NEW YORK — Giorgio Armani has his new American chief.

WWD has learned that Giorgio Armani SpA has named Bridget Ryan Berman as chief executive officer of its U.S. subsidiary, effective April 10. The appointment is expected to be announced today.

Most recently, Ryan Berman, 45, was vice president and chief operating officer of retail stores at Apple Computer Inc. She joined Apple in 2004, after working at Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. for 12 years, where her last position was group president of retail.

Prior to Polo, she had stints in merchandising and store management at Allied Department Stores, Federated De­partment Stores Inc. and May Department Stores Co.

“I am delighted to welcome Bridget Ryan Berman to our executive management team at a time of significant opportunity and expansion for the Armani brand in the United States, the company’s most important marketplace in terms of consolidated and wholesale revenues,” said Giorgio Armani, president and chief executive of Giorgio Armani SpA. “Her wide-ranging and varied industry experience is perfectly matched to our unique multibrand strategy and will be an invaluable asset to the company going forward.”

Of her experience at Ralph Lauren and Apple, Ryan Berman told WWD on Friday, “I have really embraced a brand and loved to bring it to life, both in a retail environment and through the many other ways in which we touch the customer. The opportunity to grow beyond what has been successful in the U.S. — to take it to the next level — has been exciting to me as a business professional in this industry. And Armani is such a diversified brand. It has such a powerful reach. Armani is in so many different product categories and tiers in terms of the customer that it addresses. There is so much you can grab hold of and [you can] address a very wide and diverse customer base.”

The ceo post most closely resembles the role that Gabriella Forte had at the group. Forte, Armani’s former executive vice president, headed the brand’s U.S. operations and was the designer’s high-profile right-hand woman. Forte may have never have had the title, but her responsibilities resembled those of a ceo. In her 15 years at Armani, she was largely credited with fueling the designer’s momentum in the U.S., overseeing his marketing efforts, retail decisions and image control. Forte left Armani for Calvin Klein in 1994, and the company never filled that exact job.

This story first appeared in the March 6, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Armani has recently started restructuring its American business, which since 2001 had been run by chief operating officer Roberto Pesaro and president of sales and marketing Gaetano Sallorenzo. Pesaro left recently to pursue other interests, while Sallorenzo became president and ceo of ck Calvin Klein sportswear and ck Jeans for Europe and Asia, both of which are licensed to Warnaco.

Matteo Mascazzini became chief operating officer of Giorgio Armani Corp. last week, and will report to Ryan Berman. He was previously chief financial officer of Giorgio Armani Japan and ceo of Giorgio Armani Australia.

In the U.S., there are 12 Giorgio Ar­mani stores, 12 Emporio Armani stores, two Armani Casa stores and 58 Armani Exchange stores. In addition, the company operates five outlet stores.

There are more than 35 Giorgio Ar­mani distribution points, including shop-in-shops, in North America in specialty chains such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and more than 400 doors for Armani Collezioni, including Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s. The company has 166 corporate employees and 703 retail employees in the U.S.

Ryan Berman joins Armani at a time of renewed momentum. The U.S., which in 2004 accounted for 24 percent of the company’s wholesale volume, represents major growth opportunity for the company. It is making a major push in accessories, opening accessories corners in department stores nationwide while investing $15 million to renovate shop-in-shops for Giorgio Armani and Armani Collezioni nationwide over the next three years.

The company is significantly expanding its Armani Casa division. There are currently two Casa stores, as well as 10 wholesale distribution points that the company hopes to double by yearend.

“I have been a tremendous admirer of the brand for many years, not only because I have been involved in the industry, but also personally,” Ryan Berman said. “I am attracted to the way the brand represents beautiful luxury product, quality of lifestyle and consistency in terms of the messaging.”

Ryan Berman joined Polo Ralph Lauren as a divisional merchandise manager, and held a variety of positions there, including president and chief operating officer of Polo Retail Group, and president of Factory Outlets of America, the Ralph Lauren outlet business and Polo Jeans Co. retail stores. She was a also member of the executive leadership team and of the RL Media board.

At Polo, her responsibilities included overseeing aspects of merchandising, real estate and store operations. She left Polo in 2004 to become vice president and chief operating officer of retail stores at Apple Computer. There, her areas of responsibilities included 100 Apple retail stores in the U.S., the U.K. and Japan.

Apple has been breaking retail ground since opening a retail network over three years ago, with its unexpected locations in neighborhoods rather than shopping areas, spacious interiors and a sales staff with extensive product training. The stores are an environment for people to linger in, with free Internet access, school-night events and in-store concerts. Ryan Berman left Apple in August and took some time off to work on building a house and to spend time with her five-year old son and her two stepsons, she said.

“In the world of technology, Apple is fashion,” Ryan Berman said. “It’s innovative, it’s imaginative, it’s theatrical. Its approach toward retail as well as product is very much about having the customer really know what the brand represents, and be very comfortable with being able to walk into the stores and learn about the product and fall in love with it. That’s very much what Giorgio Armani has created and will continue to build on, not only in our directly owned retail environments, but also in stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks. It’s really not that different, other than one product is soft and one’s harder. Other than that, it’s very much the same, and I found that in my transition going from Ralph Lauren to Apple, there wasn’t a lot other than the technology that I had to learn.”

In her new role, Ryan Berman will oversee the entire U.S. brand effort in the Armani pyramid, from Armani Privé at the top through the Giorgio Armani collection, Armani Collezioni, Emporio Armani, A|X Armani Exchange and Armani Jeans.

In addition, she will be the top person to handle licenses for the U.S. market, including watches with Fossil, eyewear with Safilo Group and fragrances with L’Oréal.

As for future strategy, she said it was too early to comment, but added, “The country embraces this brand and there is nothing but additional opportunity to build on.”

That said, she is likely to create a new strategy for Emporio Armani, which, at 13 stores, seems underrepresented in the U.S. In addition, e-commerce has been increasingly important for Armani in the U.S. In 2000, the company launched its first e-commerce site, and established last December.

Of her early memories of Armani, she said, “When I was working in department stores, as a young, professional woman, they were clothes that were really appropriate for business but at the same time professional, and at the same time had exquisite taste level in quality and consistency season to season.”

Certainly on Friday, she was already dressed for the new challenge. She sported a white leather jacket, a striped navy sleeveless top and navy pants — naturally, all from Giorgio Armani’s spring collection.

“It’s great. I can wear it like this or take the jacket off,” she said. “I was just talking about clothes transforming from day into evening and I can certainly do it with this.”

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