By  on January 14, 2008

NEW YORK — During his 45-year career, Valentino Garavani, who steps down as creative director from his namesake house later this month, funneled the greatest part of his creative energies into dressing the world’s chicest women. Men’s wear—except when it came to the designer’s own impeccable style —  was largely an afterthought. 

Now that’s about to change.

Valentino management, after successfully repositioning women’s wear and accessories, is now ready to focus its attention on developing a viable men’s business—and is looking to Mr. Valentino as a kind of style arbiter.

“Our idea is to create the right product that doesn’t fall on either extreme. It shouldn’t be too trendy or too classic,” said Stefano Sassi, Valentino’s chief executive officer, during an interview at Valentino’s showroom here last month.

“If we just look inside our maison and think, even banally, about Mr. Valentino—how he dresses, what kind of product he wears. ... He’s a man who is always very elegant. I don’t think it makes much sense for us to go and do something completely different than that.”  Valentino may be the muse, but Ferruccio Pozzoni, the brand’s new men’s wear designer, is the one to execute this new vision. Working directly with the house’s new creative director, Alessandra Facchinetti, Pozzoni is set to bring a modern imprimatur to the imitable Valentino lifestyle when he makes his debut later this week during the Paris fall collections.

“First off, I really want to give a face to this man,” said Pozzoni. “In fact, I don’t say I’m working on a collection, [I say] we’re working to build an image.”

Valentino management is working in turn to build a structure to promote and sell that image. Precollections are set for next season, and Sassi said the company is looking to hire a men’s wear sales manager for both the U.S. and Europe.

“The number-one message is that Valentino will now look at men’s wear just as it has looked at other important projects in the past,” said Graziano de Boni, Valentino’s president of worldwide sales, marketing and retail.

“If the market didn’t notice our men’s wear enough in the past it’s because the product didn’t work,” Sassi added candidly. “Like with all collections, men’s wear requires specific competence and a very precise plan.”

Enter Pozzoni, who has held stints at both Prada and Brioni. Those diverse experiences have afforded the Italian designer an intimate knowledge of the two sides of men’s fashion and, as Sassi sees it, that makes Pozzoni the perfect match for the role at hand. Sassi declined to give a sales forecast, but both he and de Boni see a huge potential in men’s wear, which currently generates about 8 percent of Valentino’s sales. (Revenue in 2006 reached $239.5 million euros, or $301.8 million.)

“We really believe there’s an important opportunity for a sophisticated, elegant and modern product, which doesn’t fall in the realm of the men’s wear specialist or in the realm of trendy fashion houses,” said de Boni.

The first push, according to the executives, is wholesale and, in the U.S., they are eager to enter top department and specialty stores. Pricing—between $1,500 and $1,800 on average for a suit—will also fall in what the executives deem fertile territory. Produced by Isaia, the suits boast superior quality and construction.

Yet both men quickly pointed out that the collection—which will be presented at Valentino’s Paris showroom on Place Vendome on Friday—is more than just a series of sophisticated suits, it’s a way of life.

“I think among all the super-luxury brands out there, Valentino, even though it has a huge connotation in women’s wear, lends itself well to men’s wear,” said de Boni. “For some reason, maybe it’s an historical one, Valentino is a brand that men have no problem wearing.”

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