By and  on April 25, 2007

Esprit is back — again.

Esprit Holdings Limited, which is based in Hong Kong and has grown rapidly outside the U.S., is making its way back to the North American retail scene. To begin with, the company has just signed a lease for its fourth New York store, located at 600 Fifth Avenue, in the heart of Rockefeller Center. Esprit is aiming for a November opening for the 14,412-square-foot space, which was previously occupied by a Barnes & Noble.

The new location comes after a quiet time for the brand, which in 2003 plotted an aggressive expansion program in the U.S. The plan then was for megastores and major advertising campaigns, but the firm was forced to take a step back when the business here didn't perform.

"We didn't start out so well in the U.S.," admitted Jerome Griffith, president of Esprit North America, in an interview in its New York offices. "Everyone still thought of Esprit as a junior brand, which we weren't known for anymore outside of this country. So when we came here and presented ourselves, everyone hated us. Macy's hated us, all of our wholesale partners really hated us and they didn't know how to present Esprit in their stores."

As it scaled back on wholesale, Esprit opened three Manhattan stores between 2004 and 2005 in the Flatiron District, Time Warner Center (Manhattan's best-performing location, according to Griffith) and SoHo. Additionally, the brand opened 13 units, mostly mall-based, in the Northeast. The Rockefeller Center location will be the first store to open since 2006. This year, the brand plans to open about 10 more stores and 25 shops-in-shops throughout North America. All together, within the next few years, Esprit will spend about $70 million on North American stores.

According to Griffith, the company's strategy of opening its own stores in the U.S. helps the customer to understand Esprit as it is today. While there is EDC, the junior sportswear element, he wants the American consumer to see the brand for its collection business, which targets a working woman who doesn't want to be trendy, but trend-right.

"Our girl works for a living. Her tastes are more traditional, but she wants to look modern," he explained, "and she doesn't want cheap fashion. She wants quality."

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