By  on August 9, 2006

NEW YORK — Abercrombie & Fitch is flying high on Fifth Avenue and now the retailer wants to duplicate the shopping experience in Tokyo.

The youth specialty retailer is searching for a flagship site in the Ginza or Omotesando sections of Tokyo, and for a local manager to supervise future A&F stores in Japan.

Unlike other U.S. retailers such as Gap, Polo and Wal-Mart, which are moving fast on the international arena, Abercrombie & Fitch is dipping its toes. A flagship in London, at 7 Burlington Gardens, is set for a spring opening, but no other overseas sites have been announced.

"It is a very cautious approach. The pace is very deliberate," said Francesco Giannaccari, president of international operations at Abercrombie & Fitch. "It's quite a significant effort to open a store first in London and then in Japan. We want to deliver the best experience for our customers, to have the same excellent standards we maintain in the States."

The Japan manager will report to Giannaccari, who joined in February 2005 to launch the European operations for Abercrombie & Fitch and last fall was given broader responsibilities for all international operations.

The plan is to establish a legal entity in Japan, rather than franchising or forming partnerships or joint ventures, and start a chain first with a multilevel Tokyo unit of more than 20,000 square feet that the retailer hopes will open in the fall of 2008. "We are looking at one location to start with and then we will eventually look at other locations," Giannaccari said.

"It would be very easy to go out and partner or license the brand to someone in Japan. That's not something we would ever entertain, the reason being that the in-store experience in London and Tokyo needs to be exactly as it is in the U.S. to make sure every detail is exactly right," added Tom Lennox, vice president of corporate communications. "We are a classic American brand. The face of the brand has always been masculine, and American, and all of this strategy will remain consistent."

He said a Tokyo flagship would be based on the Fifth Avenue prototype opened last year, where Abercrombie has become somewhat of a phenomenon, with its bare-chested male models; dark, moody interiors; high-volume music, and constant crowds.Internally, the strategy for A&F overseas has been strongly debated, leading to the departure of some key executives, including the former Japan head, Toshiaki Tashiro, who was dismissed last November. "He wasn't the right fit," said a source.

Robert Singer, former president and chief operating officer, left the company a year ago because of differences in the timing and extent of an international expansion with Abercrombie chief executive officer Mike Jeffries. A&F always has been mall-based, but last year launched a strategy to open flagships on high-profile, high-rent avenues, suitable for both domestic and overseas cities.

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