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By Carolyne Zinko

Luisa Spagnoli: From Venice to the valley

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The Italian knitwear house of Luisa Spagnoli, founded in 1928, has long had its eye on the American market, but it took two go-getting Silicon Valley women to bring its fashions to the United States for the first time.
The stand-alone boutique, which opened in May at Stanford Shopping Center, is one of more than 40 new stores in the recently renovated mall. It’s also a joint venture between the house, which put up half the money needed to open, and a South Bay mother-daughter duo, Irene Oykhman and Julia Schloss, who put up the rest. The two founded Bayview Residential Management, a mortgage brokerage in Campbell, with 160 employees and more than a half-billion dollars in transactions a year. Luisa Spagnoli’s workforce is 90 percent female. Is there a girl power thing going on here?

The deal took four years to craft, and wouldn’t have happened if Oykhman had not spotted a Luisa Spagnoli (pronounced Loo-EE-sa Span-YO-lee) boutique on a trip to Venice a decade ago.

“I’ve never seen a more fabulous window display,” Oykhman said. The next thing she noticed was the line’s versatility, with mix-and-match pieces for wardrobe-building, pieces that go from day to night, and a certain modernity — think the ease of St. John’s knits with 1960s and ’70s silhouettes and the color punch of Tory Burch.

“The first dress I saw, I said, ‘That would be great on Julia,’” Oykhman said, “and that’s what I bought.”

“She brought back one dress for me,” Schloss recalled, “and a suitcase of clothes for herself. The dress fit me perfectly, and the next year, when she went to Venice, I had a list.”

Soon, the Spagnoli line was the only thing the two wore to work — and people noticed. Wherever they went, industry colleagues asked about their sweaters, dresses, leather jackets and skirts. When their co-workers began planning trips to Europe to shop at Luisa Spagnoli boutiques, and midpriced, go-to brands like Dana Buchman began disappearing from department stores (Buchman now designs for Kohl’s), the mother-daughter duo felt something had to be done.

The effort started with an email to Spagnoli headquarters. Then, Oykhman and Schloss hired consultants and advisers and developed a business model. After Spagnoli representatives came to check out Stanford Shopping Center as a potential location, Schloss sent marketing material and a lookbook to executives at Simon Property Group in Indiana, which owns the mall. Eventually, a deal was struck.

With a bit of fanfare, Nicoletta Spagnoli, the house’s president and the great-granddaughter of the company founder, cut a ribbon outside the store at the May 5 opening, which set off one of the bigger bursts of launch-party shopping in recent memory.

“Our customer is a professional woman who works and travels a lot, who must look perfect every single moment of her day,” Spagnoli said in Italian, through a translator. “Our line is about femininity, glamour and practicality. We pay a lot of attention to the finishes, the small details.”

The line offers sizes 0 to 16, and includes knit tops ($236 and up); short and long cardigans ($276 and up, and $617 and up, respectively); pants and jeans ($254 and up); evening wear and accessories.

Meanwhile, a stone’s throw away at Town & Country Village in Palo Alto, New York womenswear designer Jean Glover is slated to open her first California boutique, 8telier, this month. “The designs are minimal, with an edgy feel but always keeping in tune with the female body,” Glover said in a statement. Outerwear is often architectural, while the fall 2016 collection contains pieces to layer, including skirted leggings with side zippers and drape knit tops that resemble T-shirts; most pieces are machine washable, according to a news release. The name 8telier is a mashup of the numerological meaning of 8, self-confidence, and atelier, or artist’s workshop.

Carolyne Zinko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: czinko@sfchronicle.com

Letters to the Editor
Burlingame-Spagnoli Connection July 17, 2016

Re: “From Venice to the Valley June 12:
I just read Carolyne Zinko’s article about Luisa Spagnoli fashions coming to the area for the first time.
Going back in history, we wore Luisa Spagnoli sweaters when I was in high school in Burlingame in the early 1950s. I don’t recall for sure, but they may have been purchased at Joseph Magnin, the go-to store for fashion for young women at the time. (Coincidentally, Jerry Magnin, son of Cyril, was a classmate.) Spagnoli sweaters came in wonderful rich, bright colors, including turquoise. They were knit with some angora in them and were worn with calf-length, pencil-slim skirts. And no outfit would be complete unless it included matching socks worn with white buck Spaulding shoes. We always carried a little bag of white chalk to keep them pristine throughout the day. Hope you enjoyed this flashback to when Luisa Spagnoli’s sweaters were popular on the peninsula more than 60 years ago!

-Elaine BJorgan Duxbury, BHS ’55

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