Byline: Alessandra Ilari

MILAN — The ingredients are all there for Sergio Rossi: solid craftsmanship, a loyal clientele and a healthy brand reputation, not to mention those sexy stilettos.
As Gucci Group chief executive officer, Domenico De Sole and creative director Tom Ford see it, Sergio Rossi — the upscale footwear maker of which Gucci acquired a 70 percent stake last November for a reported $96 million — only needs to spice up its recipe to boost brand awareness on a global basis.
The two companies seem to be embracing a give-and-take relationship that mixes Ford’s jet-set, global-fashion vision with the slower-paced, more provincial mentality of Italy’s Adriatic coast, where the 40-year-old Sergio Rossi firm, with annual sales of roughly $50 million, is headquartered. The remaining 30 percent will stay in the hands of the Rossi family.
“We are the perfect fit for Sergio Rossi, a beautiful, family-run company with people of great talent,” De Sole said. “They wanted our help to grow beyond Europe, and we will support them with our managerial and financial support and with the Gucci expertise in directly operated stores.”
For his part, Ford said: “Visually, Sergio Rossi is one the best-looking logos around — it’s very defined, curvy and strong. My job is to help wherever I can by tightening and streamlining the image of the stores and the ad campaign, which at the moment are a bit all over the place. [Sergio Rossi] has a loyal, long-time clientele that shops for clothes at Versace, Gucci and Prada, and the image has to reflect that. It’s a question of preserving the product while catering to different styles.”
With the takeover, the ebullient and outspoken Rossi was named chairman and creative director and his soft-spoken son, Gianvito, marketing director. Rossi said that while he had received offers — the company was considered a juicy morsel by other acquisitive companies — he said he didn’t considering selling until Gucci came knocking.
“In Gucci, we saw the right partner for the growth of the company at both the production and distribution level,” said Rossi.
Massimo Braglia, the firm’s new ceo, said, “We want Sergio Rossi to become a major player in the accessories world without disrupting the nature of the product. It would be silly not to exploit the assets and structure of the Gucci Group, which is highly competitive in the high-end leather goods segment.”
Braglia reports to De Sole, with Ford supervising the creative side.
Among the priorities for the Rossi brand are:
The rollout of a cruise footwear collection.
The launch of a handbag collection.
Raising brand awareness by focusing on directly owned stores or shop-in-shops in key sales points.
Boosting export sales, especially to the U.S. and Asia.
Streamlining the company’s image, from the decor of the store to the ad campaigns.
Building a new production plant that will also manufacture accessories for another Gucci property, YSL Rive Gauche.
The company’s first cruise collection debuted last month.
“Since we increased our focus on foreign markets, the U.S especially, we’ve had specific requests from our clients to develop a cruise line,” said Gianvito Rossi. “That said, it was a pleasant surprise to see that the collection was also very well received among our European clients. There’s a growing urgency to keep the stores stocked with new merchandise because even Europeans travel to warm climates year-round.”
The 40-style cruise line focuses on classic Sergio Rossi looks: sexy, colorful shoes for everyday wear. Highlights include barely-there cherry red sandals with a bow on the side; pointed-toe sling backs with a delicate leaf motif on the vamp; and black, open-shank stilettos. “I have the mentality of a fashion designer, rather than a shoe maker,” said Sergio Rossi. “I like to be versatile by experimenting and interpreting trends my way.”
The cruise collection will be available in the 28 Sergio Rossi stores, and in 45 percent of the company’s 600 salespoints worldwide. Currently, U.S. distribution includes select stores, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. Though Braglia wouldn’t disclose sales figures, he said the firm has leaped past its initial sales projections.
Next up is the first handbag collection, which will debut for spring/summer 2001.
“We wanted to develop this collection immediately, because today you have to keep stimulating the consumer and handbags are a viable vehicle,” said Braglia.
Neither Ford or Braglia would disclose many details about the handbags, except to say that the 30-style collection is based on the same sexy glamour, with a special attention to artesanal details. Initially, the bags will be sold exclusively in Sergio Rossi stores, plus a few specialty stores.
At the retail level, Ford is working closely with interior designer Michael Gabellini to create a more consistent store design worldwide.
“For the moment, the Sergio Rossi stores are bit all over the place. They lack consistency,” said Ford.
When Braglia joined Sergio Rossi, he said he was fascinated by the family’s hands-on approach.
“I’ve seen Sergio throw out wooden shapes, which he personally hand-chisels, because the heel was one millimeter off,” he said.
Besides its focus on quality, a particular strength of the Rossi firm have been its closely aligned relationships with designers. Among the firms Rossi has been licensed to produce shoes for are Gianni Versace, Azzedine Alaia and Dolce & Gabbana. The contract with the latter expires with the spring/summer 2001 season, a season that coincided with Rossi picking up production for another Gucci property, Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche.
Though all the executives declined to speculate, a natural assumption is that Rossi will eventually take on additional manufacturing, such as that for any Yves Saint Laurent accessories, especially since the firm is investing $10 million to build a new 216,000-square-foot production plant that will absorb three existing smaller ones.
“It will be a very modern structure that will at the same time safeguard all the manual aspects that highlight our production,” Gianvito Rossi said of the new plant, which won’t be ready for about two years. “That’s the challenge: melding the past as it pertains to artesanal workmanship, with the future’s need for efficiency, information and communications.”
Since female workers are the backbone of labor-intensive craftsmanship, Braglia added that the new site will be geared to meet the needs of working women and their families, with restaurants, hotels, nurseries and quality environments.
“Recruiting a fresh workforce to carry on certain manual techniques is hard, so we feel we have to make it appealing,” said Braglia.

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