14/05/2009 - 00:00

Red the new black for Costarella

14/05/2009 - 00:00

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Costarella Design was a flop as a listed company but Auerelio Costarella remains positive.

WHY does it seem everyone knew the float of Ray Costarella's haute couture label would end in tears? Everyone, that is, except Mr Costarella?

What began as a leap of faith resulted in a share market flop; but remarkably, this fashion industry survivor has emerged a big winner.

Mr Costarella's foray from the rag trade to the trading floor began in March 2007, as boom fever was sweeping Perth.

Rock kickers were turning dust into dollars, so why couldn't a fashion label get a piece of the action too?

There were celebrations on the day of the stock market float, with champagne flowing under the gleaming chandeliers at Costarella's glitzy showroom in North Perth.

It was a trendy affair, with flamboyant lawyer Patti Chong - the company's chair - flying the flag for her friend.

The listing raised the company more than $2 million.

From day one, nothing was boring about Costarella Design. Why would it be? Ray Costarella's an artist.

No-one knew this better than the suits on the terrace who were shaking their heads at the fashionista trying to cash in on the boom times.

But after two years on the stock market, and with the shares never trading above their 20 cents issue price, Mr Costarella finally had enough.

Trading at a fraction of a cent, the shell was last month vended to an Asian liver research firm.

These days, Mr Costarella prefers to go by the name Aurelio. When pressed about what went wrong with his affair with the ASX, he blames short-sighted investors.

"It's slow and a lot of them don't understand that, because they're used to investing in resources," Mr Costarella told WA Business News.

But despite the snub from investors, he proved he's still got what it takes to win new fans in fashion.

For the first time in two years Mr Costarella was back on Australia's coveted runway ... at Australian Fashion Week in Sydney a few weeks back.

There's no doubt he makes a good frock. After the show in Surry Hills, Mr Costarella was allocating half-hour slots for international buyers.

They came from London, Indonesia, Singapore ... and they loved him.

His dresses sell for thousands of dollars.

He told me business is good. Global financial crisis? What crisis? According to Mr Costarella, the rich are still shopping.

"We had a great show in New York in September. We picked up new clients as a result of that. So our wholesale turnover has actually increased," he said.

But you get the sense that Mr Costarella is a glass half full kind of person.

Red is the new black in his world. He's still not turning a profit, but he's confident he will.

"We're just on the verge of turning a profit, the last few years have really taken a toll," Mr Costarella said.

But the past few years have also provided opportunities he's been dreaming of since he started out in fashion more than 20 years ago.

The float may have been a disaster but it gave him an entree into some of the toughest fashion markets in the world. It's not cheap to get noticed in New York.

Costarella Design may have gone bust, but the fashion world doesn't really care, Mr Costarella says, they're interested in clothes not stock prices.

So it begs the question is there room for fashion on the ASX?

"I was a lot more confident going into it but once we got there I realised it's not what it's cracked up to be," Mr Costarella said.

"For us it wasn't the right decision at the time.

"But you have to go there before you find that out."

He said the ASX episode drained from him the one thing that made his business a success - the ability to be an artist.

"It was taking me away from focussing on that creative which is what I love and I'm best at," Mr Costarella said.

But with the float disaster behind him he's now got his creative mojo back.

The demand for his clothes from celebrities is stronger than ever. Jessica Mauboy and Gretel Killeen wore Costarella designs at the Logies.

It seems that marketing leg up from the ASX listing may have not been too bad after all.

"There's now this shift again at focusing on what I'm best at, which is being an artist."

That's great for Mr Costarella, but not so great for those investors who wanted to share the dream.

n Dianne Bain will be an occasional contributor to WA Business News from Sydney.

 

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