Byline: Sara Gay Forden

MILAN — If there’s one person who has perspective on the fashion industry, it’s Nino Cerruti.
At 67, Cerruti is busy relaunching his family’s fashion and textile company, getting it up to speed for life after 2000. He’s working to dust off the Cerruti name and reposition it as a modern fashion phenomenon with global recognition. With the new expansion plan he’s putting into place, Cerruti is betting sales will double over the next three to four years from last year’s total of $450 million, including women’s and men’s apparel, accessories and fragrances.
Unlike many working in fashion today, Cerruti can remember the days when he used to hop the train for Florence with a buddy to get a glimpse of the girls during Italy’s first ready-to-wear shows in Palazzo Pitti’s famous “Sala Bianca.”
“The business has changed a lot since then,” reflected a smiling Cerruti during a recent interview in his new showrooms here. “It used to be that all you had to do was be innovative and creative as a designer, and the rest kind of happened.
“Today a fashion house has to be a well-oiled machine that can create, produce and place on the market a series of products that are all part of a concept,” said Cerruti, stubbing out one cigarette to light another. “It isn’t enough just to design an array of items any more.
“These days it’s better to have a lousy identity than no identity at all,” he added.
Cerruti showed his savvy about what he needed to do to put the zing back in the name when he hired a little-known Cuban designer named Narciso Rodriguez just over two years ago. If Cerruti’s image had been somewhat sleepy, it got a major jolt last year when Carolyn Bessette Kennedy asked Rodriguez to design her wedding dress. But as Rodriguez’s fame grew, that tricky balance between a successful designer and a successful brand name started to shift. After Rodriguez received a euphoric standing ovation during his runway bow after the women’s presentation in Paris last March, it appeared that things had gone too far, and he was asked to pack his bags.
(As reported, Rodriguez has since signed contracts to produce his own line with Italian manufacturer Aeffe and to design for Bernard Arnault’s Loewe.)
After a search, Cerruti signed on Donna Karan designer Peter Speliopoulus in May with a long-term contract for the top women’s line, Cerruti Arte. “My work in updating Cerruti, in making it more aggressive and edgy is partly about capturing the moment — with each season — but without compromising the basic values of my work,” Cerruti said. “That’s why I look for two important qualities in a designer: One is a good knowledge of tailored clothing, which is the essence of the line, and the other is the ability to mix masculine with feminine, which is one of the fundamental values of the Cerruti collection.
“In addition to that, I look for people whose natural taste is to my liking,” he added simply. “Obviously, when you find all this combined with the ability — which is typically American — to put together a collection with a merchandising mentality — it’s a plus.”
He said he was pleased with Speliopoulous’ first endeavors — a resort collection that came out in June — and that he is looking forward to his first full collection in October. Cerruti himself oversees the design of the men’s collection, along with his in-house design staff. Cerruti is working with Paolo Roversi, who has been doing the Cerruti campaigns for 17 years, to give a new look to the house’s advertising. This fall’s campaign, which Cerutti said was inspired by the great Italian film maker Lucchino Visconti, was shot in Arles and features Kate Moss and male model Daniel S., pictured both separately and together.
“It’s moody, mysterious,” Cerruti said, “but it’s also a message about charm and seduction.
“The communication of a fashion house has to create a point of reference,” Cerruti said. “I believe in continuity.”
Cerruti is also updating his business management: Last year he brought in former GFT executive Aurelio Giorgini as ceo to oversee the expansion of the group into a global player. He also hired Milan-based consultants Bain & Cuneo to oversee a restructuring that slimmed and improved Cerruti’s staff and organizational structure. Expanding the network of directly owned and franchised boutiques featuring the new airy, clean look introduced by interior designer Antonio Citerio and architect Patricia Viel is also part of the plan. A directly owned boutique on Madison Avenue is in the works for next fall, following the inauguration last year, of Cerruti’s first Milan men’s and women’s boutique on the trendy Via della Spiga. Cerruti also opened his first Milan showroom at the same time, marking an expanded presence in his homeland after establishing his headquarters in Paris 30 years ago.
Although Cerruti will continue to base his women’s operations in Paris, he moved the men’s business here last year.
“Milan is the true capital of men’s wear,” Cerruti said.
Cerruti has a unique perspective on the business because he is at the helm of a group that controls all phases of the fashion system, from weaving the fabric through production of designer ready-to-wear for men and women.
“Total vertical integration, that is the ace we have to play,” Cerruti said.
Cerruti is chairman of Cerruti Finanziaria, a family holding company controlled by himself and his three brothers, which in turn controls the family wool mill, Lanificio Cerruti, founded by Nino’s grandfather Antonio Cerruti in 1881. The holding also controls Milan-based clothing manufacturer Hitman, which produces the top men’s wear collection, Cerruti 1881, and the Paris-based Cerruti 1881, which oversees the women’s collections, press and communications services and the four directly owned Cerruti stores in Paris, Milan, London and Tokyo.
Cerruti himself shuttles between his hometown of Biella, where the wool mill is based, and Paris, his adoptive city.
Cerruti is also expanding his operations in the Far East, where he operates through a series of licensing arrangements and plans to open franchise boutiques in Shanghai, Singapore, Dubai, Jakarta and Hong Kong by the end of next year. “Today the decision to be international means to be global,” Cerruti said. “And this means being able to plan for tomorrow — not yesterday.”

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