MILAN — Remember Versus’ sexy-tough micro-jersey dresses, shiny leathers and rubbery skirts? How about the brand’s colorful prints and tough-chic, hard-rock inspiration?

Well, forget about the past, said Giancarlo Di Risio, chief executive officer of Versace Group. After a two-year hiatus, Versus will reemerge at the end of August as a men’s and women’s accessories brand with the launch of a portable phone-MP3 player cobranded with Samsung.

“While relying on Versus’ brand awareness, which is still very strong, we’re starting on a blank sheet … clothing is not a priority for us now,” Di Risio said. “This is an atypical project, which we are kicking off in an innovative way.”

In September, the company plans to launch a watch collection produced by Vertime, and the following month, an eyewear collection licensed to Luxottica will debut at Paris’ Silmo international exhibition. A handbags and footwear line produced by Florence-based Works will also launch in the fall for spring/summer 2007. A fragrance licensed to Euroitalia, which bought the Versace fragrance and cosmetics business in 2004, will be presented in mid-2007.

“In accordance with the sense of the name and the origins of the brand, Versus will go against the rules,” Di Risio said.

Versus was originally launched in 1989 and was produced by IT Holding’s Ittierre manufacturing arm under a license that expired with the fall/winter 2005 collection. Di Risio, chief executive of Ittierre at the time, was considered the force behind the success of the company, and a pioneer in launching designer jeans and young lines in the late Eighties and early Nineties — approaching Versace with the idea for the Versus collection.

When Di Risio was hired at Versace two years ago, Versus was put on the back burner as he worked on reducing the house’s debt load and focused on repositioning Versace’s signature line both in terms of image and quality.

Although familiar with the history of the brand, Di Risio has no plans to revive archival or iconic products or to follow in his own footsteps, except for recapturing the essence of the line.

“Versus was always about innovation and research, always ahead, aiming at what customers wanted,” Di Risio said. For these reasons, the executive chose to launch the new Versus, which targets customers who are “young in spirit,” with a technology accessory. “This is what best represents today’s customers. What makes people tick? Technology, which rules our lives … These are items that are fun to buy and gratifying.”

This story first appeared in the July 20, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The brand is “an independent line” owned by the Versace Group that “does not live in Versace’s shadow and will have its own development,” he said.

Di Risio has hired a design, marketing and public relations team that will be independent of Versace, and he is looking for a dedicated showroom in Milan.

Versus will be positioned in the high-end range of the market with estimated sales of 35 million euros, or $43.7 million at current exchange, by 2007, Di Risio said.

The Versus/Samsung E500 clamshell model will be available in white and gold; white and pink, and black and silver and will retail at 349 euros, or $436. “This is only the first of a series of phones,” Di Risio said.

Among some of the watch designs: the “Rounds” model, with logoed rings on the leather bracelets, and a chronograph with a retrograde display of the timed periods in a counter-clockwise direction and a bracelet that can be replaced by a functional string during sports activities.

“A bright range of vivid colors is one of the leitmotifs of the collection,” Di Risio said. Watches will retail at 200 to 350 euros, or $250 to $437.

In addition to a dedicated ad campaign next year, the company will roll out Versus boutiques in 2008. The store concept is all about a white and cream color palette, plenty of crystals, poufs and oval shapes.

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