Byline: Samantha Conti

MILAN — It may not be the best of times for Italian clothing manufacturers — but neither is it the worst.
Companies that were expecting increases this season and into next year are now saying they’re not sure if they’ll hit those goals. But no one appears to be panicking in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and the new catchphrase among manufacturers is “rational optimism.”
Aeffe, which manufactures lines for Alberta Ferretti, Moschino, Narciso Rodriguez, Rifat Ozbek and Jean Paul Gaultier, said it is not expecting an increase in worldwide sales for the spring 2002 season, or for the rest of next year. “We’re probably not going to see growth in 2002, but we certainly are not expecting a decline in sales,” said Massimo Ferretti, the chairman of Aeffe, which plans to post sales of $219 million this year. (All dollar figures are converted from lire at current exchange rates.)
Ferretti said the company does about 20 percent of its business in the U.S., and was not “overexposed” in that market.
“We don’t want to be pessimistic about the situation in America, and at the same time, we don’t want to pretend the problems are not there. What can we do? We’re trying to focus our energies on the sellout phase of the business and continue to believe that the problems will pass. Life has to go on.”
Sportswear International and its affiliate Neo Res, which together manufacture jeans and sportswear for Chloe, Gabriele Strehle, Voyage, Moschino, Krizia, Byblos and Gaultier, are forging ahead with all of their plans for the spring 2002 season. “We don’t foresee any reduction in orders,” said Francesco Dalla Rovere, whose family owns the companies’ parent, Sinv. “The fabrics have been ordered and we’re going to go ahead and produce according to plan.”
Dalla Rovere said that 10 percent of the companies’ $119 million business is generated in America, he’s confident the company will meet its budgets — if not exceed them. “The sales campaign has been going well, so far, and we are trying to be positive. I know the Americans, and am confident that they will overcome these problems as quickly as possible. They are unified and they know the importance of moving on.”
Franco Pene, who owns and manages Gibo SpA, said he is trying to be “rationally optimistic” about America, which represents 20 percent of the company’s turnover. “Our business is diversified in terms of products, designers and geographic regions, and we offer particularly fashion-forward styles,” said Pene. “I think in a moment like this, consumers will be more inclined to chose a particular piece of clothing over a basic blue blazer.”
Pene, whose company manufactures collections for Alexander McQueen, Victor and Rolf, Hussein Chalayan, Michael Kors, Jean Colonna and Paul Smith, added that there is no evidence of a “domino effect” of America’s problems in Europe. “Right now, I have no reason to think that other markets are going to soften right now.” As for sales, Pene is being prudent. He said that before Sept. 11, he was expecting a 15 percent increase in sales in 2002. This year, Gibo plans to post $40.5 million. “I don’t know what to say about increases. I’ll have to wait and see how this selling season goes,” he said.
Gianluigi Facchini, the president and chief executive officer of Fin.part, which owns Maska, Cerruti, Frette and a variety of other lines, said that while the company only depends on the U.S. for 10 to 12 percent of its sales, he would begin to slash costs. “We’re not expecting sales to fall this season, but we are paying attention to how we spend money…we’re consolidating our showroom spaces, for example, and cutting costs wherever possible. Caution is the word of the moment.”