Byline: Samantha Conti

CATTOLICA, Italy — Buoyed by a new deal to make Jean Paul Gaultier’s top men’s and women’s collections, Alberta and Massimo Ferret ti are now embarking on a plan to boost overall sales for the cast of directional designers for whom they produce at Aeffe.
And they’ve set their sights on the U.S. market, which currently represents some 15 percent of Aeffe’s overall volume.
Aeffe, owned by the Ferrettis and based here on the Adriatic coast, already produces Moschino Couture and Moschino Cheap & Chic lines for men and women, as well as Rifat Ozbek, Future Ozbek, and Alberta’s three lines: Alberta Ferretti, Ferretti Studio, and Ferretti Jeans Philosophy. The company expects overall turnover this year to reach $125 million (200 billion lire), up more than 22 percent from 1994.
For Alberta, who is managing director, and her younger brother Massimo, who is chairman of Aeffe, the Gaultier deal was a triumph and a turning point for a small but dynamic company. It consolidated Aeffe’s reputation as a manufacturer that can successfully produce for innovative designers whose clothing often requires unusual materials and couture-like handwork.
“Gaultier came looking for us,” said Alberta Ferretti during a recent interview at Aeffe headquarters. “We said ‘yes’ to him and ‘no’ to others because we thought he would offer us the right kind of challenge. He is so innovative.”
He is also lucrative. Massimo Ferretti noted that Aeffe expects sales of $94 million (150 billion lire) from the Gaultier collections over the next three years, and added that a top priority is to make sure the designer’s clothes arrive in stores on time — a problem in the past with Gaultier products.
And Gaultier also completes Aeffe’s stable.
“We are not looking for any more designers — we have done what we set out to do,” said Massimo Ferretti. “What we will concentrate on now is developing what we have and improving our relationship with clients.”
America is the big target. Within the year, the Ferrettis plan to open a showroom in New York on 56th Street. It will be complete with floors for each designer they produce, as they have done in their Milan showroom.
And, over the next two to three years, Aeffe hopes to establish a network of corners for all their designers in leading specialty and department stores around the U.S., according to Massimo Ferretti. They are also mulling an Alberta Ferretti boutique in New York, although plans haven’t been set yet.
The key to it all, according to Alberta Ferretti, will be remaining nimble. “The fashion business is changing at such a rapid pace that we don’t even make long-term plans anymore,” she said. “We think a year or two in advance and that’s it. We want to remain as flexible as possible.”
Aeffe prides itself on giving its designers the freedom to concentrate solely on the creative process — taking the nuts and bolts of production, sales and delivery out of their hands.
And one way Aeffe keeps its costs down and its production capacity versatile is by contracting the bulk of its sewing operations out to some 100 local workshops. Aeffe directly produces all of the prototypes and the designs that models wear during shows.
“Our staff is actually very small, just 430 people,” said Massimo Ferretti. “We have contracts with workshops to put the clothes together, and we do the rest here. The sub-contractors are all directly supervised by Aeffe staff, and all clothing is hand-inspected before shipping.”
At Aeffe, there is a separate work area for each designer and a team of seamstresses and fabric cutters dedicated to each collection. In addition to the work areas, each designer has separate administrative offices and business staff.
Alberta Ferretti, who has three of her own lines to design, says she rarely ventures into the studios of Aeffe’s other designers. “It would just confuse me,” she admitted.
Some 60 percent of Aeffe’s production is sold outside Italy, with Europe representing about 30 percent of foreign sales, followed by the U.S. The balance of the foreign sales are in Asia and the Middle East.
The top-selling line abroad is Moschino’s Cheap & Chic, and the Ferrettis expect the collections to continue to be strong sellers despite the designer’s death last September.
“Franco had a strong team of designers and assistants — he liked to call them his accomplices — behind him, who are now carrying on with work as usual. The clothes are still selling well, and I don’t foresee any problems. The only problem is that we miss him. He was one of the family,” said Massimo.
Both Massimo and Alberta agreed that keeping their business in the family has helped Aeffe.
“We have a lot of respect and trust in one another,” Alberta said. “We are not constantly bothering one another or looking over one another’s shoulders. We work well together.”
And they both swear they have never fought — not even as children.
“From the time I was very little, my mother put him in my care — how could I fight with someone I was supposed to be taking care of?” said Alberta, who also noted that her first interest in the clothing business also came from their mother, a seamstress with her own workshop in Cattolica.
Today, whenever their mother hears about her children’s career successes, she cries her eyes out, the elder Ferretti said.
“It’s hopeless. I’m going to have to stop telling her all the good news,” Alberta Ferretti said with a smile. — Fairchild News Service