MILAN — Gianfranco Ferré’s new owner, Paris Group, has ousted the brand’s creative directors Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi, WWD has learned.

This story first appeared in the April 20, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

A well-placed source said, “Sales didn’t go well at all and the designers have already left.”

Paris Group owner Abdulkader Sankari and his son Ahmed attended their first Ferré show as the new owners of the brand in February and while tight-lipped about the future of the company, it was obvious the designers were treading on uncertain terrain. Ahmed Sankari, who took on the role of chairman of the company, and his father spoke highly of chief executive officer Michela Piva, who appears to be confirmed in her role, but were less warm about Aquilano and Rimondi. “We will see,” was all they had to say about whether the duo would stay on.

A retailer who asked to remain anonymous also blamed poor sales as the main reason for their departure. “We bought a minimal amount of the collection for the sake of carrying the brand, but there simply were not enough samples,” said the retailer. “There was almost no daywear and eveningwear was fairy tale, like something for the Oscars. It may work for a small, niche brand, but not for such a global brand.”

While conceding sales of the Ferré label had suffered following the death of the designer in June 2007, Michele Giglio, owner of seven boutiques in Palermo, Italy, praised Aquilano and Rimondi’s work. “They are very talented, but they have not had the chance to express this talent because they were asked to revisit Ferré’s archives, but Ferré died bringing his art and heritage with him, and it’s a mistake to continue following old patterns,” said Giglio.

Companies should have the courage to keep the brand but do something else and entirely different, maybe adding no more than one or two iconic items to the collection,” said Giglio, citing Dior as an example and what John Galliano did with the brand before he was disgraced.

One source in Milan said the Dubai-based Paris Group mulled the idea of tapping Galliano for the Ferré brand, although the company has denied this. Whatever the case, the deal did not materialize, just as speculation is mounting here that the firm is also thinking of buying LVMH Moët Hennessy’s 91 percent stake in the Galliano brand.

With precollections due out between May and June and Milan men’s fashion week scheduled at the end of June, one retailer believed “Ferrè will probably skip a season and have an in-house team design the men’s collection.”

“Paris Group is still finding its bearings,” said a source. “Figuratively speaking, it’s still opening all the drawers.”

Aquilano and Rimondi were tapped in April 2008, replacing Lars Nilsson, who left in February that year before he even completed his first collection for the house. The Italian designers garnered media and commercial recognition with their 6267 line, which was launched in 2004 and renamed Aquilano.Rimondi in 2008. Indeed, their own line has been consistently well received and considered a standout collection by several top retailers. “A breathtaking show, and a glorious moment for them,” Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, said of the fall collection in WWD’s seasonal buyers’ roundup. “The collection possessed the kind of detail one expects from couture, with exceptional quality.”

Paris Group secured the Gianfranco Ferré brand in February, as the label’s state-appointed administrators formally accepted the group’s binding offer.

The purchase price was not disclosed, but sources estimated Paris Group spent between 10 and 20 million euros, or $13.5 million and $27.1 million, for the company, which emerged from almost two years of government-backed bankruptcy protection.

Paris Group was founded more than 20 years ago by Abdulkader Sankari and is a fashion distributor and franchisee in the Middle East, where it operates more than 250 stores in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for brands ranging from Versace and Cerruti to Canali and Ferré itself.


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