By  on February 4, 2008

MACAU — The seas were choppy and chilly winds were blowing as guests boarded the chartered ferry from Hong Kong, but no one seemed to mind the weather when they arrived in Macau to see that Miu Miu had pulled out all of the stops for a fashion show and public relations exercise the likes of which this city had never seen before.

Nearly 300 guests were invited to witness a first (and last) of its kind event when Miu Miu presented its spring collection in the Wynn Theater. It was the first production in the theater, as well as the last (casino owner Steve Wynn decided just weeks ago to remove the red velvet banquettes and tear down the stage in favor of additional private gambling rooms). Using innovative choreography and clever video projections, models paraded across the stage in Miu Miu's latest — eliciting delighted exclamations from the crowd of celebrities, socialites and press. And the whoops kept coming as dancers from Paris' famed Crazy House cabaret took the stage in an eye-popping finale.

Sebastian Suhl, chief executive officer of Prada Asia Pacific, said the idea behind the event was simply to promote Miu Miu. "This is only the second large event we have done for Miu Miu. The first was to open the store in The Landmark [in Hong Kong] in December '06. We wanted to do something that fits the collection for the spring-summer season and we wanted to do something special — and obviously location is very important. No other luxury brand has done anything in Macau — in at least five or six years and maybe even longer than that," said Suhl.

Although Miu Miu doesn't yet have a store in Macau, there were 25 million reasons for holding the party here. The enclave, once a sleepy Portuguese colony, is now better known as Las Vegas East, with a spate of major hotel-casino openings and a tremendous surge in visitors, mostly from Mainland China. The number of visitors reached 25 million last year and is expected to reach 40 million by 2010.

It's no surprise, then, that Miu Miu will have a store here by the middle of the year. "The [Asia-Pacific] business has grown tremendously, and it's sizeable," said Suhl. "Based on that and on the strength of the brand generally, what we're doing is aggressively expanding. The first expansion will be in Macau, with Miu Miu taking the current Prada store at Wynn," he said, noting that Prada will move to a location three times larger, also in Wynn. "Prada will have the largest location in Wynn," said Suhl, who is eager to take advantage of additional floor space. "We can bring in categories like ready-to-wear and men's wear and do shoes properly."Currently, Miu Miu has eight locations in the region — four in Hong Kong, two in Taipei, one in Singapore and one in Jakarta — and Suhl is preparing to roll out the brand to new markets, including South Korea, Australia and possibly Kuala Lumpur. China is also in the cards. "The challenge for China for any brand is not only finding the right hardware and the right landlord, but also finding the right locations. There are many, many projects going on right now in China and we're evaluating all of them for both brands. Miu Miu is definitely not forgotten in China — you'll see Miu Miu stores there as well as in Korea," said Suhl.

He added that Miu Miu also is likely to expand its presence in Singapore and Taiwan. In most cases, Prada is either already in a market Miu Miu plans to enter or has concrete plans to enter it as well. This year, the Prada brand will open its second Kuala Lumpur location at the new Pavilion shopping mall. Still, Suhl insists Prada is not used to test markets before Miu Miu opens its own shops. "In Asia, customers and the press have understood that Miu Miu is a brand on its own. Part of that is the new concept we launched. Hong Kong is a great case in point. We have four really prime locations that are performing far beyond our expectations — ours and the landlords'," he said.

Any expansion, however, demands cash, which makes the much-anticipated, thrice-delayed launch of Prada Group's initial public offering that much more compelling. Prada Group spokesman Tomaso Galli said plans are moving ahead, albeit with an eye on the market. "In 2008 there are two windows of opportunity — the earliest one is in June-July and the other is in October-November," said Galli. "We said that, when we get closer to the date, we would evaluate if one of those two windows presents a good opportunity. So, we still haven't set a specific time for the IPO; it very much depends on market conditions."

While he declined to be more specific about timing, it's clear the group would like to go ahead in order to raise capital for its future growth in countries like China. "It's a good opportunity to take advantage of the momentum that all of our brands are having — obviously, if we want to further this expansion and development, we will need resources, and an IPO would give us resources to really invest even more than what we do now," said Galli. "But we're not forced to do it if the markets are in such a situation that it wouldn't be advisable. We're under no pressure at all."Industry sources valued Prada at an estimated 4 billion to 5 billion euros, or $5.91 billion to $7.39 billion, at current exchange.

When pressed to evaluate market conditions, Galli replied: "The good thing is that, just as all of the optimism two months ago was too early, all the pessimism now is also too early. We'll see what happens in the next two months. Well go on, we'll do the work and we'll see," he said.

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