By  on May 21, 2007

Nautica is continuing its voyage abroad by way of the Middle East.

The all-American lifestyle brand celebrated the opening of flagships in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, with a 300-person gala on the Hiltonia Abu Dhabi lawns that included an hour-long spring 2007 runway show on a catwalk overlooking the Persian Gulf. Nautica and its regional partner, LIWA Trading Enterprises, hosted the event to commemorate the openings of three Middle Eastern stores this year, one in Abu Dhabi and two in Dubai.

Nautica plans to open a dozen more stores in the region in the next two years, according to Denise Seegal, president and chief executive officer of its parent, VF Sportswear. Next up are two additional freestanding Nautica apparel stores in Dubai and another in Abu Dhabi.

"International expansion is a key component to our Nautica growth strategy, and the Middle East is a really key market for us," Seegal said. "It's one of the most interesting markets in the world, because it has such an interesting mix of consumers: A large expat population, tourists, plus locals. Nautica has really good brand awareness as a prestigious American brand because the core consumer there travels."

There are 180 freestanding Nautica stores in 60 countries, with only one in the U.S. Ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet, all the stores feature a range of Nautica products, except for women's sportswear, which will join the mix for spring 2008.

In VF Corp.'s recent first-quarter results, Nautica's women's sportswear — which Seegal called "still a work in progress" after its fall 2006 relaunch — was one of the only weak areas for the company.

"In general the Nautica brand is having success, and women's sportswear is a very viable market for us," Seegal said. "We learned a lot from the soft launch for fall and holiday, like that a more casual product is what is selling, so we've adapted the product. It doesn't happen usually in the first nine months, but we hope to gain traction ASAP."

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