Byline: Luisa Zargani

MILAN — Avon Celli is going for the girls.
The high-end men’s wear maker, best known for its luxury knits, has launched a women’s division featuring easy cashmere and silk pieces and mohair and Lurex metallic combinations in such natural and understated colors as white, brown and gray. The company paid special attention to details, with hand-embroidered cashmere strips and detachable mink collars.
The first collection bowed for fall 1999.
“Today, a company must offer a women’s line in order to achieve international recognition,” said Mario Somma, sales manager.
The launch of a women’s collection coincided with the purchase of Avon Celli by FBP, the company that produces the women’s Les Copains line and the men’s knits line for Versace.
Avon Celli, which was founded in 1922, has high hopes for its women’s collection.
“We count on the women’s division to register a 30 percent increase next year,” said Somma, adding that sales last year amounted to $6.3 million (converted from the lira at current exchange rates). “In a five-year period, we want the women’s division to account for 60 percent of the total.”
To set the basis for this growth, Avon Celli is banking on trendy designs and direct quality-control, from the purchase of cashmere in Mongolia to the finished product. Somma pointed out the company is also focused on researching innovative materials.
“It’s important because the women’s wear market is very dynamic and demanding,” said Somma.
For spring, Avon Celli will introduce a new Japanese material made of silk and ceramic. Somma explained that the molecules contained in the ceramic component reflect the outside warmth and lower the body temperature by about five degrees.
“They isolate the body and cool it off. This is the ideal material for those long, hot summer days,” he said, adding that the fiber will be exclusively owned and developed by Avon Celli for two years. “We want to give techno materials a touch of luxury,” said Somma. At the same time, the company does not forgo a more traditional workmanship, still employing antique English looms, which have one needle every millimeter.
In addition, the company will offer a selection of one-of-a-kind knits embroidered with Swarovski crystals or hand-painted by international art students.
“There will be abstract patterns on a one-color theme. Being made by hand, the models will all be different from one another,” said Somma.
In the U.S., Avon Celli is available at Bergdorf Goodman; Louis, Boston; Stanley Korshak in Dallas, and Bullock & Jones in San Francisco. The line retails between $390 and $1,000 for cashmere knits and around $400 for wool or silk items. The U.S. accounts today for around 30 percent of sales.
Somma, who introduced Avon Celli in the U.S. eight years ago, said that Americans are increasingly eager for luxury goods.
“Bestsellers there are lightweight knits to be worn under jackets, especially those in a cashmere-silk blend, Tasmania wool or pure silk,” said Somma.
He noted that, in general, women today feel fashionable when wearing knits. “Years ago, this was unthinkable, and knits were not considered elegant. Now, comfort is a top priority.”
In the U.S., Somma also noted a change of trends because people are on the lookout for new colors.
“In the U.S., we presented a 46-color palette. While black and charcoal gray are still bestsellers, buyers appreciated pastels hues and sunny colors,” he said.
Avon Celli’s headquarters are in the area outside the city of Fidenza, in Emilia Romagna, in northeastern Italy.