Byline: Samantha Conti

MILAN — There are changes afoot at Gianfranco Ferre.
IT Holding, the Italian clothing manufacturer turned fashion group that bought Ferre one year ago, is on a mission to make the collection more accessible to women — especially American women. That means slashing prices by 20 percent, toning down the signature drama and glamour, as well as serving up softer-edged collections. The company has even retooled the Gianfranco Ferre logo, giving the typeface a lighter, less formal look, and plans to modernize its retail network.
“Ferre will always do the big evening pieces, and the details will always be impeccable, but now we’re focusing on daywear, and the mood is less dramatic than it has been in the past. It’s feminine, luxurious, rich — not obvious,” said Roland Bohler, a fashion industry veteran who has just been named chief executive officer at Ferre.
“The clothes are for a strong and autonomous woman, one who is successful and socially responsible. She’s between the ages of 30 and 50 and a successful professional. She’s not a showoff, and she’s more feminine than sexy,” said Bohler in an exclusive interview with WWD.
Ferre has used traditional men’s wear fabrics, such as gabardine, in a feminine way. There are leather jackets with brushed alpaca lining and a soft and lightly padded redingote jacket matched with a pleated skirt. The retail freight-on-board, or FOB, average prices for a coat range from $1,570 to $1,950; a trouser suit, $1,490 to $2,050, and a dress, $870 to $1,100.
The men’s collection aims at a comparable male demographic.
American retailers were the first to see the new face of Ferre last week when Bohler began a road show with stops at department and specialty stores in Manhattan, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York. Bohler will show them 50 to 60 prototypes, from the fall 2002 men’s and women’s collections, and outline the company’s new strategies.
Later in the month, he will take the show to about 30 clients around the world. The plan is to increase worldwide sales by 50 to 60 percent with the fall 2002 season, he said.
“Ferre has a long-standing relationship with the U.S. market, and we plan to take tremendous care of it. With regard to our new project, we mean to make the U.S. our priority. Our goal is to build a better brand identity for Ferre in the department stores. We’re seeking a long-term development with them,” said Bohler who began work in July and reports to Tonino Perna, the founder and chief shareholder of IT Holding.
The company’s goal is to double its U.S. women’s business to between $1.5 million and $1.6 million and triple its men’s business to $1 million with the fall 2002 season. Like many fashion companies, Ferre has had a hard time navigating the recession and the aftereffects of Sept. 11. Bohler said that since the attacks, sales in the U.S. have fallen more than 30 percent and orders for the spring collection are down by double-digits, although he would not provide a specific figure.
This year, Ferre expects sales — including the wholesale and licensed businesses — to rise 13 percent. Bohler said the wholesale business alone rose 10 percent, while the retail business rose 30 percent. In 2000, sales of all Ferre products were about $227 million, while direct sales, including royalties, were about $60 million.
Bohler said the company plans to take advantage of a time that he feels is a watershed for women’s fashion. “The great fashion minimalists of the past 10 years are in trouble. They cannot satisfy customers who are looking for feminine, luxurious and understated fashion.”
He added that the company was focused on improving the quality of its manufacturing and deliveries. It has opened a new manufacturing facility outside the north-central Italian city of Bologna — to be known as Gianfranco Ferre Manufacturing — that will produce prototypes for the women’s, men’s and accessories collections.
“Because we now have our own manufacturing facilities, we will be able to control quality, deliveries and provide overall better service,” Bohler said.
Bohler said Ferre has “absolute priority” among the brands in IT Holding’s stable. IT Holding is the parent of the clothing manufacturer Ittierre — which produces jeans and young lines for Versace and Dolce & Gabbana — and owns Romeo Gigli, Malo and Husky, among other companies.
Part of the makeover includes revamping Ferre’s retail network. The company has recently bought back its franchises in London, Cannes, Bal Harbour and Beverly Hills, and is working on developing a new store concept. The first new-generation Ferre store will open next September on Milan’s Via Sant’Andrea. The store will have 6,000 square feet of selling space. In addition, by next fall, Bohler plans to increase the number of specialty and department stores to 50 each for women’s and men’s.

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