Claudia Ciuti Forges Ahead

NEW YORK — Claudia Ciuti is on the expansion trail.

The 16-year-old company is moving forward with new brand partnerships, international growth and broadened retail.

“[We’ve been making] a comeback, and this year we will have a very big increase in business,” said Roberto Angiolucci, co-owner of the company and designer Claudia Ciuti’s husband. He forecast the company will grow 40 percent compared with last year.

The company recently began working with designer Rebecca Taylor and is helping her brand produce its spring ’11 and ’12 line, which will hit stores in August and New York Fashion Week in September. Claudia Ciuti also partners with Tibi on its footwear production.

The firm works closely with both brands to understand their design direction and then assist by researching materials, creating test samples and then producing the final styles.

“I’m learning a lot from every designer,” said Ciuti. “It’s very challenging work, but we’re learning during every single step.”

Going forward, the company hopes to add another brand partner in the near term.

“Three lines would be the right number,” said Angiolucci, whose firm has formerly worked with Betsey Johnson and Badgley Mischka. “We’ve had a lot of luck in the past, and this is something we really believe in going forward.”

The company also is successfully expanding its namesake business, in part due to its decision a year ago to lower the average price point to $300 from $400.

Retailers said that even with the more-competitive pricing, the brand has managed to maintain strong quality in its designs.

“They have a very high-end look without the high-end prices,” said Jane O’Grady, owner of Gardiner & Co. in Ridgewood, N.J. “Claudia is very involved, and it’s a great company to work with.”

“As far as a well-made Italian shoe, it’s one of the best,” added Kristen Mishkin, owner of The Plum in Harrisburg, Pa. “[Claudia] really knows how to blend fabrics together, and people love her fit.”

As the brand continues to ramp up with more U.S. independent accounts and department stores such as Nordstrom, it also aims to expand its international business, which makes up about 10 percent of overall sales. Target areas include the Middle East and Europe.

To support those initiatives, the company debuted a new showroom on Broadway last month in New York’s Flatiron District after leaving its uptown location on 57th Street.

“Before, the customer only came during Fashion Week. Now we are seeing [industry] people come all day,” Angiolucci said.

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