MILAN — In less than a year, Antonio Bianchi, president and chief executive officer of Ittierre SpA, has succeeded in expanding the company’s license portfolio with new signature collections for designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and brands such as Balmain; rehired 600 employees, and explored opening stores for the first time.
Bianchi is said to regularly check the company’s invoices on Sundays, and such hands-on management has been injecting new life into Ittierre, which, after two years of government-backed bankruptcy protection, was acquired in January by Albisetti SpA, founded and controlled by Bianchi.
As reported Monday, Aquascutum inked a six-year license with Ittierre to bow for fall 2012, which follows the news last month of a production and distribution contract for the new Karl Lagerfeld Paris line. In addition, Bianchi said during an interview at Ittierre’s sprawling showroom in Milan that, starting with fall 2012, Ittierre will start producing the Costume National line for fall. According to Bianchi, all it takes to draw these brands to Ittierre is a trip to the firm’s headquarters in Pettoranello, near Isernia, in southern Italy, a town where Bianchi himself has now moved.
“When our partners see the manufacturing capabilities of the company, which covers 120,000 square meters [1.3 million square feet] and the passion and skill of those working there, they are won over,” said the tall, soft-spoken executive.
As part of the industrial plan approved by the state-appointed commissioners, Ittierre was to hire back 487 employees in January 2011, and a total of 570 by Dec. 31, 2012, but Bianchi said 600 workers have already returned to the company, including seamstresses and patternmakers. Also in line with the business plan, the executive said the company is now healthy, with sales of 150 million euros, or $206.7 million at current exchange, expected in 2011. Revenues of 200 million euros and 250 million euros, or $275.6 and $344.5 million, are forecast for 2012 and 2013, respectively, thanks to the further development of the group’s licenses.
While it lost the Just Cavalli license earlier this year, which decamped to Staff International, Ittierre has maintained agreements to produce young lines for Costume National (C’N’C’ Costume National), John Galliano (Galliano) and Ermanno Scervino (Ermanno Ermanno Scervino).
Ittierre has also added the Pierre Balmain license, which bows for spring, and a four-year license with Fiorucci, marked in June by a 15-piece capsule collection designed by Naomi Campbell. The license is actually due to start in spring 2012, and Bianchi expects it to generate sales of 10 million euros, or $13.7 million, in two seasons.
For Balmain, which “bowed very well for spring 2012,” he said, Ittierre will also start producing handbags under license for fall. Bianchi said he expected to reach 400 points of sale in the first year.
“These are all brands that don’t interfere with one another,” he explained, underscoring how Ittierre will continue developing young designer lines while also focusing on signature collections.
For Costume National, Ittierre has set up a new five-year joint venture with the brand’s Capasa brothers, and Bianchi expects the line to total sales of 20 million euros, or $27.5 million, in the first year.
Further marking Ittierre’s investment in these brands, the firm next year plans to open Pierre Balmain stores in Milan and Rome, and C’N’C’ and Ermanno Ermanno Scervino units in Milan, while also managing the Costume National stores in Milan, Rome and Paris. In addition, Ittierre will open a signature Balmain store in Hong Kong at the end of November, and a Balmain unit and two Costume National boutiques (including an accessories-only store) in Hong Kong in 2012.
Another project for Ittierre is the development of leather goods. The company used to count 135 Plus IT stores, fully dedicated to accessories, of which only 30 remain in Eastern Europe. Bianchi said that, starting next year, he plans to open boutiques that will carry Ittierre and Albisetti textile accessories, which include scarves, foulards, ties and beachwear. Albisetti, which already produces such accessories for Galliano and Dirk Bikkembergs, among others, said there are plans to expand the Karl Lagerfeld and Balmain collections with Albisetti beachwear, for example, and Aquascutum with scarves, foulards, gloves, hats, beach and ties.
Asked about ongoing speculation that Ittierre may be interested in buying the John Galliano business, Bianchi said: “The licenses interest us, but it’s not our job to buy brands, and this created big problems for the group in the past.” He was referring to the now-defunct Ittierre parent IT Holding group, founded by Tonino Perna, whose wish to create a luxury conglomerate that included the Romeo Gigli, Malo and Gianfranco Ferré brands burdened it with debt. “The rumors circulate because we hold about half of the Galliano licenses, but all is frozen on that end. They [majority owner Christian Dior SA] haven’t decided what to do and Galliano hasn’t decided what to do. [Creative director Bill] Gaytten is working very well, and I have faith in the brand,” said Bianchi, whose licenses with Galliano are set to expire in three years. Galliano was ousted in March as Dior’s couturier amidst evidence of anti-Semitic and racist outbursts and he was fired from the fashion company that bears his name.
Ittierre also holds a license for the production of the GFF Ferré line. “We’ve had no repercussions and we are waiting to see what happens,” said Bianchi of the transactions with the new owner of the brand, Paris Group, which is still to map out a defined plan for Ferré.
Bianchi is looking at a global market for Ittierre, as he opened a new showroom in New York in August and plans to open showrooms in Germany and Spain, additional to the existing ones in Milan, Paris and Hong Kong.