Byline: Sara Gay Forden

MILAN — As part of an ambitious bid to become one of the best-known women’s ready-to-wear labels in the world, Maska will send out a lineup of actresses instead of models during its fashion show debut here on March 8.
“We wanted to put the real stars back in the spotlight,” explained Cristina Crotti, who handles communications for the Reggio Emilia-based firm and is also the daughter of company chairman Renzo Crotti.
“It’s a question of style,” said Crotti. “We aren’t a design house; we are a ready-to-wear house with a quality product. We want to show our clothes with women of quality.”
Some of the women who have agreed to model for Maska’s show are Marisa Berenson, Alba Clemente, Dominique Comte, Arielle Dombasle, Marie Sophie Lelouche, Ute Lemper, Francesca Neri, Isabelle Pasco, Tahnee Welch and Dayle Hadden, who is also featured in the firm’s ad campaigns.
“This is the first time we are doing a show. We wanted to do something that would have impact,” Crotti said. The show, which will be staged at the Milan fairgrounds, is being choreographed by photographer Michel Comte, in his debut as a director.
But the $438,000 (700 million lire) Maska is spending to pull off this fashion extravaganza is just a small part of the overall investment the house is making in boosting its presence in the global market.
The firm, which expects to report consolidated sales of $81 million (130 billion lire) this year, up 23 percent from 1994, has set aside some $2.2 million (3.5 billion lire) for communications this year, and $3.75 million (6 billion lire) over the next three years for expanding its distribution network.¦
“We started investing as far back as 1992, and now we are beginning to see the results,” explained Renzo Crotti, adding that much of Maska’s growth is coming from exports as a result of the expansion push.
Exports of the first line — called Maska — doubled last year, while the second line, M.K. (formerly called Mabb), is showing interesting sell-through rates with leading U.S. stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, he said. The first line is positioned slightly above Max Mara, with suits selling from $289 to $375 (450,000 to 600,000 lire) wholesale, while M.K. is priced about 30 percent below that.
Part of Maska’s growth plan includes expanding the network of company stores. Its flagship Italian boutique opened in Milan last October and sold $750,000 (1.2 billion lire) in the first three months of operation, Renzo Crotti said.
Another boutique is opening in the southern Italian city of Bari in March, while shops are set to open in London and Manila by the end of the year. Maska is also looking for a location for a shop in Paris. Although plans for a New York boutique are on hold for the moment, the company has just opened offices and a showroom on Fifth Avenue there at the beginning of the year.
Other shops are scheduled to open in Tokyo and Seoul in September, while a shop in Osaka is in the works for next year, according to Crotti.