By  on July 21, 2005

NEW YORK — Roberto Cavalli's work ethic has slightly changed since his early design days in the Seventies.

“I used to always design with very loud music and a bottle of whiskey,” Cavalli recalled over a sole meunière and a glass of red wine at La Goulue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “Now, alcohol isn’t a part of it anymore. But I sometimes like to sit at my computer at night with a cigar and a vodka.”

Daytime boozing may no longer be part of the creative process, but Cavalli still manages to have a lot of fun with fashion. Last month, the Florentine designer inked a deal with Playboy Enterprises to redesign the legendary bunny costume.

He is in New York this week to present his newest venture, Roberto Cavalli Vodka. At $60 per 750-ml. bottle, the product is positioned at the ultrapremium end of the vodka price range. Cavalli hopes to make it a main attraction in bars and nightclubs in the U.S. this fall.

The idea to venture into the spirits business came to him by chance after showing his wife, Eva, an empty prototype of his namesake perfume bottle.

“She said, ‘It’s fantastic, what’s in it, vodka?’ and I thought, I like that idea,” Cavalli said. “All the best ideas always come by accident.”

After meeting a distiller from Italy’s Piedmont region, he decided to give the wines and spirits business a try, and began developing the vodka and designing its bottle.

The vodka uses fine Italian grains from the valleys on the Po River and pure water from the peak of the Monte Rosa. Before being bottled, it is filtered through crushed Italian marble, which helps reduce its acidity.

“It’s so pure, so smooth and without that alcohol smell,” Cavalli said.

He drew inspiration from his perfume for the vodka bottle. It is sandblasted with a snake coiling around its frosted glass body.

“I designed a beautiful bottle, one that a fancy nightclub would understand,” Cavalli said. “Today, people want new things. If you order a Cavalli vodka in a club, you will want to take the bottle home.”The snake has particular significance in Cavalli’s life: The designer staged his comeback in 1994 with a pair of sand-washed jeans with a snakeskin print. He is as well known for his love of wild animals as he is for his bon vivant ways. Recently, he brought a baby tiger home, but didn’t keep it for long. “My wife said I couldn’t,” he said, demurely.

The vodka will be launched with a party in Miami in September and will initially be rolled out to the Florida, New York and California markets. It will be distributed in the U.S. by Miami-based Southern Wines & Spirits.

Jorge Gutierrez, president of Bay Harbor Islands, Fla.-based Italian Spirit, which imports the vodka, couldn’t give sales projections, but said vodka is a fast-growing beverage classification, particularly at the top end.

“There is a trending-up phenomenon in the spirits industry, with customers willing to pay more for quality vodka,” Gutierrez said, adding that, in 2004, 38.7 million 9-l. cases were sold, and 10.4 million were imported.

Cavalli hopes to create limited-edition bottles, some of which could be wrapped in colorful printed Cavalli silk scarves. His son, Tommaso, is helping him develop Cavalli-branded red wine in Tuscany.

His biggest ambition, however, involves an American icon.

“I would like to redesign Coca-Cola,” Cavalli said. “It’s so old-fashioned, and I have so many ideas.”

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