Holiday Central

Zegna Lures U.S. Men -- With NFL's Manning

Superbowl foes Eli Manning of the NY Giants and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots had a friendly run-in last night: The two Zegna-clad quarterbacks were chatting it up with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue on the 3rd floor of the newly refurbished Manhattan Zegna flagship on 5th Avenue.

While Eli's fiancee waited around for her man, Giselle Bundchen made a hasty exit when the photo ops began.

The two celebs were the all-American posterboys for the high-end Italian menswear collection -- and a broadshouldered contrast to the sharp-cheekboned, "European"-looking male models who were posing as living mannequins throughout the launch party last night. That's what you call marketing that broadens your appeal: Zegna reaching out to the American men who don't read Men's Vogue and think "fashion" is inherently a feminine sensibility.

The usual top Zegna customers were there: Saks Chief Merchandising Officer Ron Frasch, along with Mitchells/Richards owner Jack Mitchell.

Gildo Zegna (who owns the privately-held Italian luxury house) said that he does think that the economy and the sales environment will be tough for the next few quarter,s but that means retailers just have to get smart about how they do business.

Saks CEO Steve Sadove told me that despite the recent Bank of America downgrade of Saks, he thinks the high-end business is fundamentally healthy. (BofA downgraded SKS last Thursday with the pessimistic view of the overall high-end market, saying that "luxury is the last to go and has the farthest to fall.")

Whether or not the high end business is still rosy, it was reassuring to see retail and fashion business folks celebrating in this consumer-dependent industry. Zegna's public relations representation said that over 800 people had RSVPd for the event last night. Among them, my NBC colleagues Matt Lauer and Al Roker of the Today show were both on hand, along with my fellow CNBCer Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.

Watching store traffic at the new 5th Avenue digs may be a indication of things to come in the retail world.

Then again, with the dollar this weak, when will the ratio of foreign tourists to American shoppers even out?

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