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Warming Up to Gotham

Alberta Ferretti is having a real New York moment.

NEW YORK — Alberta Ferretti is having a real New York moment.

In town for last week’s Costume Institute gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the designer has been using the visit to strengthen her company’s ties to Gotham. Less than 24 hours after the party, she was scouring the city for potential locations for the first full-line Alberta Ferretti store here. The scouting trip called for uptown and downtown stops, including the West Village and the Meatpacking District. There are Alberta Ferretti stores in Milan, Rome, Capri, Paris and London, and the company has set its sights on Manhattan, with Los Angeles to follow. The designer, who already has a Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti store on West Broadway, said she hasn’t zeroed in on one neighborhood. Once the New York Alberta Ferretti store is opened, it will have the brand’s more refined retail concept, which launched in Milan in November.

During an interview last week in the town house of Aeffe, her parent company, Ferretti talked about her current Manhattan attraction. “Most of all I like the contemporaneousness of being in New York, the vivacity of the people in these times gives New York a rhythm unlike any other city. There’s really a mythic factor and more dynamism in New York. It’s almost as though you are looking at the future, but it’s happening today. In Europe, it’s different because there are older cultures. Here, there is less tradition.”

In what some might consider to be a nontraditional move, the designer is introducing Alberta Ferretti Girls at next month’s Pitti Bimbo show in Florence.

In typical Ferretti fashion, she has found a garden within a fortress to show the 90-piece collection. Geared for girls between the ages of four and 12, the jumpers, dresses and other pieces

are being manufactured by children’s wear maker Grant, which already has labels such as Moschino Bambino in its design portfolio. Grant and its newest

licensee have a five-year deal.

“We’re courting them from

a very young age,” Ferretti said, laughing. In truth, she couldn’t resist the girlishness that

designing a children’s collection

would allow.

With licenses for swimwear, lingerie, bridal, gloves and shoes, the designer isn’t actively seeking new ones, but she hasn’t ruled out a home collection. “That’s something that has always appealed to me,” she said. “It has all those things I love to deal with in my clothing [design] — proportion, color, interesting fabrics. I hope to do one in the not too distant future. I think clothes and home are quite similar. They really tell who we are. They are ways of expressing ourselves, they speak to who we are as individuals, the clothing on a woman.”

The same might be said of the airy town house owned by Aeffe. Flooded with natural light and trimmed with neoclassical molding, the space seems well suited for Ferretti’s ethereal signature collection. But on the day of this interview, the designer’s own outfit — lightweight cropped black pants and plunging tunic — reflected how her signature style is evolving to meet the needs of modern women, not just those who attend black tie affairs. To clue in consumers to the label’s new look, Alberta Ferretti tapped Steven Meisel to shoot its fall advertising campaign. One image features a model in a jewel-colored dress standing casually against what looks like a wooden wall with a small handbag dangling from one hand. “Isn’t it modern?” Ferretti asked.

Another hint of her revised outlook is the brand’s new logo, which looks like two interlocking design symbols — not letters. It will be unveiled in the 2008 cruise collection.

“My approach to design is changing continually and constantly, and it must change,” she said. “Obviously, it always comes from my soul within and from my vision of the woman. I’m in love with the feminine physique. For that reason, I understand that fashion is meant to change while staying functional to that woman. The Alberta Ferretti woman has a certain femininity, sensuality, romanticism and modernity. It’s very important in today’s world that we join together the needs of women with their ways of dressing. You can look a little to the past but you need to bring it into the contemporary world and make it modern.”

And that’s a good thing, said Bergdorf Goodman president Jim Gold, who noted how Ferretti’s signature collection is getting stronger because of its versatility. Her regular-priced business has “drastically increased” this season at Bergdorf Goodman and, as would be the case with any robust designer business, the floor space changes accordingly, he said.

“If you go back a few years, the collection was primarily known for its beautiful chiffon and satin evening dresses,” Gold said. “Today the assortment has much greater breadth within the dress classification. There are jersey styles, Ladies Who Lunch-type dresses, daytime dresses and day-into-evening ones. It’s good for us because a more versatile collection means more customer options.

“We’re big fans of Alberta,” he said. “We love the direction where her business is going.”

Today, Ferretti will welcome 150 people to Aeffe’s town house to see the first cruise presentation she has staged in New York. Like the fashion week event in a cavernous West Chelsea space in February — another first for the company — today’s affair will be a salon presentation. “I think it’s important to see the clothes in a relaxed way,” she said.

Neiman Marcus plans to introduce more customers to the designer’s label by offering it in additional stores, said Ann Stordahl, executive vice president of women’s apparel. “We are really enthusiastic about her business and how it continues to evolve. Her strength in dresses plays well to the current fashion trend and her feminine touches appeal to many women.”

Ferretti said she still gets excited about each aspect of the design. “Being in fashion gives you stimulation and provides you with the opportunity to exist in so many facets of the world,” she said. “It allows you to be aware of what is happening all over the world….Of course, I want to think that a woman wearing my clothes will be noticed on the street because she’s [dressed] just right. She’s not too vintage or too extreme, because that’s not being dressed. That’s being in costume.”