By  on July 30, 2007

Wolford, known for its black lace, is seeing green.

Holger Dahmen, chairman and chief executive officer of the luxury lingerie, legwear and bodywear company, met with U.S. managers and sales teams on Thursday at Christie's Auction House here to disclose yearly figures, numbers that he was pleased to share.

For the second consecutive year, the Bregenz, Austria-based firm's sales and profits were on the upswing in fiscal 2006-2007. The company reported sales of 141.7 million euros, or $194.7 million at current exchange, a 16.7 percent increase from last year. Wolford said net profit for the fiscal year ended April 30 increased 84 percent to 6.4 million euros or $8.7 million. In the 2004-2005 fiscal year, the company lost 4.7 million euros, or $6.4 million.

Dahmen also outlined his retail growth plan, which includes organizing the brand's franchise distribution, expanding ready-to-wear looks and opening more Wolford boutiques.

"I attribute our sales increase to two major things," he said. "One, is that we're increasing our product portfolio, such as with ready-to-wear. In the last one-and-a-half years, we've put more dresses and coats into our assortment. Ready-to-wear showed a growth of 18 percent. Also, when we look at the distribution of major growth, it was in our monobrand distribution. We grew by 16.7 percent this year and our biggest growth rate came from our own stores. The U.S. in particular is an area of tremendous growth, 36 percent in terms

of dollars."

Wolford's future wasn't always so bright. The 58-year-old company has weathered financial ups and downs. In 1999, Wolford peaked with sales of 143 million euros, or $196 million, before taking a nosedive five years later under former ceo Fritz Hummer. Dahmen said the rapid decline occurred because of a combination of factors, including disorganized leadership, unclear growth strategies and unattractive collections. In 2004, sales bottomed out at 80 million euros, or $110 million.

Dahmen took over in January 2004, after leaving Hamilton Worldwide, a Swatch-controlled watch company, and began turning around the company by streamlining distribution and intensifying branding efforts. He hired Antonio Berardi as creative director, who lasted less than a year, and then Celine's Ronald Van der Kemp to improve Wolford's style quotient.Dahmen is now intent on adding to Wolford's nearly 240 global points of sale, which include boutiques, shops-in-shops, franchises and factory outlets. He is committed to opening 60 more retail locations by 2010. Each space will contain the same logo and a uniform store design, both key branding initiatives that were absent before his tenure.

"We want to control where we are distributed and how — what the windows look like, where the product is placed," Dahmen said. "We are about controlled distribution. The biggest asset we have is our brand. In terms of marketing, we had different logos, many different store concepts. We needed a clear commitment to one look of the brand. It used to be up to the franchiser, whatever look he wanted. You can't do that."

Last year, the company created one logo and hangtag to unite its global presence. Previously the cities Wien (Vienna), Paris and New York were listed under the brand's name, now each label reads only "Wolford."

The firm is remodeling and adding stores with a new concept described as white, clean and modern and with a focus on rtw. Wolford's fourth Manhattan store will bow this September in a 700-square-foot space in the Shops at the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle in Manhattan. Other locations that have recently opened include Dallas' NorthPark Center.

"Our target is to increase our number of boutiques all across the world, but we have tremendous potential in the U.S.," Dahmen said. "We have 23 boutiques here and have many open opportunities. This is country number one. We'd like to think of ourselves as front-runners in the market, by far....We'd like to think we helped propel positive development as a leader in luxury legwear."

Last January, research firm The NPD Group reported that sales of tights shot up 26.9 percent, to $104.4 million, from January 2006 through November 2006, reversing a double-digit decline in 2005. Sheer hosiery sales also rose 5.2 percent to $916.4 million.

Legwear has been labeled a hot accessory for fall, and was all over the fall runway. Most of it was supplied by Wolford.

"When it comes to the shows, we are asked to help with legwear by many designers of international reputation," Dahmen said. "And we do that gratefully. If we do it right, it's one of the many examples of doing something for the market. We can say we have been doing our part to help the market grow."Wolford will release a licensed body and legwear collaboration for fall with Valentino, as well as its sixth collection with Giorgio Armani. Previous licensed deals included Karl Lagerfeld, Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier and Zac Posen.

"Wolford saw fantastic times in the Nineties and then difficult times for five years," Dahmen said. "Analysts and journalists wouldn't have given a dime for our company. But, we're getting the right plan together and the right strategy, and holding on, no matter what."

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