TOKYO — Christian Dior Couture’s Japanese sales grew threetimes as fast as overall revenues did during the first half, the firm said at a press conference here as it officially announced plans for a trio of flagships in Tokyo and Osaka.

Bringing new meaning to the expression “big in Japan,” Christian Dior said Thursday its first-half sales on the island nation advanced 31 percent.

“We continue to grow and it’s almost in all areas,” Dior president and chief executive Sidney Toledano said in announcing that sales overall advanced 10 percent in the six months ended June 30 to $264.6 million, converted from euros at current exchange. Excluding the impact of currency exchange, sales advanced 20 percent to 236 million euros.

Analysts calculate that second-quarter sales inched up 0.4 percent, to 110 million euros, up about 9 percent on a like-for-like basis, indicative of a deceleration of sales in the most recent quarter.

Toledano cited particular strength in the half in footwear, leather goods and men’s wear by Hedi Slimane, who, as reported, just renewed his contract with the Paris house for three years.

By region, Toledano said sales in the U.S. advanced 20 percent in dollar terms, while Europe, excluding Paris, moved ahead 30 percent. He described sales in the French capital, which has been hit by social unrest and a dramatic drop in tourism, as “steady.”

Toledano declined to furnish projections for the balance of the year, but reiterated that Dior is on track to record “significant” sales growth. “I’m very confident,” he said, citing good results from its new unit on Peking Road in Hong Kong, which bowed at the end of the SARS crisis. “We continue investing and opening new boutiques.”

Christian Dior SA, parent of Christian Dior Couture and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is expected to announce its second-quarter sales next week. Earnings are expected to be released in September.

Toledano hosted the Tokyo press conference to detail three new Dior boutiques rising in Japan: a four-story, 16,000-square-foot unit along the luxury strip Ometesando bowing in early December; a six-story, 16,340-square-foot flagship in Ginza opening in early May; and a three-story, 9,080-square-foot unit in the new LVMH Shinsaibashi Building slated to bow in December 2004.As of Thursday, Dior operated 21 stores throughout Japan out of a total worldwide store count of 150.

At the press conference, Toledano said Dior has experienced “high growth rates in Japan since 2000, even in the recession” and that the brand has been profitable there for the past three years.

And he made it clear young, fashion-conscious Japanese would be the focus of the new drive in Japan. “Our core target customers are women at 25 to 35 years old,” he said. “For the men’s line, it’s around 25 years old.”

He noted that the brand is “expensive but it receives excellent feedback from the market,” consistent with the profile of Japanese consumers who “are also very conscious of quality and design.”

Meanwhile, Toledano reiterated to Japanese journalists that the Christian Dior fashion house aims to generate $1 billion in volume through a global network of 210 stores by 2007. About 25 to 30 percent of that total is expected to be generated in Japan.

Dior plans to fete its new flagships in Tokyo with a major event there in May, in tandem with the Ginza opening, he added.

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