Byline: Alessandra Ilari / Arthur Friedman / Samantha Conti
ALMA’S NEW LOOK
MILAN — In a bid to make its signature line more commercial and triple sales in the next two years, Italian apparel manufacturer Gruppo Alma has signed up Alessandro Dell’Acqua as design consultant.
The Naples-born Dell’Acqua has a one-year renewable contract and his first Alma collection will be spring/summer 1996. Dell’Acqua succeeded Maurizio Pecoraro, Alma’s design consultant for the last eight seasons. “Our goal is to make the Alma line more sober and more commercial because ours is a brand name and not a designer line,” explained Sergio Pea, chief executive officer of the family-run group. “Designers are allowed to be cutting-edge and we were too for the past seasons, but now it’s time to be more concrete and offer a product that is more salable and targets a variety of clients.”
Pea said the firm turned to Dell’Acqua because he is “one of the most promising young designers around and has a very sophisticated and clean [fashion sense].”
From the outset, Dell’Acqua had a clear idea of where to start with the Alma collections — peeling off all the frill and ornaments that adorned the clothes when Pecoraro was designing them. “I don’t like extra pomp, so for the upcoming spring/summer collection I kept everything very glamorous, modern and practical, but at the same time very studied in the cuts and finishes,” said Dell’Acqua.
When he’s not sketching and fitting the Alma collections, Dell’Acqua is busy with his other projects — a new signature line, Alessandro Dell’Acqua, which will debut with the fall/winter 1996 season, and his A a Milano knitwear line, launched with the fall/winter 1995 collection. Both are produced under a franchising agreement by Belle Maille, based in Carpi, Italy’s renowned knitwear production area. “We’ve already sold 13,000 pieces of A a Milano in the first six months,” said Matteo Guarnieri, Dell’Acqua’s business partner and commercial director of the consulting studio the duo opened eight years ago.
The Alessandro Dell’Acqua line will be a small collection of some 70 pieces and will be selectively distributed in 100 sales points worldwide. “Belle Maille has given me free rein on this project and it’s something I’ve been cradling for a while,” said Dell’Acqua. “It will be a very sensual collection, inspired by the Mediterranean women, and will steer clear of seasonal trends.”
In 1994, the Alma line posted sales of $10 million (17 billion lire) and Pea expects volume to triple in the next two years. “Over the years we have built a structure — with stores, agents and importers — to sell the Alma lines worldwide, and now with the new image we hope to sell more clothes,” said Pea. Alma has 10 directly owned boutiques (including one in New York) and some 300 doors worldwide.
Founded in 1946, Gruppo Alma also produces two younger and sportier lines, Spazio Concept and Spazio Jeans, and is a majority shareholder in Mabrun, a leading Italian sportswear and leatherwear company.
PHASE 2: THE CONSUMER
NEW YORK — If the Italian Trade Commission has its way, its Moda Made in Italy program to promote Italian fashion will last forever.
As Massimo Mamberti, trade commissioner and executive director of the ITC for the U.S., said, “We hope it is open-ended, but that will depend on what the people in government back in Rome decide. We are confident it will continue next year.”
Now in its second year, Moda Made in Italy is operating on a budget of $9 million in 1995, after spending $7 million its first year in operation, Mamberti said.
The ITC receives its funding from the Italian Ministry of Trade. Moda Made in Italy was developed to enhance the image of Italian fashion and strengthen business partnerships with U.S. retailers, Mamberti said.
“The Moda Made in Italy brand, which appears on all products involved in the program, is just starting to get recognition,” he said.
Dr. Gaspare Asaro, deputy trade commissioner and director of Moda Made in Italy, said while the first phase of the project in 1994 was geared more to the wholesale and retail trade, the second phase is aimed at consumers. Asaro said a three-point approach to reaching consumers includes:
Strategic alliances with large stores, such as Saks Fifth Avenue. Moda Made in Italy and Saks will produce two special catalogs of Italian fashion that will be mailed to consumers next month.
An Independent Retailer Program for small specialty stores, which was tested with 20 stores for spring, and will be expanded to 60 stores for fall. The program includes co-op advertising and special in-store materials promoting Moda Made in Italy.
Special events, such as an exhibition scheduled for November at the Equitable Gallery. Called “The Art of Fashion in Venice,” it will cover the history of Venetian fashion from the 13th to 19th centuries.
Asaro said the success of the program can be measured by positive feedback from Italian manufacturers, and the growth in fashion exports. For the first four months of 1995, U.S. imports of Italian fashion goods — textiles, apparel, leather accessories and shoes — increased 24 percent to $1.05 billion. In 1994, imports from Italy increased 19.2 percent, to $2.9 billion.
“The American consumer has been sensitive to the strong relationship between quality and value that Italian fashion offers, and that’s why the American market is so important to us,” Mamberti said.
JUNK TURNED JEWELRY
MILAN — Mauro Fabbro may be the prince of junk.
Although his jewelry is made from such things as paper clips, bottle caps, crystal drops from chandeliers and metal chains more commonly used in bathrooms, Fabbro has already caught the eye of designers Gianfranco FerrA and Rifat Ozbek, who used his pieces in their last shows.
The 22-year-old Fabbro shops at unusual places to buy the materials for his jewelry — hardware stores, plumbing warehouses, stationers and even cobblers. Once he has stocked up, he assembles the bits into chunky bracelets, big earrings and chains with medallions.
“I am very inspired by the American costume jewelry from the Forties and Fifties, and my favorite materials are brass, copper, rhinestones and glass,” explains Fabbro, who launched his line less than a year ago.
Although Fabbro’s business is still small and his production entirely handmade, right down to the velvet case he uses to carry the pieces around, his creations are already on display at Sharra Pagano, one of Milan’s hottest costume jewelry retailers.
BRIDGE TO AMERICA
MILAN — Italian bridge line manufacturers are banding together to promote their products in the U.S., where bridge pickings are slim for consumers, they say.
Vittorio Giulini, head of Moda Industria, the association of Italy’s apparel manufacturers, is working with the Italian Trade Commission and U.S. fashion publications to organize projects to promote bridge in the U.S. The budget for 1996 is between $2 million and $3 million in public and private money.
“America is the land of the middle classes, and what they need is more of a choice when it comes to medium-priced clothing,” said Giulini. “In the U.S. there is an offering, but it’s uniform and the labels are always the same.”
Giulini said he believes there are too few quality bridge lines in the U.S,. and women are often forced to choose between high-end designer apparel and clothing from The Gap or Banana Republic. Giulini classifies bridge as clothing priced at less than $1,000.
His goal, he said, is to create an archipelago of “Italian bridge islands” in big U.S. department stores. Currently, 50 to 100 percent of all Italian bridge lines is sold in smaller, specialty stores in the U.S.
“I believe that U.S. retailers who sell bridge lines can reach the sales levels of their European counterparts — as much as $600 per year per square foot of floor space,” he said, estimating U.S. department stores generate about $150 less than that.
The first bridge initiative begins this fall. With help from the Italian Trade Commission, Saks Fifth Avenue will distribute separate men’s and women’s catalogs featuring Italian-made designer, bridge and private label apparel, accessories and footwear for autumn and winter 1995-’96.
The catalog is funded by Saks, the Italian Trade Commission and different clothing companies. Saks is also sending buyers to Italy to source new apparel lines. Giulini said he is encouraging other big department stores to follow Saks’ example with catalogs, special mailings or other promotions.
“We are also ready to tell the big department stores: ‘Give your bridge line buyers a budget for Italian apparel and we will ask them to come to Milan as our guests. We are prepared to finance their expenses,”‘ Giulini said.
He also has plans to plump up bridge sales in independent retail shops. “We have come up with a formula together with a U.S. editorial group where there will be special pages, for example, that will say, ‘Fashion is made in Italy at…’ and the addresses of 100 or so retailers around the U.S.,” Giulini said.
The magazine, which Giulini would not name, plans to publish a special insert called “Shopping In…” with the names and photographs of shop owners and the Italian clothing they sell.
Giulini said he will pitch the plan — which is to be funded jointly by the ITC, the magazine and the retailers — to retailers attending the New York Premier Collections in September. He said the advertisements should be released next year.
Giulini said he believes U.S. bridge makers, like Anne Klein or Liz Claiborne, have as golden an opportunity in Italy as their Italian counterparts have in the U.S.
“Consumers around the world have changed considerably since the 1980s. They want their clothing to have the same image as designer-label apparel, but they want lower prices and a more efficient merchandising system,” he said.
APPAREL EXPORTS CONTINUE TO RISE
MILAN — Italy’s domestic market is still sluggish, but textile and apparel exports continue to climb, thanks to a favorable exchange rate.
According to figures issued by Italy’s national statistics institute, ISTAT, exports to the U.S. rose 14 percent year-to-year in the first six months of 1995 to $8 billion (13.3 trillion lire), bringing its trade balance with the U.S. to $3.1 billion (5 trillion lire).
Worldwide textile and apparel exports in the first five months of this year rose 15.5 percent year-to-year to $15 billion (24 trillion lire), lifting Italy’s trade balance in the sector to $9 billion (14 trillion lire).
“Italian companies are still taking advantage of the favorable exchange rate, even if their profit margins have been eroded in the past two to three months by the rising cost of raw materials,” said Marco Nascimbeni, an analyst with the Carnegie Group here.
“Unless the lira strengthens dramatically against the dollar or there is a vast slowdown in U.S. demand, they will continue to see favorable export levels in the U.S. in the second half of this year,” said Nascimbeni.
One of Italy’s biggest problems is domestic consumption, “which is still quite weak,” he added. “Italian textile and apparel companies are in a quandary. They are facing rising prices of raw materials, which normally would be passed on to the consumer. Because of slow domestic consumption, they will have a hard time passing those cost increases on to Italians,” Nascimbeni said.
ISTAT said retail sales of shoes and apparel in Italy grew 1.2 percent year-to-year for January-April 1995. Overall retail sales grew 4.7 percent in the period. The April figures are based on sales by large and medium-size distributors.