By  on April 3, 2007

AUSTIN, Tex. — This college town and state capital, long known as a hotbed for music and proud of its offbeat style, is getting an injection of designer fashion and accessories.

The Domain, a $245 million open-air mixed-use center featuring Austin's first Neiman Marcus, opened this month. It is a milestone in the retail coming-of-age of a metropolitan region where the population has more than doubled since 1980 to 1.5 million in 2005.

Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Intermix and Barneys Co-op are among the 34 retailers making their Austin debut at The Domain. Openings are planned for Michael Kors, Burberry, David Yurman and Anne Fontaine, and other newcomers include BCBG, Betsey Johnson, Calypso, Cole Haan, Juicy Couture, Lilly Pulitzer, Marciano, Mac Cosmetics, Lacoste, Ralph Lauren and Tumi. There is a Macy's, Victoria's Secret and Banana Republic, too, among the 66 retailers and nine restaurants.

"We have targeted Austin as a market we want to substantially invest in," said Richard S. Sokolov, president and chief operating officer of Simon Property Group Inc., The Domain's lead developer and the largest publicly traded U.S. retail real estate company. "It has a great combination of quality of life, the state university, the state capital and a very diverse economic job base."

Neiman's 80,000-square-foot, two-level store is constructed so that a third floor can be added as the market develops, explained Neva Hall, executive vice president, stores. The company has been eyeing the market for six years.

"We...understand how many Austin customers we have and how much they are spending, and it became very clear that it was time to enter the city," she said. "It is very sophisticated with high technology and a great entertainment and artist community. They are very savvy people, and they understand fashion and are interested in it."

Neiman's has Austin exclusives on Chanel, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli, Thakoon, Escada and Chloé, Hall said. Following custom, the retailer contracted for works from regional artists and used local limestone, quartz and other minerals to build a store that reflects the community.

With a total of 700,000 square feet of retail space, The Domain is designed as a lifestyle center with fountains, kinetic sculptures and mosaic tile artwork along a serpentine strip of shops with apartments and offices above.

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