Not Akito Okuda, the new creative director tapped by leather specialist Hettabretz to revitalize its brand, lure back an international clientele and, ultimately, increase sales tenfold to $20 million by 2004.
Hettabretz, which also produces leather clothes for Prada and Valentino, had its heyday from 1960 to 1985, creating crocheted leather and wool pieces and sweaters with mink trim that were successful at retail and were regularly photographed for Vogue, Madame and the New Post.
Okuda, however, is shifting the focus to wovens and knitwear from leatherwear, since less than a third of his 300-piece debut collection for fall will be crafted with skins of any type.
“I won’t bypass the leather heritage, but since I’m doing a total look, I strongly advocate coats and jackets. There are so many chances to express yourself in this area, where one millimeter makes the difference,” said Okuda, who insists on cutting the samples himself instead of handing them to pattern cutters.
For fall, the Japanese designer started with shapes — no surprise, since for seven years he honed his tailoring skills as Yoji Yamamoto’s Paris-based design assistant, and then spent another seven as Jil Sander’s creative director.
“From Yoji, I learned the spiritual work ethic, and from Jil, the use of fabulous fabrics,” said Okuda.
Wool muslins, 2.8-gauge cashmere knits, tweeds, silks and rich cottons take shape as crisp smocked shirts, quilted down jackets for evening, three-button blazers and full, flat-front pants.
“It will all be very moody,” he said, “and one shape will come in different fabrics.” The palette includes black, brown, burgundy and melanges of blue.
As for leather, Okuda came across an old stock of pony skin, napa and peccary, buried in the company’s warehouse, that he’ll use in outerwear.
The designer’s standpoint has the support of Paolo Bertuzzi, owner and son of the late founder, Enrichetta Bertuzzi.
Paolo Bertuzzi has already shelled out $10 million in developing new distribution and marketing plans.
Aside from a new showroom here and new 32,400-square-foot headquarters in Bologna, Bertuzzi hopes to secure 150 selected doors worldwide with a strong concentration in the U.S. Previously, the line has been carried sporadically by Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus and has been a regular at Janet Brown in the U.S.
“In the late Eighties, with the advent of designer boutiques and the weeding out of multibrand specialty stores, the company rested on its laurels, and the product became dusty and too ladylike,” admitted Bertuzzi. “But with Okuda’s culture of quality and contemporary fashion vision, we’re extremely confident.”