By  on October 9, 2007

TOKYO — This year has been a turbulent one for Valentino. In the past five months alone, there has been a series of developments that will determine the brand's future, including the acquisition of its parent group by equity fund Permira, the announcement of the retirement of its namesake designer and the appointment of a new creative director for women's wear, Alessandra Facchinetti.

Stefano Sassi, chief executive officer of Valentino Fashion Group, and Graziano De Boni, Valentino SpA's president of sales, marketing and retail worldwide, visited Japan several weeks ago to oversee a show and couture order event, and were greeted by Mitsuyasu Matsumi, the president of Valentino Japan since Sept. 1.

During an interview with WWD Japan, Sassi said "there were about 10 candidates on our list of successors, including Italian, French and American. Facchinetti was on the top of that list."

When WWD pointed out Facchinetti has no experience in couture, Sassi said, "We have many artisans who have long experience in haute couture in the Valentino atelier, so there should be no problems in that regard. Facchinetti is quite precise and focused on details and the final product. That is quite haute couture-like and we believe that fits Valentino quality."

Regarding the future relationship with Valentino himself, Sassi said he hopes that, "as [Valentino] Garavani has been the beacon for the brand, I hope he will continue his relationship with the company and the brand itself, through advice to Facchinetti and so on."

The show and couture order event here were held in collaboration with Isetan. This was the first time Valentino has held such an event outside of Paris or Rome.

"We had about 30 people visit the two days of private viewing, which was more than we expected. We are already finalizing some of the deals, and this assures us that this type of sales strategy in Japan is promising. In the future, we would like to try the same strategy in markets outside Japan as well," said De Boni.

When it was pointed out Valentino's couture operation is in the red, De Boni said, "It is a fact that our haute couture is in the red, but as a whole, the brand is doing wonderfully, thus posing no problems for us to continue the couture business. We are a maison with haute couture. We can be certain of our position and pride in being the ultimate luxury brand by keeping a couture section."Couture sales for Paris fashion houses are heating up again as a result of the infusion of oil money from the Middle East and other newly rich people from regions such as Russia, India and China. Also, as Toshihiko Nakagome, managing director of Isetan, said, the wealthy in Japan are now looking into couture. "Recently, for example, the semicouture of Ungaro is doing quite well. Our good customers are interested in haute couture as well."

Matsumi of Valentino Japan said, "Valentino is one of a few luxury brands that place prêt-a-porter as its main business. In Japan, many of the brands carry accessories like bags and do not shine out with prêt-a-porter. We would like our customers to recognize Valentino as a wonderful prêt-a-porter brand."

In regard to the flagship on Namiki-dori Street in Ginza, he said, "Main streets like Chuo-dori Street or Harumi-dori Street are like the first-floor shop in a department store, where brands that put accessories as their main product compete with each other. We like the more exclusive atmosphere of Namiki-dori Street."

Valentino is in the process of creating a new concept for its boutiques worldwide, and is planning to renovate all its stores according to this plan from the middle of next year. In Japan, there are 26 Valentino boutiques, most of which are located within department stores. In the next two years, all these stores will begin renovation.

Matsumi is the third president of Valentino Japan in the past year as the brand has struggled in the market with sales lower than those of other major luxury labels. Matsumi's goal is to double sales of Valentino Japan in the next five years. The company's first-half revenues worldwide were 120.7 million euros, or $166.6 million, of which Japan represents 10 percent.

At the moment, 49 percent of Valentino Japan is owned by Mitsui & Co. Ltd., and 51 percent by Valentino SpA, although this might change as the relationship between Japanese subsidiary and Italian headquarters becomes closer.

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