By  on September 14, 2005

MILAN — There's much more to Ballantyne's turnaround than its staple diamond-patterned cashmere sweater.

Melding British heritage and Italian spunk, Ballantyne's new course started in 2002 when Alfredo Canessa, the founder and former owner of Malo, acquired the brand from Dawson and brought in Massimo Alba as creative director, the same post he held at Malo. Canessa is the current chairman.

Two years later, when Italian equity fund Charme bought 80 percent of the Scottish brand, the ball really started rolling.

"Only three years ago, Ballantyne meant a roomy winter sweater in three colors," said Matteo di Montezemolo, chief executive officer at Charme.

That's because since it was founded in 1921, the Scottish brand rarely strayed from that staple look, to the point that, when spring would breeze in and wool cover-ups mothballed away, the factory in Innerleithen, Scotland, came to a standstill.

Ballantyne's current story is very different, as told by a sneak preview of the spring collection: 300 pieces with a significant portion of wovens, fitted and sensual shapes, a 50-color palette, eight footwear styles and crystal embellishments.

"We have a very precise idea for Ballantyne because it is a unique brand with a specific British heritage that we want to safeguard," said di Montezemolo.

His ideas are just as clear in terms of sales, as he predicts year-end volume to reach $37.2 million, up significantly from the $25 million in 2003.

Part of that idea includes reaching out to a selected number of sales points, plus a flagship in London that will open on New Bond Street on Sept. 20.

"It's the exact same spot of the Ballantyne store in the Sixties," smiled 28-year-old di Montezemolo.

If back then the luxurious knits were worn by such icons as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy, di Montezemolo said today's aficionados include Britney Spears, Demi Moore and Julia Roberts.

The store also houses a bespoke area where clients can handpick the color scheme for a personalized argyle intarsia.

"All this has really stimulated the 220 workers in our Scottish factory who have been there for decades," said Massimo Alba, creative director. "They now feel guided and are very proud of their individual know-how."

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