MARNI’S CONTROLLING INTEREST

Byline: Alessandra Ilari

Milan — Marni is on a retail roll.
The high-end fashion house has ironed out an ambitious plan to open 15 worldwide flagships in the next five years, often with local partnerships to secure a stronger grasp and more direct approach on a specific market.
“The objective is to develop the Marni brand and we believe that flagships are the most efficient means. They allow us to have direct control over the sales staff, the visual display, the decor and the stock that will fill the stores,” said Jean-Luc Ayroles, general manager at Marni.
Raising brand awareness isn’t the only benefit of directly operated stores, according to Ayroles, who considers them an efficient marketing tool to monitor the house’s clientele and to tap into what’s selling.
“It’s a good way for us to keep track of the commercial side and to sketch our customer profile in the way of age, nationality and profession,” said Ayroles.
Though Ayroles denied to reveal the investment that will fuel the retail operation, he conceded that all the company’s current efforts are for a specific target: roughly quadrupling the company’s $13 million sales this year to $50 million by 2005. Other goals on Marni’s agenda are pushing the house’s accessories business, investing in high-tech computers, in a new warehouse to speed-up deliveries and in bigger office spaces to accommodate a growing production.
The first stop of Marni’s worldwide retail tour was Japan, where the company signed a 50 percent partnership with Onward Kashyama, an agreement that resulted in three Marni in-store shops and corners in Tokyo’s top department stores and shopping centers: Isetan, Movida and Ginza Matsuia. The first two opened at the end of August while the latter is set for Oct. 4.
“Japan has a lot of potential for Marni, especially because we target a young clientele that wants an alternative product at a competitive price,” said Ayroles.
Thursday, Marni cut the ribbon to its London store, a joint venture with Joseph Ettegui, the owner of the trendy Joseph boutique on Sloane Street. The selling space will be dedicated to Marni but Ettegui will continue to run a cafe on the lower level.
Still to come are Milan — Marni will take over the current Helmut Lang space, which should be ready at the end of February — and New York, where Ayroles said they are scouting for the right location and hope to open next August. Further down the line will be Paris and Hong Kong.
Design-wise, the interiors reflect a team effort between Marni’s creative brain, Consuelo Castiglioni, and Future System, a group of British architects. Without being harnessed to a cookie-cutter image, there are three elements that will be a constant in all the stores: a boxy space with the walls painted in a vibrant shade that might change with the collections; branch-shaped metal structures that act as racks and metal tables, and white floors.
The stores will carry all Marni’s colorful and edgy fashion collections plus the accessories, a category that was introduced at the beginning of 1998 to diversify and broaden the product range. Shoes and bags currently account for 20 percent of total sales, a figure Ayroles wants to bump up to at least 30 percent.
“We also want to focus on specialized channels such as shoes stores,” he added.
Marni is also carried in 200 sales points worldwide with plans to increase that to a maximum of 250.

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