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Ballantyne Sets New Course

Ballantyne is reshaping its future under a new chairman and creative director.

MILAN — Ballantyne is reshaping its future under a new chairman and creative director. Moving away from a classic look, the cashmere brand is aiming for a younger, more fashionable customer. In order to achieve the goal, Ballantyne has set up a production company in Italy’s Perugia, in the country’s central Umbria region, which is a pivotal cashmere-manufacturing hub. The firm has also slashed its price range by 20 percent.

“We’ve cut the industrial cost of our product with our new manufacturing structure to offer a more interesting price, but the quality remains top level,” said Giacomo Canessa, Ballantyne’s new chairman and brother of the late Alfredo Canessa, who died in March 2009. The Canessas founded Malo in 1972 and Giacomo Canessa was previously a Ballantyne consultant.

“Our new Ballantyne factory in Perugia is the beating heart of the company,” noted chief executive officer Giuseppe Rossi. That said, the company has also reopened a manufacturing site in Innerleithen, Scotland, with about 30 employees specialized in making intarsia sweaters, which are the brand’s signature.

Two years ago, Massimiliano Zegna Baruffa acquired a controlling stake in a 200-year-old Scottish mill formerly owned by Ballantyne, which retained a 20 percent stake. Brooks Brothers also took a 25 percent shareholding in the mill, which has been operating under the name of JJ & HB 1788 Cashmere Mills. Under Zegna Baruffa, the business did not take off and the company is currently in administration. To preserve the brand’s traditional Scottish craftsmanship, Ballantyne last year set up a new, separate company, called Caerlee Mills Ltd.

Alfredo Argirò was tapped as the brand’s new creative director, succeeding Dawidh di Firmo, and his first collection will debut at retail this fall. Argirò previously worked at Brunello Cucinelli, Loro Piana, Avon Celli and Givenchy. “We are aiming for a fresher, more urbane and dynamic, yet practical look,” said Canessa. While continuing to focus on color, Rossi said the brand will be “more disciplined” with the use of color, seen in the future as more classic and less “for leisure time.” More wovens are also expected. Wholesale prices will range from 80 to 140 euros, or $97 to $169 at current exchange rates, for a skirt, and from 80 to 120 euros upwards, or $97 to $145, for cashmere knits, depending on the workmanship.

In 2002, Alfredo Canessa bought Ballantyne from Dawson International and, in 2004, Italian private equity fund Charme took control of the firm.

The company, which last year reported sales of 25 million euros, or $34.7 million at average exchange rates, counts four stores, in Milan, Italian resort towns Cortina d’Ampezzo and Porto Cervo, and London. Ballantyne is also available at 200 points of sale, including Harrods, Galeries Lafayette, and La Rinascente. Under the new direction, Ballantyne has drawn new clients, from Milan’s 10 Corso Como to Paris’ L’Eclaireur, and Luisa Via Roma in Florence.

Rossi said two stores in Sicily, in Catania and Taormina, will open by September and that the company is looking for a space in Rome. A boutique is also slated to open in Russia next spring. “China is also a priority,” said Rossi.