NOTEBOOK FROM MILAN

Byline: Alessandra Ilari / Luisa Zargani

MILAN — The ongoing strength of the accessories market is proving to be an irresistible lure to many firms these days, and the Italian market is no exception. Two more successful companies are positioning themselves to get in on the action.

Marni Grows Up
With collections that pack the right dose of pizzazz and commercial clout, and a business strategy based on small but focused steps, Marni is spreading its wings.
On the priority list is boosting accessories sales with a new footwear collection and upping the number of styles in the bag collection, unveiled last March, from 60 to 150. Such an energetic approach stems from the fact that, according to Marni’s chief executive officer, Roberto Falchi, accessories are becoming just as viable as apparel in fashion’s panorama.
“Fashion stores are increasingly becoming the right channel even for accessories. Since Prada created fashion in accessories, many more stores today carry them as a complement to apparel,” said Falchi, who cut his professional teeth at Prada.
Consuelo Castiglioni, Marni’s designer, said that “though designing accessories is a ton of fun, it’s different from doing apparel.”
That said, Castiglioni is using the same wit that imbues her clothes in the bags and shoes: quirky materials, artesanal craftsmanship, bold prints and vibrant color.
“These accessories work well with both wild and neutral fashion,” said Castiglioni.
For spring, the mood is retro and feminine: sage-green envelope bags with short straps and mint-green scalloped trim; patent leather shoulder bags with big pink spots and glittering patent leather numbers. On the footwear front, Castiglioni favors slinky clogs with fuchsia straps, big flowers or bold polkadot designs.
By 2000, Marni’s accessories are expected to reach sales of $5 million. As soon as the company feels it has forged its “total look” it will concentrate on opening directly owned stores in Milan, New York and Tokyo.
“We are working on coming up with a more personalized concept,” said Falchi. “There is no requirement that all the Marni stores around the world have to look the same. It’s so boring.”
Marni is carried in 150 sales points worldwide, with 1999 volume expected to reach $13.8 million. In the U.S, Marni is available at such stores as Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Linda Dresner.
To accommodate the company’s growing sales, larger distribution plans and bigger product ranges, the Castiglioni family decided to separate Marni from parent-company Ciwifurs, the fur manufacturer that also produces Fendi furs. Now Marni has a separate building, with its own showroom and offices that handle design, the selection of the raw materials and quality control.

Well Traveled
The Briccola family just won’t play it safe.
Besides building a solid reputation for high-end luggage under the Bric’s label — which racked up a hefty 60 percent increase in sales over the past three years — the family-owned company is also a distributor of Kipling, The Sak, Tumi and Agatha de la Prada — a mix of modern handbags and innovative luggage labels. Now, the firm is focused on injecting the Bric’s line with more fashion-oriented products.
“Without discontinuing production of suitcases, the core of our business, we want to be able to offer a selection of up-to-date bags,” said Roberto Briccola, president of Bric’s, who added that the impetus for diversifying was prompted by retailers’ specific requests for more trendy merchandise.
A year ago, Spanish designer Fernando Aguirre was tapped to take charge of the company’s artistic direction. For spring, Aguirre, who previously worked at Loewe, designed a colorful and practical collection: a selection of soft, blue neoprene backpacks, body bags and knapsacks featuring metallic, drop-shaped details; body bags, baguette bags and pouches in PVC with a fabric effect in azure, pearl-gray and Army green; shopping bags in metallic-look PVC in a palette of azure, fuchsia and acid-green, with shoulder straps and handles in natural-colored leather.
“Our bags are increasingly body-hugging and comfortable to carry,” said Briccola. “Even our suitcases are softer. The era of rigid [styling] is over.”
Founded in 1952 in the countryside outside Como by Roberto Briccola’s father, Mario, six of the eight siblings worked for the company. Roberto Briccola said his father, who is no longer actively involved in the firm, “was never afraid to venture on unknown ground and understood the importance of European markets right away.
“He was innovative and daring, and launched travel bags made with the first examples of synthetic hides,” he said.
Eventually, Bric’s started producing outside of Italy, in China, Indonesia and Eastern Europe. The family also realized the importance of joining forces with foreign companies.
“We’ve created strategic alliances where we felt we were most vulnerable and in order to achieve a more modern structure,” said Briccola.
The alliance with Middlesex, N.J.-based Tumi, which distributes Bric’s in the U.S., dates back to 1995.
“In terms of materials, design details and overall styling, there is nothing like it in the U.S. today,” said Larry Lein, executive vice president of Tumi. “Bric’s appeals to very sophisticated leisure travelers who appreciate both its elegant European styling and tradition of quality Italian craftsmanship. It has proven to be a strong complement to Tumi. U.S. sales have more than tripled since we introduced the brand here four years ago.”
Last year, Bric’s reported total sales of $32 million. The U.S. accounted for roughly 8 percent of sales, a figure that is expected to grow, according to Briccola.
“In 1998, we doubled our sales compared to the previous year and we estimate a 60 percent increase this year,” he said.
Bric’s is sold in upscale luggage departments, including Bloomingdale’s, Barneys New York and El Portal. Retail prices range from $500 to $1,000.
Last year, Bric’s accounted for 65 percent of the firm’s total sales, Kipling made up 23 percent, Tumi was 5 percent and The Sak was 7 percent.
The company is now focused on boosting the Japanese market, where it plans to open stores in Tokyo and Osaka next year.
“We believe it is a very promising market,” said Briccola. “But we choose only a few qualified sales points that don’t compete with each other, and this, we believe, has paid off in the long run.”
The firm operates three Bric’s stores in Italy, located in Milan, Bologna and Olgiate Comasco, outside Como, where the company is based.
Future plans include the opening of stores in Europe, which today accounts for around 55 percent of sales, including Italy.

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