NEW YORK — After one of his strongest collections in memory for fall, Giorgio Armani is riding high. Now the U.S. arm of his fashion house is hoping to capitalize on the momentum as a foundation for growth.

This story first appeared in the April 5, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

With Graziano de Boni installed as chief executive officer since Jan. 10, Giorgio Armani Corp. is embarking on a multipronged strategic plan. It includes prioritizing the main Giorgio Armani brand for women and men, which will serve as an umbrella for the other U.S. brands, which include Armani Collezioni, Emporio Armani, Armani Jeans and Armani Junior.

Denying reports the company no longer considers North America, which accounts for 17.3 percent of Armani’s total business, a key market of opportunity, executives say the economic recovery here offers significant opportunity.

“We are already seeing a strong recovery in our U.S. sales and we are determined to invest strongly in people and in real estate so as to take full advantage of the upturn and consolidate our preeminent position in the market,” said John Hooks, deputy chairman of Armani Group.

After multiple meetings with Armani and the company’s worldwide managing director Livio Proli, de Boni said the initial focus will be “farther, develop, work, enhance, and support our Giorgio Armani brand, our main line. It has always been a good business, and a great business in our own freestanding stores, but in many ways, it has not developed to the extent that it should be, including at wholesale. Therefore, we redirected the focus of the organization here in the U.S. to really care and nurture our main line.”

While he wouldn’t disclose specifics on the number of doors that carry the main line, he said, “The women’s is a little farther developed, but the men’s is just a handful of doors in America. We see an opportunity for this. We all know how much the top end of luxury has grown in the last 10 years or so, even taking the great recession of 2008 into consideration. We see the business coming back at the top end very strongly, and like any luxury brand, your main line is always the one that sets the overall tone.”

The company operates 12 freestanding Giorgio Armani stores, a number de Boni plans to grow. “When you map out the luxury competition’s presence in North America in terms of freestanding stores, there are definitely opportunities for us to open more freestanding stores in the next two or three years,” said de Boni, who, prior to Armani, had similar positions at Reed Krakoff, Prada and Valentino.

“We will also farther develop wholesale, particularly in the men’s area,” de Boni said. “We will also start to freshen up some of our locations, particularly for Giorgio Armani.”

Before the end of this year, the company plans to close its Madison Avenue flagship for renovations, with plans to introduce a new store concept to the location developed internally. During the closure, Armani is set to open a temporary store on the same street. “We will also be renovating our New York shop-in-shops with the different partners we have, starting this year,” de Boni said.

To support the growth, de Boni is working on realigning the structure of the U.S. arm to make it brand-driven instead of being geographically oriented

“We just changed our wholesale and retail organizations where we can have leaders run each individual brand, both at retail and wholesale, which is very important,” de Boni said. “The focus on Giorgio Armani or Emporio Armani can only come when you have an organization that is committed to each.”

To that end, the company promoted Laura Giulini to senior vice president of wholesale, a new role. She was previously vice president of Emporio Armani, Armani Jeans and Armani Junior wholesale, and will now oversee the teams being built for each of the brands. She will report to de Boni.

“We are also farther building the Armani Jeans and Armani Junior businesses,” he added. “We will probably even look at opening a couple of freestanding stores for Armani Junior.”

Also in the pipeline will be the launch of a global e-commerce site encompassing all the company’s brands on one site, which is slated to go live this September. Currently, the company only offers e-commerce for Emporio Armani in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Emporio Armani is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and to mark the occasion, Armani is launching an Emporio Armani Remix capsule collection of reissues of some of the line’s most popular styles. The Remix collection is exclusive to the U.S. market and will launch at select Emporio Armani stores today with an event at Armani/5th Avenue. It will be accompanied by a photo exhibition called “Momenti di Emporio” at the Fifth Avenue store and Emporio Armani in San Francisco. The exhibit features images from Emporio Armani Magazine, which was published from 1987 to 1997. De Boni said that there are plans to grow Emporio in the U.S. as well.

“In the U.S., Emporio is predominantly a freestanding business,” de Boni said. “We have nine stores with Emporio Armani. There is a huge opportunity to bring that brand and the Armani name to a lot of different markets in the U.S.”

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