Byline: Miles Socha

NEW YORK — If at first….
Emanuel Ungaro has assigned the license for his Emanuel/Emanuel Ungaro bridge label to a company headed by Kimberly Perrone and Maura de Visscher, the two executives who were ousted by the former Emanuel licensee GFT USA Corp. in May 1998.
Speculation that Ferragamo Inc., which controls the Ungaro fashion house, might hire Perrone and de Visscher first surfaced in these columns July 29.
At the time, Massimo Ferragamo, vice chairman and president of Ferragamo USA, told WWD: “We know them. We’re in a great relationship with them, but they’re not the people we’re talking with right now.”
De Visscher also said at the time she was not working on Emanuel.
But on Wednesday, Emanuel Ungaro SA and de V&P Inc. — de Visscher and Perrone’s new firm — told WWD that de V&P was granted the license for the Emanuel/Emanuel Ungaro and Emanuel/Emanuel Ungaro Liberte brand names under a five-year, renewable agreement. Initially, the license grants distribution rights for North, South and Central America and Australia and, after two years, the rest of the world.
“I am particularly pleased that Maura and Kim, who were initially responsible for establishing Emanuel as one of the major bridge collections in the American market, have assembled a new team and will again be dedicating their talents to the Emanuel brands,” said a statement from Ungaro. “We know, from past experience, the energy and commitment they will bring in relaunching the business and look forward to their contributions to the future success of the Emanuel brands.”
Perrone and de Visscher said they plan to have a revamped Emanuel spring collection ready to show retailers by mid-October. They expect to make their first deliveries in late January.
“It will be positioned at a bridge price point and lower,” Perrone told WWD. “It’s a lifestyle collection. It’s not just career clothes. It is much more updated, much more fashion-forward. There’s a whole new use of fabrics and yarns.”
Prices at retail will start at $30 for a T-shirt. Jackets will be less than $400.
Perrone said bridge has been very career driven, “and that needs to change.”
“It’s more about soft dressing, separates and items,” she added.
The news about Emanuel comes only three weeks after Perrone and de Visscher acquired the Adrienne Vittadini business and trademarks from knitwear firm Marisa Christina in a $9.5 million cash transaction. The two women are backed by Grumman Hill Group, a private equity firm. As reported, de V&P plans to relaunch the Vittadini brand for spring 2000 in the contemporary-to-bridge zone.
Under their agreement with Ungaro, de V&P also has the rights to develop ancillary lines under the Emanuel name in handbags, small leather goods, belts, scarves, footwear, swimwear, hosiery and socks, fur, gloves, intimate apparel and sleepwear. However, the two executives said they plan to focus on establishing the core sportswear business before launching new product categories.
De Visscher, formerly Emanuel’s chief executive officer, and Perrone, former president and chief operating officer, created the Emanuel business for GFT USA Corp. in 1991 and built it into a formidable competitor in the bridge category, with wholesale volume in excess of $150 million. They also took much of the blame for the unraveling of the business last year.
The two executives were ousted by GFT in May 1998 due to “irreconcilable differences” with GFT management regarding the operation and direction of the company. In an effort to build volume, de Visscher and Perrone reportedly overloaded stores with Emanuel merchandise and the company was faced with huge chargebacks.
Ron Frasch, president of GFT USA Corp., could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to sources, the wholesale volume of Emanuel has slipped to less than $100 million this year. No holiday collection was prepared, as the Ferragamos sought a new licensing partner.
Perrone and de Visscher declined to provide sales projections, but said they expect to do business with the same retailers. Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus were among their biggest customers.
Told of the news late Wednesday, Saks’ Lynne Ronon, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of ready-to-wear, commented: “That sounds terrific.” She noted that the fall Emanuel line is selling well.
Neiman Marcus officials could not immediately be reached.
In the past, retailers attributed part of the success of Emanuel to its aggressive advertising with such celebrities as Gillian Anderson and Kyra Sedgwick. De Visscher said advertising “is a very important part of our strategy going forward,” but said the strategy has not been finalized.
Emanuel had also earned fame for its longtime designers Ken Kaufman and Isaac Franco, whose direction was considered a crucial element in its rapid ascent in the bridge market. In December 1996 they defected to Anne Klein Co., now owned by Kasper ASL.
Perrone said Jody Young, previously a designer at Donna Karan International, is now head designer. She said knitwear, considered an important part of the revamped line, is headed by Jane O’Brien, who worked with Perrone and de Visscher at GFT.