VICENZA, Italy — A little-known label called Transit is finding its moment in the sun.
Transit is a clean, sophisticated collection for a young customer with good taste. The quality is tops, the design simple and fresh and the fabrics and finishings first rate. Though the label isn’t new — it’s been around for 12 years — Transit has just taken off. Owner Andrea Cozza reports sales increases of more than 50 percent in the past two seasons alone. Next year he expects total revenues from the line to top $12.5 million (20 billion lire), up from around $10.6 million (17 billion lire) currently. The collection, which numbers about 140 to 150 pieces, is produced by Vicenza-based Tam SpA, which also manufactures for other groups including Germany’s big Steilman group, and some items from Gianfranco FerrA’s men’s line. Transit also comes out with a smaller summer collection, numbering 50 to 60 pieces, to provide stores with fresh merchandise for the summer season. Cozza thinks one reason Transit has become popular is the high quality of the materials and the finishing techniques he uses. The collection features innovative stretch materials, washed jerseys, intricate knitwear and special dyeing techniques whereby pieces are stitched first and dyed last.
“This is a product that has taken off all by itself,” said Cozza, “We are doing zero advertising. It is all based on the product alone.” The collection is designed by Danish designer Suzanne Christensen in connection with the company’s own in-house design studio. “It isn’t a typically Italian style,” explained Cozza, “it has more of a European look.” According to commercial director Massimo Vernillo, next year the company plans to start investing in promotional materials for stores, but still isn’t planning on grand scale media promotion — especially since the product seems to be selling itself.
Transit is sold in some 400 sales points around the world and has recently been picked up by Barneys and Detour in New York and by Theodore, Country Club, Lorenzo and Fred Segal in Los Angeles. Transit is also sold in Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Whistles in London, in Lisa in Dusseldorf and has a corner in the Fiorucci megastore in downtown Milan.
The line is also expanding its doors in France and in other parts of Germany, Vernillo said.
“This product has become hot all of a sudden because it is right for this moment in fashion,” explained Vernillo. “It isn’t necessarily because of any special promotion we have done.”
FERRETTI’S SOUND PHILOSOPHY
MILAN — Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti, the designer’s trendy and stylish third line, is winning praise from retailers on both sides of the Atlantic, who say the designer’s youthful, well-made clothes fill an important market niche.
Philosophy started out in 1989 as Ferretti Jeans Philosophy, a collection dominated by denim. In 1994, Ferretti rebaptized the collection, changing both its name and concept.
“I think a gap began to form in the market as traditional ready-to-wear took a step up in quality and price. My idea was to create a young prEt-e-porter line, a secondary line that was better than a jeans line,” Ferretti said.
Philosophy, which first appeared on retailers’ racks in autumn 1994, is a sketchbook where Ferretti lets her imagination run wild, where she mixes the practical and the fantastic, the romantic and the funky.
In her Milan showroom, white knit minidresses with high waists hang alongside black leather skirts and jackets, and orange silk evening gowns as light and fluttery as butterfly wings and mint green blouses sprinkled with transparent sequins share space with electric aqua hip-hugger trousers and matching jackets.
There are also T-shirts handpainted with the Philosophy symbols: curly-cue, childlike drawings of stars, flowers and butterflies that stand for ideas like peace, love and sex.
“Philosophy fills an empty space on many retailers racks. It is a youthful, elegant pret-a-porter collection that doesn’t cost a lot of money. It is a really intelligent product,” said Cesare Tadolini, the owner of L’Incontro di Modena, a designer boutique in the northern Italian town of Modena.
“The eveningwear especially stands out because it fills the gap between reasonably priced disco wear and impossibly expensive formal clothing.” Tadolini added that Philosophy doesn’t “look” like a secondary line.
“It’s not a cheaper copy of the first line, a rehash of the previous season or a super-casual jeans line like so many designers’ secondary collections often are. Philosophy has its own identity,” he said.
Shanna Stein, who owns an eponymous designer boutique at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles, said the market needed a line like Philosophy.
“Philosophy is well-made in good fabrics and a great value — something very rare at that market level. And the fit is phenomenal. If Ferretti makes a hip-hugger, I know it’s going to fit well,” Stein said. “Alberta Ferretti has made great progress in young fashion. Philosophy is just fantastic.”
Ferretti said she applies the same quality standards to the collection as she does to her signature and Studio lines. She uses textiles from some of the best mills in Italy, mixing natural fabrics with man-made ones. Aeffe, the clothing manufacturer Ferretti owns with her brother Massimo, produces the collection.
The brother-and-sister team has big plans for Philosophy. The first Philosophy boutique is scheduled to open in London at Harvey Nichols in early 1996, and Ferretti said she is scouting space in Milan for a second boutique. She said she would like to open a series of Philosophy stores that will be owned by Aeffe or franchised.
The line is currently distributed in Europe and in the U.S. in Alberta Ferretti stores and independent retailers.
Ferretti said designing Philosophy is a walk on the wild side. “The line allows me to let my creativity run wild. Because the prices are contained and well below my top line, I feel much more free in designing,” she said.
“I like the idea of taking a memory, something from the past and making it work for the present, taking simple clothes with clean lines and pairing them with eccentric elements or the spontaneous ideas that spring from the streets,” she added.
The line is priced about 40 percent below Ferretti’s signature line and has an annual wholesale turnover of $18.8 million-$21.9 million (30-35 billion lire). The retail price ranges from $175-$344 (280,000-550,000 lire) for a jacket, $81-$188 (130,000-300,000 lire) for a skirt and $113-$344 (180,000-550,000 lire) for a dress.
BETTER TIMES AHEAD
MILAN — Italy’s textile and apparel industry is rapidly moving out of its rut and will reach a peak this year due to a steady flow of exports and companies’ successful efforts to streamline their operations.
According to a report recently published by Pambianco, an international luxury goods consulting firm with headquarters here, turnover in the textile sector rose 17 percent and sales in the apparel sector rose six percent in the 1994 fiscal year.
Each year Pambianco examines the latest, complete balance sheets of top Italian designers, clothing and textile manufacturers and uses the sample group as a thermometer for the industry. The latest report, released last month, is based on the latest, full results of 165 companies that filed their balance sheets with the Italian courts.
“In 1994, there was a slight improvement over previous years. We’re calling it a year of transition. We expect 1995 to show similar results and 1996 to be the year the industry improves radically,” said Carlo Pambianco, founder and president of the company.
“The improvement in 1994 was due mostly to a rise in exports because of the weaker lira. That momentum from exports, coupled with companies’ successful restructuring plans, will reach a peak in 1996,” he added.
With a 20 percent rise in total combined turnover, sportswear was by far the most dynamic sector in the apparel industry. Among the 17 companies Pambianco examined were Fila, Italy’s jeanswear giant Diesel, Sergio Tacchini and Ittierre, the company that manufactures jeans and sportswear lines for Gianni Versace and Dolce & Gabbana.
“The trend in consumption was and continues to be away from high-end designer labels and toward sportswear, which simply costs less money,” Pambianco said. “I think that trend will continue into the future.”
Knitwear was another strong performer, boasting an 8.6 percent rise in total combined turnover. Among the companies included in Pambianco’s survey were Maglificio di Vignola, which produces knitwear for Gianfranco FerrA, MAC Cashmere and Dalmine.
The weaker performers in 1994 were high-end men’s and women’s apparel. Pambianco took a look at a pool of 13 companies, including Aeffe, Max Mara, Maska and Antonio Fusco, whose total combined turnover increase was less than one percent. While sales were flat, gross operating margin improved 8.5 percent in 1994, up from 6.2 percent in 1993.
Men’s apparel saw a drop of 1.3 percent in total combined turnover. Gross operating margin improved 4.9 percent in 1994, up from 4 percent in 1993.
Of the 82 apparel companies surveyed, Benetton had the highest turnover with sales, reaching nearly $1.2 billion (1.9 trillion lire) in 1994. Miroglio, based in the northern Italian town of Alba, took second place, with sales of $631 million (1 trillion lire), and Gruppo La Perla was third with sales of $309 million (490 billion lire).
“Benetton came out on top because it exports 70 to 80 percent of its products. It was a company that truly reaped the benefits of the weak lira,” Pambianco said.
Diesel boasted highest return on sales — 28 percent — followed by Lepel, a lingerie manufacturer, and Brioni Roman Style, which produces men’s wear, both with 19 percent.
The true winners to emerge were Italy’s textile companies, many of which restructured their operations, making themselves leaner and more efficient.
“Many companies undertook major reorganization projects and completed them very quickly, and they immediately became more competitive,” said Pambianco.
Silk and wool manufacturers boasted the highest rise in turnover, chiefly because of the weak lira. The pool of silk producers Pambianco surveyed saw their total combined turnover rise some 33 percent, and wool producers boasted a rise of 15.4 percent. Yarn and fiber manufacturers’ sales rose an average 20.3 percent.
Marzotto was the top grossing company in the sector with sales of $656 million (1.04 trillion lire), an 8.5 percent rise from 1993. “Marzotto came out on top because it pays very close attention to costs and is a very efficient company. Its management is highly cautious and circumspect,” Pambianco said.
Manifatture Legnano took second place with sales of $194 million (308 billion lire) and Zegna Baruffa was third with $186 million (295 billion lire).
Zignano Tessile was the company with the highest return on sales — 29 percent — followed by Mascioni with 23 percent and F.lli Piacenza with 19 percent.
Pambianco said that while textile and apparel sales will reach a peak in 1996, most of the business will be generated by exports. “The only negative point is that domestic consumption doesn’t look like it’s going to improve in the near future. Italians’ purse strings are still tight.”
THE TOTE OF THE TOWN
MILAN — MH Way has come a long way since hitting Italian stationery stores with its boxy corrugated briefcases in 1982. Now, with an expansive collection that includes 1,000 items, ranging from smartly designed, sleek backpacks to belt-bags and briefcases in unusual materials, the Milan-based company has revolutionized the way many Italians tote their belongings about town. With the goal of creating useful products for a working clientele, founders — husband-and-wife team Makio Hasuike and Franca Gizzoni — have turned their original investment of $3,000 (5 million lire) into a company with a 1995 turnover of more than $6 million (10 billion lire).
The sleekly designed collection, which includes agendas and desk diaries, as well as handbags, briefcases and backpacks, is aimed at an artistic, career-oriented public that values function, simplicity and order. “Our products must be useful, simple and sophisticated,” says Franca Gizzoni, managing director. “They have to help unorganized people at least appear organized.” Initially, architects, photographers, artists and designers made up the bulk of the company’s clientele.
A peek at the line shows funky turtle-shaped backpacks in neoprene, sporty nylon belt-bags and classic-cut handbags/briefcases in unusual colors such as petrol teal, persimmon orange and lily, as well as more traditional colors like bordeaux, black and navy. Current bestsellers include the softly contoured Movimento backpack, retailing at $55 (88,000 lire), and the no-frills Brava belt-bag in canvas, retailing at $23 (37,000 lire). “Much of our success lies in our unique materials, such as neoprene, aluminum and a special plastic used to make bra cups,” says Gizzoni. Another key to the collection’s success is its smart detailing, such as easy plastic closures, durable handles and buffed metal logos — details that also have been the source of problems. “Unfortunately, we spend a lot of time and money protecting our designs,” says Gizzoni, referring to past and present lawsuits against companies such as Benetton, Mandarina Duck and Samsonite, all which have borrowed more than one idea from MH Way. She declined to say how much the company spends on fighting knockoffs.
But if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Makio Hasuike has a lot to feel good about, since he is the creative force behind the MH Way label. After graduating from Tokyo’s University of Arts in 1963, Hasuike came to Italy to work as a designer and five years later opened his own studio, MH Design. Hasuike directs a design team of 15 which, besides doing the MH Way line, works for various Italian and Japanese firms, including electronics company Panasonic, household appliance firm Ariston and Loewe, the suitcase manufacturer. “Makio tries to anticipate the times and his designs are simple and essential, you could even say very Japanese,” says Gizzoni, “and we certainly are not interested in following the latest fashions.”
Nevertheless, Hasuike’s bags, briefcases and, in particular, backpacks, have recently caught on with an even wider public. These days businesswomen, high-school and university students and yuppies are all zipping about with the understated bags.
However, fashion was not on the couple’s agenda when they launched their line of corrugated portfolios, called Piuma, at Chibicart, Milan’s stationery trade fair, almost 13 years ago. The polypropylene portfolios, which retailed for $6.25 (10,000 lire), were an instant hit.
The ensuing jump from simple portfolios to more complex bags “was a natural progression,” says Hasuike. “The simplicity of Piuma inspired us to move on to more substantial, but still very simple, bags and other objects.”
All components of the MH Way line, from zippers to fabrics and even paperweights, are produced in Italy. “We have about 30 manufacturers in Italy and even one down in Naples that produces our most elegant line, called Prossima,” says Gizzoni. More than 500,000 articles are produced each year.
MH Way has only four of its own name-brand freestanding stores — three here and one in Paris. However, stationery stores — especially those selling high tech design equipment — are an essential retail channel for the products, accounting for 80 percent of sales. “Italian stationery stores are critical for our business, and we try to be as accommodating as possible,” says Gizzoni, explaining that they often custom design display racks for some of their 800 sales points across Italy. MH Way is also available at 200 retail sales points in 32 countries abroad, including the Americas and Asia. While the Italian market is the company’s most important, exports account for 34 percent of the firm’s turnover. There are franchised stores in Munich, Singapore, Tokyo and, starting in 1996, Hong Kong. In the U.S., MH Way products are available at Sam Flax stores (New York, Georgia and Florida) and Time Traveler in Westport, Conn.
Looking ahead, Hasuike and Gizzoni are trying to anticipate peoples’ lifestyles and what sort of objects the modern workforce might need to make life simpler. “The idea of portable computers is really changing the way a lot of people live and work, and this is a whole other field that we want to explore,” says Gizzoni.