Etienne Aigner Aims High With Relaunch

NEW YORK — Etienne Aigner is going it alone.

After being purchased by Australian investors last year, the 63-year-old heritage brand is bringing its footwear back in-house, taking the label up-market and improving the quality of its products.

“The decision was made to upgrade to the accessible luxury market across all product categories,” said Jim Piotti, president of Etienne Aigner U.S., who joined the company a year ago.

That meant dropping licensing deals, such as its footwear partnership with Brown Shoe Co., and producing all categories — including handbags, jewelry and a new apparel line — in-house with elevated quality.

“We believe it’s essential for our success to have brand awareness that’s cohesive,” Piotti said. “Given the up-branding, it’s critical we have control and consistency.”

The brand’s feminine offering will retail for $245 to $495, an increase of about $150 from previous prices, and will be made in China with Italian materials.

All product categories are designed under creative director Daniela Anastasio Bardazzi, who joined Etienne Aigner in February. According to Bardazzi, the goal is to rediscover the attention to detail and craftsmanship Aigner himself was known for and share it with old and new customers. “We were fortunate enough to inherit this story,” she said. “I love that we can take Aigner’s nomadic spirit and bring it [back] to the brand.”

With the uptick in price points and aesthetic, Etienne Aigner’s retail repertoire also will change. The shoe collection currently sells at stores such as Macy’s and Zappos.com, but Piotti said that starting with holiday ’12, product will be available only on the Etienne Aigner website, which launched last month, and at a Soho flagship store opening early next year. The shoes will wholesale at specialty retailers for spring ’14, though Piotti declined to comment on targeted shops.

Brand executives said the drawn-out transition is essential to Etienne Aigner’s success. “It is necessary for the existing licensee to wind down its inventory and not conflict with our new direction,” he said. “We will see a significant drop in sales volume; however, it is a factor that can’t be avoided, and we are prepared to make this transition to secure a successful implementation of our new strategy.”

Piotti also is confident about raising the price points, though it could cost the label loyal customers who are used to paying less and new customers who find the simply designed product too expensive.

“We are a fashion brand first and foremost, [and] the old model of being driven by price point has devastated the brand,” he said. “The new focus will be on quality and craftsmanship with design-driven product — back to the motto Mr. Aigner had founded the company and brand under.”

And while Piotti acknowledged the new Etienne Aigner team has big goals to meet, he is convinced that staying focused on the tasks at hand will result in success. “We have an exciting story to tell. It’s not only about our products, it’s about our heritage and our future.”

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