PARIS — The atmosphere remains decidedly edgy: The receptionist sits in a camper trailer, the catsup and mustard bottles in the cafeteria are painted over in white and the designer still won’t talk to the press.
But at the new Martin Margiela headquarters here, the iconoclastic Belgian designer is getting down to business.
Margiela’s majority owner, Diesel entrepreneur Renzo Rosso, flew in from Italy earlier this week to tour the quirky digs and chat about the house’s future. He said Margiela plans to double sales to 60 million euros, or $80 million at current exchange rates, in three years by improving production and sales staffs, opening more stores, and adding more lines, including accessories.
“I have an incredible energy for [the house] right now,” enthused Rosso, who bought his stake in Margiela’s business two years ago. “The company is ready to attack the market.”
He continued, “In the two years that we’ve spent together, we’ve cleared the situation. The company wasn’t in such good shape. It was run like a family. Now it’s organized, and we’re building on that new faith.”
Rosso said improvements at Margiela included the consolidation of logistics and production in Italy, the recruiting of a team of nine designers to assist Margiela, and new sales and marketing people. Giovanni Pungetti, formerly head of Diesel France, has been appointed president of the house.
“We’re starting to analyze the brand,” Rosso said. “We now can measure selling and sell-out, and there is a real production system. We have early deliveries. I feel it’s a new start. We’ve come to know each other very well. What I didn’t want to do is destroy the heart, the passion of the house. But I wanted to provide the tools to support the business. Now we have professional people.”
Rosso hinted at several projects in the pipes to drive sales, including the introduction of a full leather goods and shoe line. He said a shop should open in New York in 2005, with another to follow in Milan in 2006.
There are plans to move the Paris flagship, currently near the Palais Royale, to a larger location. And growth in Asian countries such as South Korea and China is being pursued. Margiela opened a London shop last April, and operates two stores in Tokyo and one in Osaka.
“We are open to doing a perfume and sunglasses,” said Rosso, adding that next year will be a busy one for the house.
Already since Rosso acquired the brand, Margiela has introduced upscale, classic lines for men and women, labeled 14 and 4, respectively, drawing on the designer’s experience overseeing women’s wear at luxury firm Hermès.
Rosso said the success of those lines helped drive wholesale volume up 24 percent this year to 30 million euros, or $40 million. A spokesman for the house said women’s wear accounted for about 55 percent of sales, with men’s making up the rest. Margiela has 250 retail accounts around the world, and the majority of sales comes from Asia and Europe. Development in the U.S. is a priority for the company.
For spring, the so-called basic line, known as 6, is being rebranded MM6. It will now include a wider variety of looks and prices. All of Margiela’s lines are known by number, from 0 to 23. Meanwhile, the so-called artisanal collection will become more exclusive and couture-like.
“The lines are getting younger,” said Rosso. “We’ve increased 4 and 14 a lot. But for me, Margiela is really one line. For me, Margiela is a lifestyle brand.”
Lifestyle may sound like anathema to a house that many considered an avant- garde counterpoint to the industry’s wide focus on brand status and celebrity. Margiela’s garments are often assemblages of ratty vintage clothes; his labels are invisible except for a stitch of white thread, and he continues to decline to meet the press or be photographed, making promotion challenging.
Margiela, as always, declined to be interviewed for this article.
But Rosso said he wants to nourish the house’s idiosyncrasies. “I’m pushing Margiela to do more extreme fashion,” he said. “I’ve never seen him happier. He looks 10 years younger and is so charming right now. I think he feels relieved to be able to concentrate on creation. And now I’m here to talk about the brand.”
Rosso was quick to dispel rumors that Margiela will design a line for his Diesel jeans brand. “I have Diesel for that,” he said. “I want Martin Margiela to do his thing.”
Rosso said the house will not break with its insider identity by advertising, but that the company will communicate more aggressively.
“We want to see the clothes on more VIPs. It’s new, but we’ll even do special clothing for VIPs.”
The new headquarters underscore Rosso’s ambitions for the 21-year-old house. It occupies a 30,000-square-foot former industrial design school near the Place de la Republique on the Right Bank. Almost everything has been painted white, in keeping with Margiela’s trademark style. The chandeliers have been wrapped in gauze, and employees go about their duties wearing white laboratory smocks.
Rosso said this distinctive approach is Margiela’s strength. “It’s very fresh and modern,” he said. “It’s about being unique, and it appeals to people with strong personalities who don’t want to follow the crowd.”
He said he has learned from Margiela’s approach to marketing and applied some of the tactics used at Diesel. “It’s a lesson in staying select and being exclusive,” he said.
Rosso said Margiela is “a long-term investment” and that he isn’t hunting for other acquisitions.
“Everything’s for sale today,” he said. “The market’s not so easy. We’re happy, because while many companies are losing speed, we’re gaining ground.”