By  on September 20, 2007

Elie Tahari is on the launching pad.

The New York-based designer aims to grow his brand, already a top-performing bridge line in the U.S., into a $1 billion business and sees Europe as part of that plan. To that end, the company is spending $11 million to refurbish a 19th-century palazzo in the heart of Milan. It will house a showroom, a press bureau, an accessories design studio, customer service and commercial units as well as an office for Tahari, who shuttles to the city about six times a year.

Spread out over six floors at 15,120 square feet, the European headquarters will serve as a platform to boost the brand's presence there.

Architect Piero Lissoni developed the interiors with the idea of a showroom-cum-lounge area, conveyed via Champagne glass, moon-colored marble floors, tin panels, iGuzzini lighting and leather and fabric sofas.

The space, which became operational this winter, has become the base for the footwear design team. To secure top-quality workmanship for its fast-growing and lucrative accessories business, Tahari bought a footwear factory in the Veneto region and one for bags in Florence.

"Our business is expanding worldwide and the European market is a very important one for our growth," said Tahari. "We decided to open our headquarters in Milan because it is the center of fashion and luxury in Europe."

Tahari's clothes generate brisk business in the U.K. and Russia, followed by Italy and Germany. Growth, he said, will come from Switzerland, Austria and Spain.

The bridge line is available in 100 sales points including Harvey Nichols in London, Gió Moretti in Milan and Mercer by Edith in Paris.

Exports represent about 5 percent of Tahari's $500 million wholesale sales, a share expected to double by 2010.

Tahari, who has 30 stores in the U.S. and 50 more worldwide, plans to open three namesake stores in Europe in the next three years. That said, rather than prioritizing a country or city, venues will open wherever suitable space becomes available. In line with his recent retail concept, the decor will mirror the city and its surroundings, just like Tahari's new East Hampton outpost, where customers can indulge themselves with a leisurely mix of clothes, candles, china and midcentury furniture.Italy plays a dominant role in Tahari's collections, lopped from Italian materials and fabrics just as his prototypes are crafted here.

"What really appeals to me are the great artisans and craftsmanship, which is beginning to die as an industry," noted Tahari. "In this business, if you succeed in the Old World — and especially in Italy — you succeed everywhere else.

"However, as a designer, I always try to strike a balance between the creative force of our collection and the business side of the company."

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