BRIONI’S BETTER HALF
Byline: Eric Wilson
NEW YORK — It might seem something of a mystery how one of men’s wear’s most revered labels could have eluded the women’s market for more than five decades, but in the case of the Italian house of Brioni, it was simply a matter of timing.
But Brioni’s story has always been one about time — the average suit jacket in its men’s collection takes about 20 hours to make, with 1,800 hand-stitches in its two lapels, sewn in the Abruzzi region of Italy. While the company has always catered to a few specialty accounts that have demanded women’s blazers or accessories, it has refrained from launching a full women’s line until now because its roughly 1,600 employees could not handle the additional production.
What’s changed is a key acquisition for the brand of an additional factory in Collecorvino, Italy, in April, employing a workforce of 100 in a 4,000-square-foot space, which will be dedicated to its new women’s line that will debut in Milan on March 3.
“When you focus on handmade production, one of the biggest problems for growth is your own capacity,” said Joseph J. Barrato, chief executive officer of Brioni USA, during a preview of the collection in New York.
“We bought an existing tailor shop and took some of our best sewers and pattern designers and put them in the new facility so that there would be a continuity of the tailoring that we do for men into what we will do for women,” Barrato said.
What Brioni plans for its female clientele is hardly a feminine interpretation of its classic men’s blazers and suits, but rather an independent line of about 80 pieces that interprets the concept of a woman’s jacket from the structured cashmere blazer to a casual, luxurious wisp of a silk scarf jacket.
The Brioni women’s line also includes checked or striped cashmere trousers, olive plaid jackets in trapeze shapes with big buttons and contrasting linings, and coats made of pashmina in casual bathrobe shapes in a traditional palette of camel, black and loden.
“It was important for me to develop a line beyond what would be seen as a continuation of Brioni’s men’s wear,” said designer Fabio Piras, who is also head of the master course at St. Martin’s College of Fashion in London.
“I want to do a collection within the Brioni world, in which a jacket can be seen as an accessory to pants or skirts,” he said. “The main source of inspiration came from Brioni’s archives, which includes the trapeze shapes and tuxedo elements for evening, and which is why the collection has a slightly retro feel.”
The collection extends into evening jackets and suits, including a sheared mink jacket and tuxedo jackets, pants, coats and cotton voile shirts with minipleats. There are also items for day that, because of their luxury fabrics, could work for day-to-evening ensembles, such as a camel pashmina coat that is expected to retail upward of $7,500.
Jackets wholesale from $600 to $1,000, trousers from $250 to $600 for items that are made of a blend of cashmere and mink, and coats range from $900 to $3,500, with higher-priced items reflecting fur trims, said Marnie Tihany, director of Brioni’s women’s division.
Brioni’s domestic strategy is to place the collection in some 45 to 50 specialty accounts, which could generate $1 million to $1.5 million in wholesale orders for its first season, Barrato said.
“We now have great visibility in the world of luxury as a brand,” Barrato said. “We’ve always been in the women’s business in a small way, but we have not had a strong presentation until this season.”
In addition, Brioni is updating its existing stores and creating plans for new ones that will incorporate the women’s collection. In Milan, the company will open its first women’s flagship in a 400-square-foot space across the via Gesu from its two-year-old men’s store in September, while openings planned for Beverly Hills will feature dedicated women’s space.
Its New York store at 57 East 57th Street will also be refurbished to include women’s selling space, Barrato said.