NEW YORK — A good indication of the scale of changes that have taken place under Valentino’s new management in the past year is that the label can be found today not only on Hollywood red carpets, but also at a downtown Manhattan music festival on members of a rock band called Elefant.

One of the primary focuses of the company since it was acquired by Marzotto SpA in May 2002 has been to increase the scope of the Valentino brand — with a Red collection, expanded accessories and restructured licensees — and its retail presence, particularly in major U.S. department stores and specialty stores. That’s including reaching out to stores that hadn’t carried the line in years, and extending its marketing to include some unexpected product placements, such as dressing Elefant in the younger-skewing Red collection for a College Music Journal concert last week.

“The problem we found was that there really hasn’t been that much Valentino product in the marketplace,” said Graziano de Boni, president and chief executive officer of Valentino Inc. and Marzotto USA, the American arm of the Marzotto operations. “If you had to picture what Valentino was a year ago, you would think of a beautiful chateau, with nothing inside. What we’re doing is filling that chateau with beautiful things.”

Shortly after Marzotto completed its acquisition of Valentino from Holding di Partecipazioni for $210 million, the company laid out a number of initiatives it hoped to achieve in its first year. Despite a tough economic environment, Valentino has met nearly all of those goals, from merging its operations to recruiting new management for all of its divisions.

“There was a lot of work to do in the turnaround of a fashion company,” said Michele Norsa,ceo of Valentino and general manager of Marzotto Apparel. “But the U.S. is definitely the market where we could faster implement our new strategy.”

Under de Boni, Valentino has created several new positions, including naming Lorenzo Bighi as vice president of operations, Steven La Guardia as director of merchandising, June Haynes as director of retail, Marco Marin as vice president of sales and marketing for accessories and shoes, Liz Radler as vice president of sales and marketing for women’s, and Nancy Berger as vice president of sales and marketing for men’s.The company also named new managers at four of its five U.S. stores. As a team, they have dramatically improved deliveries and merchandising at the locations, as well as Valentino’s relationships with major stores. Barneys New York will carry its accessories and men’s collection next spring, Saks Fifth Avenue is increasing its number of doors that carry the collection and Bergdorf Goodman is planning an expanded in-store shop for the signature line as its fourth floor begins renovations in two weeks.

As a result of the changes, sales for the first six months of 2003 were up 20 percent in the U.S., a market that accounts for about a quarter of Valentino’s worldwide sales, and since July, sales are up 40 percent, de Boni said. In 2002, Marzotto reported Valentino’s sales were $85.7 million.

Bergdorf’s has also become an important venue for showcasing the renaissance of the house, as the store logged $680,000 in one day during a fall trunk show, and sales of $320,000 during one especially productive month for the ready-to-wear collection. Valentino’s spring trunk show at the store begins on Nov. 10.

Ron Frasch, chairman and ceo of Bergdorf Goodman, said Valentino has been a consistently strong performer at retail even in difficult times, but the line has continued to grow since its acquisition by Marzotto.

“They’ve put together great support and great product for the brand,” Frasch said. “We see all its components concurrently performing and growing.”

Marzotto’s focus has also included restructuring Valentino’s licensees, most significantly buying back its fragrances from Unilever and signing a new deal with Procter & Gamble’s Prestige Beauté division. Its watches are being produced in a new license by Sector, controlled by the Bulgari-backed investment fund Opera, opticals from Safilo are being expanded, and SINV is producing the new Red collection for men and women.

Bergdorf’s picked up the men’s collection for its spring launch, while the women’s line will be carried in several specialty stores and in Valentino’s own stores.

“This is one of the most important steps in the process of making Valentino accessible to a new generation of luxury customers,” Norsa said. “The luxury market is going in a new direction. Young people who are interested in luxury brands want to see young, fast and brilliant products.”To that end, Valentino has also augmented its creative team in Rome, naming former Carolina Herrera creative director Damiano Biella as its studio director in September, an addition Norsa described as a key component in the collection’s future success with American retailers, based on Biella’s merchandising and design experience.

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