Alex and Ani's former CEO to debut new fashion label in Charleston

Alex and Ani owner and designer Carolyn Rafaelian and then-CEO Giovanni Feroce are shown in 2012.

Giovanni Feroce, the former chief executive officer of jewelry brand Alex and Ani, is using Charleston's King Street as a launchpad for his new designer label.

Shortly after leaving his post with Alex and Ani earlier this year, Feroce bought the majority share of BENRUS, a company that supplied wristwatches to U.S. military forces until the late-1970s. Feroce plans to revive the American label and reintroduce it as a full-scale designer brand with clothing and accessories for men and women.

"It's fashion meets military, and the high-fashion is definitely a quality of the brand," Feroce said.

He leased a storefront at 161 King St., next to Charleston Shoe Co., for BENRUS' first flagship store. Feroce expects it to open in time for the holiday shopping season.

A retired Army major who served in Iraq, Feroce said BENRUS resonated with his experience in the military, and that Charleston was an ideal place to reintroduce it because of the city's unique culture and ingrained military history.

"Charleston has such great character and the people are so wonderful, it has the food scene and this incredible culture that makes it really the perfect place," Feroce said. "Couple that with my military background and my nostalgia for the brand ... I just want people to say, 'Wow, that just fits.'"

Charles Constant of Domicile Real Estate, who leased the two-story retail space at 161 King St. to Feroce, said the deal represents how King Street's shopping district has become a player in the national retail landscape.

"BENRUS setting up its main store in Charleston demonstrates a continued move for higher-end retail to lower King Street, and a greater demand for the two-level shopping experience in Charleston," Constant said.

Feroce said the King Street location sets the tone for future BENRUS stores, which he plans to open soon in Providence, R.I., and upstate New York.

"I have a Main Street strategy - I'm not interested in opening this in malls," he said. "The cities I choose will have a prominent Main Street, and some sort of military nexus will also be a priority."

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Like Alex and Ani, Feroce plans to make BENRUS a made-in-America brand. He said most manufacturing will be done at its headquarters in Providence and that materials will be sourced from Los Angeles and fabric houses in Massachusetts.

Feroce left Alex and Ani in March because of a disagreement with founder Carolyn Rafaelian about how the company was growing, according to a report in The Providence Journal in Rhode Island.

During his four years as CEO, Feroce helped grow Alex and Ani by more than 5,000 percent, taking annual revenue from $4.5 million in 2010 to $230 million last year, according to Inc. Magazine.

Alex and Ani opened a store at 346 King St. in Charleston earlier this year.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail