READY FOR THE HIGH SEAS

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg / with contributions from Merri Grace McLeroy, Miami

NEW YORK — Fashion firms are falling deeper in love with the ocean.
LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Prada and Riri will have a major presence at the 2003 America’s Cup in Auckland, New Zealand, which gets under way this October with the Louis Vuitton Cup, the qualifier for the main event.
For the second consecutive America’s Cup, Prada is back on board with its Luna Rossa, and is said to be spending $80 million. Two years ago in Australia, Team Prada lost to Team New Zealand. Nautica will be outfitting the crew and sponsoring Team Dennis Connor, the New York Yacht Club’s challenge.
If there is such thing as a bargain in world-class racing, Riri may have cinched it. The zipper and treatment company has invested about $3 million to back Team Alinghi, the Swiss challenge for the America’s Cup that has recruited skipper Russell Coutts, the former Team New Zealand captain.
Meanwhile, Salvatore Ferragamo has developed a label for sporty footwear, bags and accessories, named after the Nautor swan yachts, called Salvatore Ferragamo for Nautor Challenge collection. The company marked the launch Tuesday night with a bash at its Bal Harbour, Fla., store. Among the guests were crews participating in the Volvo Ocean race, a nine-leg race formerly known as the Whitbread Round the World Race, that shoves off Sunday from Miami for the sixth leg.
Jean-Marc Gallot, executive vice president and North America regional director of Salvatore Ferragamo, addressed the lure of the sea when he said: “Sailing is, has been and always will be a fascination for a lot of people. There is no better way in life to be alone and challenge yourself. The sailing universe has a heroic spirit much more than people who drive machines.”
In other words, it’s the real deal, not the colorful airbrushed photos seen in slick ad campaigns. True to that, Patrizio Bertelli and Diego and Mossimo Ferragamo, are avid sailors. In terms of the Ferragamos, Diego has sailed around the world and Mossimo follows racing closely, frequently passing on updates to his co-workers. Gallot, who joined the company last year, said that he has occasionally mistaken Mossimo Ferragamo’s enthusiasm for a major business happening.
Bertelli said: “As far as we are concerned, it is not a question of exploiting this competition to build a promotional campaign in our favor, but once again, it represents an opportunity to meet a challenge. The success achieved the last time originates from the fact the general public appreciated the honesty of our challenge and never perceived our challenge as a marketing exercise.”
Building on its success, Prada will maintain its signature red line on the Luna Rossa and the crew’s gray uniforms. Instead of developing a new ad campaign around the Cup, Prada will intensify ads for its sport collection during the regatta, Bertelli said. But the company is sure to use shots of Luna Rossa in its ads as it did last time.
The brand is certain to gain some new fans, considering last time it landed 44,000 race-related news articles in 11 countries, 2,243 TV hits and 95 million Internet hits.
Ferragamo’s Nautor collection is expected to account for 30 percent of sales in its stores for the next three months, and to generate several million dollars in sales, Gallot said. Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue will carry the line’s deck shoes. Floatable sports bags, wraparound sunglasses, wallets, sunglass holders, cell phone cases, shaving cases and document holders are among the items in the collection.
“The Nautor series is good for publicity, but our main goal is to challenge the company in terms of new materials, resources and development,” Gallot said.
Ferragamo developed the line as a cross-promotion with its sister company Nautor Swan Yachts. Leonardo Ferragamo, chief executive officer of Palazzo Feroni Finanziaria SpA, and his brothers purchased Nautor Swan Yachts and now sponsors a men’s crew and a women’s crew in the Volvo race. Many turned out at Tuesday’s event along with pop star Jon Secada.
Through Ferragamo’s first licensing deal, it teamed up with Luxottica to develop the high-performance sunglasses, which will retail for about $210. On another front, Ferragamo has been in talks with Suunto executives since September, and every Nautor crew member sported a Suunto watch at the event. Suunto’s managing director Dan Colliander referred the question of future licensing possibilities to Leonardo Ferragamo, who said “probable…let’s hope so.”
Leonardo Ferragamo said: “This line, as are all Ferragamo products, remains true to my father’s primary focus of producing products of beauty, quality and functionality.” He added that the collection will become a part of the regular line instead of being strictly promotional.
Come September, Louis Vuitton will be pouring the wine and serving hors d’oeuvres at private events in its nearly 300 stores to show the Louis Vuitton Cup collection to select customers. The launch is in line with the start of the actual Louis Vuitton Cup, which wraps up at the end of January.
The company has two stores in Auckland, including one that is designed like the bow of a boat and will be stocked exclusively with Cup footwear, sportswear, accessories, swimwear and leather goods, said Jean-Baptiste Desbains, leather goods marketing director.
Marc Jacobs designed the line. Not surprisingly, there will be plenty of yellow, marine blue and white items like sailor jackets, jeans, knitwear and signature bags named after boats that competed in previous Cups.
“We’re developing a total range of products,” Desbains said. “It’s not specifically nautical, but it’s sporty and quite different from our current collection.”
Riri was eager to get on board with the America’s Cup to expand beyond its fashion and luggage trims into the high-tech sports market, said Livio Cossutti, president. The Swiss team will compete using sails and apparel with Riri’s waterproof, windproof Storm zippers.
Emily Gershwin, vice president, said: “The Guccis, Hermeses and St. Johns of the world will always use us. On the other hand, we’re at the mercy of the fashion winds. If buttons are in, we’re out. Getting into the athletic market would help even out our production.”
During a press event last month for Team Alinghi at the W Hotel here on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, Coutts addressed the event’s marketing potential: “The whole America’s Cup has become too exclusive. People would come down to see the yachts, but they couldn’t get close to them. We really want to make an effort to allow people to get closer and we want them to become more involved with the race.
“Just as in Formula One where top VIPs get taken into the pits, we want to show them much more than 16 people on the water,” he added.
It takes more than that, after all, to keep Team Alinghi up and running. Riri, a $40 million company, will fly special guests first class to get a firsthand look at 21 boatbuilders, 14 designers, seven full-time shore crew members and five or six sail makers.
Alinghi replica clothing will be sold at a 1,200-square-foot store that opens next month near the boat’s mooring in New Auckland. Coutts noted that he and his crew worked closely with North Sales, a White Salmon, Wash.-based company, to develop performance-oriented apparel made of technical fabrics like titanium-treated ones. They also have been working closely with DuPont, an official supplier. Riri’s storm zippers, for example, use DuPont plastics.
Audemars Piguet also is supporting Team Alinghi and has developed a special-edition Royal Oak watch for consumers.

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