Byline: Sarah Raper

PARIS — The new owners of Louis Feraud dangled just the right carrots and recently landed a sought-after design assistant and an experienced managing director to relaunch the 49-year-old house.
Yvan Mispelaere, who was Miuccia Prada’s assistant for the past two years and assisted Valentino with couture for five years before that, started last month. He will show his debut collection for the house during the July haute couture here.
“The opportunity to do couture was very persuasive,” Mispelaere said, explaining his decision to join Feraud.
The move to continue the money-losing couture is an obvious recruitment sweetener, but a surprising business decision for Secon, the Dutch apparel group that completed its acquisition of the house from the family of the founding designer in September 1999. Feraud, who had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years, died in December at the age of 79. Although LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault has resuscitated the couture as the ultimate marketing tool at Christian Dior and Givenchy, the new owners of many other French houses, including Nina Ricci, Lanvin and Guy Laroche, all dropped out to focus exclusively on ready-to-wear and accessories.
“In terms of building a new image, the haute couture is the best opportunity to do it in a glamorous way,” said Mispelaere. Although he immediately started work on couture for the July presentation, he will not present his first ready-to-wear line until 2001, beginning with the precollection in January and a runway presentation in March.
The other key appointment is chief executive Rafael Labrador, 56, who was most recently chief executive of Eastpak Corp. and was chief executive of Liz Claiborne International from 1995 to 1997. Between 1990 and 1995, he was founder and chief executive of a retail chain called Coronel Tapiocca, specializing in outdoor gear and apparel, and in the late Eighties was chief executive and a partner in Verlaine & Cie., an importer and distributor for the U.S. of European luxury products, including Nina Ricci, Yves Saint Laurent and IWC watches.
Labrador said that in addition to the challenge of refurbishing a French fashion brand, he was struck by the long-term thinking at Secon.
“When I was recruited, they were talking about seven and 10-year objectives. Coming from American companies, it was extremely refreshing to see that long-term approach,” he said in an interview here.
Mispelaere said Secon was owned by about 10 private investors. He reports to one of the principals, Peter Brock.
In 1997, Secon, which had acquired some Feraud apparel businesses, bought the insolvent Fink Group, which held the license for the Feraud signature collection and a bridge line called Contraire Louis Feraud. Secon also took a 50 percent stake in the parent company, Feraud & Cie, from the Fink family. Last September, Secon gained control of the couture business.
The Feraud brand has worldwide wholesale volume of $125 million, said Labrador, and licensing represents less than half.
“That’s despite the fact that Louis Feraud himself withdrew completely from the business five years ago. I think it speaks to a certain underlying strength in the brand,” he said. “It will be interesting to see what the brand is capable of with all the engines turned on.”
Labrador said the group aimed to multiply volume by six or eight times in five to seven years. Last year, Secon invested about $10 million in the brand and plans to maintain spending of between $5 million and $10 million for the next three years.
Feraud is sold in 100 doors in the U.S., including Neiman Marcus, Jacobson’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. There are 15 freestanding stores, including four directly owned units, here and in Munich, New York and London. The company has budgeted $3 million to refurbish the Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore store, and in the U.S., Labrador said he was interested in moving to Madison Avenue from the current location on 56th Street near Fifth Avenue. Also, he plans to open a store in Beverly Hills.
Today, the brand’s positioning is occasion dressing and power dressing with suits as its strongest category.
“The collection is a big success, and there’s a major intensification in the brand for fall 2000,” said Joseph M. Boitano, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Saks Fifth Avenue. “It is beautiful and well made. We hope they’ll keep a good thing going and build from there.”
Labrador said the first order of business was to decide what to keep of Louis Feraud’s colorful, graphic style. The designer whipped up Brigitte Bardot’s gown for her wedding to Roger Vadim in 1952 and dressed Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman.
Mispelaere added, “The essence is the atmosphere of joie de vivre and freshness.”
But not Feraud’s penchant for Provencal prints and colors, they said.
“It’s important to start from a French, and more specifically Parisian, identity,” said Mispelaere. “I feel very French. It’s about femininity and frivolity.”
Labrador said the company planned to continue producing in its German factories, but was also returning some production to France and Italy. “There is a superb level of quality, but not enough French lightness.”
Labrador said accessories would be a priority. Eventually, the fragrance license, which is now dormant, will be relaunched. “Our owners think that in seven to 10 years, Feraud could be a major worldwide brand.”