to launch two fragrances this year. The first — called Funny! — will be introduced in May. The fragrance business, licensed to Euroitalia, accounts for 14 percent of total sales. Moschino SpA last year reported sales of 78 million euros, or $101.4 million at current exchange rate. Its licensing business registered sales of 200 million euros, or $260 million. Andretta declined to provide projected sales for 2007.

Andretta said he has high hopes for the watch division. Last fall, the licensee, Sector Group, was acquired by Morellato SpA from Bulgari SpA-managed investment fund Opera. "Our watch business grew last year, but we expect a further push with the new owners, which guarantee a top structure and financial solidity," he said.

The executive noted that the company's investment in retailing also is a chance to better present the brand's more diversified and high-quality product offerings. Moschino plans to open 14 boutiques this year, building business in emerging markets. Two boutiques launched in South Korea in February, one was inaugurated in Bahrain this month, and one in Ukraine will be unveiled in May. A second store is also slated to open in Delhi, India, this year.

Jardini and the in-house design team are working on a new concept for the Cheap & Chic Milan store on Via Spiga, which will reopen in September and become the model for the restoration of other boutiques. The company counts a total of 67 boutiques globally and its goal is to reach 111 units in 2011. There are 292 points of sale that carry both Moschino and Cheap & Chic in Italy, and 525 abroad.At the end of May, the company is to add a shop-in-shop for both brands at Saks Fifth Avenue's Manhattan flagship. "The U.S. market is very loyal to the brand and we see excellent performance at the department stores we work with," said Andretta, citing Bergdorf Goodman, where there are two shop-in-shops, as well as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's and Barneys New York. Andretta said the company is mulling whether to open a store in Manhattan. The U.S. accounts for 12 percent of company sales.

In the next 18 months or so, Moschino will launch a hotel in a partnership with Mobygest, one of Italy's leading chains. The hotel will be in Milan's Corso Como area, close to the future fashion area Città della Moda, and is expected to have 72 rooms, a spa and a restaurant.

"It will truly be in the Moschino style, and we are trademarking a number of special seats and home collection pieces," Andretta said. "I'm very motivated. The brand has tremendous potential, in all product categories, and is backed by the solidity and vision of Aeffe."

Andretta said that, in addition to a "deep respect" for Jardini's work, he accepted the ceo job treasuring the memories of an Eighties holiday in the south of Italy with a friend who introduced him to Franco Moschino. "I met him back then and thought he was an extraordinary person, whom I always considered the Andy Warhol of fashion, with his communication so similar to art," Andretta said.

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