Byline: Miles Socha

NEW YORK — Luca Orlandi has declared, for himself at least, that being quiet is out of fashion.
For the past seven years, Orlandi, whose company is called Luca Luca, has been working behind the scenes, turning out colorful, dressy clothes that have made his two Madison Avenue stores popular destinations. Now he’s ready to make some noise.
On Sept. 17, he will stage his first runway show in the Pavilion in Bryant Park. His first advertising campaign is slated to break next spring. And he recently crossed another new threshold: granting interviews to explain the history and philosophy of the Luca Luca name and business.
“We isolated ourselves in a certain way,” he confessed in an interview at company headquarters, a five-story building at 62nd and Madison that houses the flagship store, executive offices, a wholesale showroom, design studios and a rooftop garden for entertaining press and celebrity clients like dance diva Deborah Cox. “But the business today, the more your name is known the better.”
Born 36 years ago in Milan, Orlandi moved to New York in 1987 to pursue a career in fashion. Initially, he worked on Seventh Avenue, spending several years at a firm that manufactured career wear. It was enough of an exposure to the industry for him to realize how difficult it was to break into the wholesale market with a new line.
That’s why Orlandi, like many Italians, started with direct distribution when he founded his fashion house in 1992. His first outlet was a 900-square-foot shop on Madison Avenue at 78th Street. By 1996, he had the 1,500-square-foot, two-level flagship, as well, 16 blocks south doing as much as $2,500 per square foot. Locations in Chicago and Bal Harbour, Fla., opened in 1993 and 1998, respectively.
It was only a year ago that Orlandi started wholesaling, realizing his secret, so to speak, was out.
“We weren’t planning to do wholesale,” said Yildiz Yuksek, president of Luca Luca and an employee of the firm since its inception. “[Orlandi] took the European mentality: opening his own stores.”
But with four retail stores, including two on one of the country’s most prestigious avenues, the customer base expanded to a national level, and specialty retailers began approaching Luca Luca about wholesaling. The firm made its first shipments for fall 1998 to Neiman Marcus and 10 other specialty stores. The brand is now in about 45 stores, including Jacobson’s and Balliet’s.
“It’s a beautiful collection,” said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus. “Having a store in New York has given them a really keen insight into what the American woman needs and wants.
“While it’s still very Italian in flavor, it’s been tweaked so it really suits the American customer. What we love about it is the wonderful fabrics and the color he uses.”
Yuksek said wholesale sales last year hit about $3 million, or about 15 to 20 percent of the company’s revenues. She said she plans to build the wholesale part of the business to about 30 percent.
But the company plans to continue building its retail network as well. A 860-square-foot unit is slated to bow in October at the Highland Park shopping area in Dallas.
Thereafter, Yuksek said she and Orlandi plan to add more stores at the rate of about two per year. Palm Beach, Fla., and Los Angeles are potential sites for the year 2000, she noted. Orlandi is also contemplating a Milan flagship, possibly next year.
Yuksek attributed the success of the label to its emphasis on flattering color, pretty shapes and romantic details. A big part of the business is cocktail dresses and occasion dressing.
“The collection is very much about the colors, and the impact is when it all hangs together,” Orlandi said.
Orlandi designs many of the prints himself, having gained an appreciation for fine fabrics from his aunt, who owns a fabric firm in Italy that supplies couture houses. Many of his dresses for spring 2000 are multilayer designs, with prints floating above each other for a three-dimensional effect.
Jackets retail from $1,000 to $1,500; day dresses from $600 to $800, and evening dresses from about $900 to $1,800.
Yuksek said the runway show is to attract more wholesale customers and introduce the international press to the brand with a view to expanding in foreign markets, particularly Southeast Asia, South America and parts of Europe. “We feel the collection is ready,” she said.