DE V&P PLANNING REVAMP, RELAUNCH OF VITTADINI BRAND

Byline: Miles Socha

NEW YORK — The new owners of the Adrienne Vittadini business and trademarks, Kimberly Perrone and Maura de Visscher, said they planned to reposition and relaunch the brand, focusing their efforts initially on the contemporary-to-bridge zone.
On Friday, the two former Emanuel/Emanuel Ungaro executives announced that their new firm, de V&P Inc., had acquired Adrienne Vittadini Enterprises Inc. from publicly traded knitwear firm Marisa Christina Inc. in a $9.5 million cash transaction. Grumman Hill Group, an investment firm here, helped finance the purchase.
This confirms a report in WWD on Sept. 3. Reports that the pair were eyeing the Vittadini business first surfaced in these columns last April.
In a joint telephone interview, de Visscher and Perrone, co-chief executive executive officers of de V&P, said they believed they could restore the brand to its former glory and prosperity. The current wholesale volume of Vittadini sportswear is less than $20 million,
Perrone said. That’s down from a peak of $115 million in 1990. Licensing income is estimated at $2 million.
“It’s gone down over the years, but it’s not tarnished,” de Visscher said. “The brand has never been built to its potential. We are going to get this up and running very, very quickly.”
Perrone and de Visscher said there would be no interruption in shipments of the Adrienne Vittadini bridge line and better-priced sportswear line. New spring 2000 collections should be ready later this month; however, the full relaunch and repositioning will not be completed until the fall 2000 season.
Perrone suggested the brand could be leveraged into new product categories.
“It has the capability of being in every market segment,” she said. At present, licensed products include footwear, handbags, small leather goods, shawls and scarves, cosmetic and travel bags, swimwear, fragrance, hosiery, patterns and yarn. De Visscher said international distribution could be another growth vehicle.
Vittadini, who founded the fashion house in 1979, could not be reached for comment.
However, de Visscher said she and Perrone had a “good working relationship” with Vittadini and her husband, Gianluigi.
“We will be meeting with them next week,” she said. “They believe in our strategy for rebuilding the brand, and we will probably work together in some capacity going forward.”
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. They also took much of the blame for the unraveling of the $150 million business last year, however.
The two executives were ousted by GFT in May 1998 due to “irreconcilable differences” with GFT management over the operation and future direction of the company.
For Marisa Christina, the sale ends a difficult 3 1/2-year foray in bridge. The firm ran up against a troubled category and lack of expertise with that level of the market. Marisa Christina purchased the Vittadini trademarks for about $19 million in January 1996.
“We just didn’t seem to be able to accomplish the building of the brand in the way we had hoped,” said Michael Lerner, Marisa Christina’s chairman and ceo.
However, he added, “We did feel good about the business. The people there have done a tremendous job in positioning the brand for a turnaround.”
In addition its own eponymous brand, Marisa Christina makes Flapdoodles children’s and infants’ wear and owns the Christina Rotelli and Mary Jane Marcasiano brands.
As a result of the sale, Zachary Solomon, president and ceo of Adrienne Vittadini, has left the company. Reached Friday, he said he planned to pursue another opportunity in the fashion/retail business.
Last year, Christina lost $16.3 million after onetime charges of $20.3 million related to the October 1998 departure of the Vittadinis and the write-down of goodwill related to the purchase of Adrienne Vittadini Enterprises. Sales fell 18.4 percent to $74.6 million from $91.4 million.