Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — Nova USA designer Tony Melillo has broken ties with his financial partners, closing the Nova business and showroom in the Starrett-Lehigh Building in the West Chelsea section of Manhattan.
Melillo said Friday that he had parted with the financial investors who had been backing Nova’s expansion since December after struggling to meet his growth projections and being crippled with a $300,000 loss as a result of the liquidation of one of his major retail accounts — — in May.
He plans to continue with a similarly designed men’s sportswear line under the Tony Melillo label, but he will not design a separate women’s collection. Melillo is currently operating out of his apartment on West 23rd Street.
Melillo’s hip, sport-inspired line of men’s judo and track pants made him a cult hit in Miami, where he started the collection after working for Esquire as a stylist. He opened a store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1997, and his reputation was further cemented with a Perry Ellis men’s wear nomination last year from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, as well as the launch of his women’s line under the Nova label at retail this spring.
The designer said the women’s line would not be continued, because the spring launch was not as successful as planned. Even celebrity customers like Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, who bought judo styles from his men’s line in the past, continued to shop from the men’s collection.
“The business partners I joined with about six months ago unfortunately were just not the right connection,” Melillo said. “I decided that was not the right way to go.”
Nova USA announced in December that the company had joined with four new investors, including industry veteran Martin Miller, managing partner of the Belvedere Fund investment firm. Melillo remained the largest stockholder in the company and retained chairman and creative director titles at Nova.
The investment was used to expand Nova’s wholesale business and was also planned to be directed toward new advertising and retail units in New York and Los Angeles, as well as the launch of a high-end signature line. Other investors included Michael Rosenthal of Apparel Partners, who was named president of Nova USA, and Charles Strulovitz, who was vice chairman in charge of manufacturing and sourcing.
Melillo also took back his name from the 650-square-foot Nova store on Stanton Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which was operated as a franchise. The designer said he retains the rights to his name and will be able to launch a signature line without any logistical tangles.
Miller, who brokered the investment, told WWD, “We’re disappointed. We like Tony a lot and we’re disappointed the deal did not work out. We feel he’s a very capable young man and we wish him the very best luck in the future.”
Greg Frehling, president and owner of the Nova USA store on Stanton Street, said that under the terms of the license, the ownership of the Nova name reverted to him. The store will remain open under the Nova name with Frehling personally designing men’s pieces — for that location only — and it will carry other women’s brands. He is planning to reopen Nova wholesale sometime next year.
“Things got a little out of hand with the new partners,” Melillo said. “I had never had partners before. Basically, I’m planning to scale down a little bit and tighten the operation until I feel comfortable and strong enough to try expansion again.”
The company moved into a 4,000-square-foot showroom at the pricey Starrett-Lehigh in December, which Melillo said was an unnecessary expense for a company with three full-time employees. He also said he felt pushed to move into the women’s market, considering that the nature of the Nova collection already had a very unisex image.
Melillo is self-financing his signature line, designed with the same sport-minded concept, but he remains open to other potential investors, he said.
“That’s a lesson in this world, of trying to grow quickly. You sort of lose track of reality,” he said. “The plus for me is that I can take back control of the business.”

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