By  on February 28, 2006

NEW YORK — Samsonite is said to be close to leasing space at 838 Madison Avenue, between 69th and 70th streets, in the former Westbury Hotel, which houses the Chloé and Gucci boutiques, among others.

Two empty stores share the same address, one with 1,350 square feet of space, the other with 650 square feet. Sources said Samsonite is likely to be interested the smaller space to showcase its expanding array of products.

Company executives could not be reached for comment.

Samsonite, which has more than 90 years of luggage making experience under its belt, has managed to update its image by hiring high-profile designers for special projects.

For example, Matthew William­son this month gave the Sixties-era Samsonite attaché case a high-fashion look, Marc Newson contributed colorful pieces to the 2004 collection and Philippe Starck created a directional line of luggage in 2000.

Samsonite has been making direct overtures to the female audience for some time. The company in 2000 launched a Black Label line of women's wear, footwear and accessories, which accounts for about 9 percent of total sales. In 2003, the Samsonite Signature Series was introduced to appeal to a fashion-conscious female customer.

Sales for fiscal 2005 were $902.9 million, compared with $776.5 million in 2004. Sales from operations in the Americas increased 12.8 percent to $379.1 million from $336.1 million in 2004.

Samsonite, which sells its products mainly at department stores, mass merchants, warehouse clubs and its own factory outlet or company stores, has opened three Samsonite Black Label boutiques worldwide and 23 others are set to open this year.

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