STUDY IN CONTRASTS

MILAN — Gabriele Strehle, the creative force behind Strenesse, might seem an unassuming designer. She rarely gives interviews. She’s shy about her English and her ability to articulate her ideas when she isn’t speaking her native language. She even says she’s uncomfortable talking about the “business” side of her Munich-based company. But make no mistake: She has big plans — and they speak for themselves.
Next July, she plans to launch a fragrance with Cosmopolitan and begin putting together her first men’s wear collection. She’s been slowly but surely developing her accessories collection and plans to take the same deliberate, careful approach to her new projects.
“I like to do things by myself, step by step,” she said backstage after her show on Tuesday. “I have the control.”
For the collection, Strehle said she wanted to explore the tension between fluid pieces in silk jersey and tailored items in cotton drill. “I wanted to feel a little bit sporty, a little bit sexy and feminine,” she said. She considers herself the archetypal consumer, one with diverse needs: clothes for business, family life and leisure. “A modern woman has all of these contrasts between business, femininity and sportiness,” she said.
On the runway those contrasts turned up in the now-classic play of hard and soft, which Strehle handled quite beautifully. On the gentle side, she showed a lineup of floaty little pieces: dresses, skirts and tops detailed with floating trails and appendages and often held in place by a long cord twisted and wrapped in the Grecian mode of the moment. Yet she kept the flou in control, and distinguished the look by cutting the pieces in tiny florals which, colored in earthy tones, looked pretty without sugar. As for the collection’s tailored side, it had a precise military crispness.
Perhaps unintentionally, Strehle played to another contrast, as well — the one between the runway and reality. While all of those rompers and briefs with flowy little tops looked appealing, they’re likely to get more attention from cable channel surfers than serious shoppers.
Gerd Strehle, chief executive officer of Strenesse and the designer’s husband, said sales of the collection are expected to rise to $90 or $95 million this year from $80 million in 1999. The U.S. market, which currently represents 5 percent of the company’s sales, is expected to generate about 15 percent of them over the next two to three years. “We are working very hard to build a commercial structure in the U.S. and are very keen on growing that market,” Gerd said. As reported, Strenesse recently tapped Deb Maxwell, formerly with GFT’s Armani Le Collezioni division, as president and ceo of Strenesse USA. In addition to the designer label featured on the runway here, Strenesse Gabriele Strehle, the company produces two diffusion lines: Strenesse Blue and Strenesse Jeans.

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