By  on November 6, 2006

MILAN — Miu Miu is making its move in the U.S.

The Prada-owned brand has tapped Michelle Kessler Sanders, previously vice president and fashion director at Juicy Couture, as president of its American operations to drive growth in what it views as a key market. The U.S. currently accounts for about 12 percent of Miu Miu's worldwide sales of about 160 million euros, or $200 million at current exchange.

The appointment also is in line with the company's ongoing strategy to carve out a distinct identity for Miu Miu separate from the Prada brand. "We are heavily investing in the development of Miu Miu, and the brand is giving us a lot of satisfaction," a Prada spokesman told WWD. "We're increasingly separating resources and structures for each brand."

Kessler Sanders' position is a new one, and she will start at Miu Miu today. At Juicy Couture, she oversaw accessories and licensed products, marketing and brand development. Prior to Juicy Couture, she was accessories director at Vogue for about six years, and before that, was director of communications at Prada USA.

Among her new duties, Kessler Sanders will oversee the expansion of Miu Miu's retail network in the U.S., according to the spokesman. There are currently two Miu Miu boutiques in New York and one in Los Angeles.

"There is tremendous potential for the brand in the U.S. and globally," said the spokesman, noting how Miu Miu has globally registered a 20 percent jump in sales in 2006, compared with the previous year. In 2005, the brand generated sales of $154.8 million, or 129 million euros, with ready-to-wear accounting for 42 percent of its retail turnover, followed by leather goods and footwear, accounting for 32 and 26 percent, respectively.

Miu Miu was launched in 1993, and Prada has significantly stepped up development of the brand this year, beginning with moving its runway show from Milan to Paris, where it showed last March in the historic Lapérouse restaurant.

"After showing in London, New York and Milan, it is the right moment to show in Paris, the ideal location for a young brand that aims to strengthen its presence on the international scene," Prada chief executive officer Patrizio Bertelli told WWD at the time. Prada plans to show Miu Miu in Paris for some time, as the company has just signed a long-term lease on a private mansion on the Avenue Foch, where it will hold its future shows.As part of the drive to break away from the image of a diffusion line or secondary collection, the brand has taken a different tack in its ad campaigns. Lapérouse was also used as a backdrop for the brand's fall advertising campaign featuring Chinese actresses Dong Jie and Zhou Xun and Japanese model Lina Ohta. The company has asked a variety of leading actresses to appear in Miu Miu ad campaigns over the years, from Kim Basinger and Camilla Belle to Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore and Chloë Sevigny, tapping into a wide range of ages and customer types.

Miu Miu also has introduced a new store concept, which bowed in Milan and in Paris this fall. The new store look has sumptuous Italian silk damasks contrasting with perforated or undulating steel panels, mirror-top coffee tables and ivory-colored rugs.

"Miu Miu used to be considered a second line for those that aspired to Prada but could not afford it, but now it's a brand on its own," said the spokesman, noting that recent higher prices have not dented sales. "We've increased our quality and product content, and the result is higher-end merchandise."

A new Miu Miu boutique is set to open by Christmas in Hong Kong. The brand currently has 25 directly owned stores and four franchised ones worldwide. In Asia, there are nine stores in Japan and another seven elsewhere in the region. Last year, Japan accounted for 35 percent of Miu Miu's retail business, while other Asian countries accounted for 20 percent of the total. There are six stores in Western Europe, which accounted for 33 percent of sales. The U.K. and France are increasingly strong markets for Miu Miu in Europe, according to the spokesman.

In other Prada news, the spokesman confirmed that Constance Darrow, Prada's former U.S. president, has not yet been replaced. "It will happen sooner or later, but we are not under pressure to take an imminent decision. The U.S. is doing really well for Prada, and Patrizio Bertelli is dedicating his attention to this market," he said.

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