By  on July 5, 2007

There's no question the contemporary market is booming. And for those designers riding the wave, expansion means not only launching new product categories, but opening their own stores on a worldwide scale.

"For me, I want to open stores in cities that I personally like to visit," said Nanette Lepore, who plans to open units in Chicago at 1625 North Damen Avenue; in Chevy Chase, Md., at 5449 Wisconsin Avenue, and a second Los Angeles store, at 8420 Melrose Avenue — joining her six shops already in operation. The designer's Las Vegas location in the city's Forum Shops remains her best-performing one, bringing in well over $2 million in sales per year.

"We do really great business in our stores and we always get good feedback from our customers, which really does help us," said Lepore.

To go with the planned openings, Lepore said she had begun working with Chandelier, a New York branding firm, to revamp the company's logo and Web site. Lepore said that project should be ready by September.

"It's time for the brand to grow up and modernize," Lepore said. "We've had the same look for a very long time."

Lepore said the Chevy Chase store, which should open in November, would have a shoe salon selling her newly expanded line of footwear. The only other store that has the salon is the London location in Notting Hill.

"The stores have been a great testing ground for us and a place where we can create more special pieces," she said.

After these stores open in the fall, Lepore said she would begin looking for sites in San Francisco and Dallas. She would also like to open a store in Dublin, where she has started scouting for space. And Lepore said she was looking for partners in Asia and in the Middle East to open stores there. Eventually, the designer said, she would like to open stores throughout Europe.

Betsey Johnson is also expanding through freestanding retail. The designer already operates 50 stores worldwide, but a year ago signed a five-year deal with U International Office Co. Ltd. to open 10 stores throughout Japan. The first, which opened last month, in Saitama City, is 950 square feet. The store sells the entire Betsey Johnson product range, including apparel, intimates, handbags, belts, cold weather accessories, eyewear, watches and jewelry.All the stores in Japan will look like those already in operation, with signature pink walls, black-and-white checkerboard floors, the designer's eye-catching artwork set in ornate frames, a pink rose-printed couch and shiny, gold fixtures.

"We have been impressed with the professionalism of U International and their understanding of how to successfully grow the brand in Japan,'' said Chantal Bacon, Johnson's business partner. "They believed in the brand from the very beginning and now, after only one year, [we] are opening the first Betsey Johnson store in Japan."

By fall, four more stores are scheduled to open in the country, including three in Tokyo — in Shibuya Parco, Ginza Printemps and Shinjuku Lumine — and one in Nagoya Takashimaya.

Having already expanded internationally with 150 stores operated through licensing deals, Jill Stuart now plans to take on the U.S. The company opened its first American store 10 years ago in New York's SoHo and had planned to open more nationally. Then, according to Ron Curtis, Stuart's husband and company president, they put the plans on hold — until now.

"We've had growth plans for the U.S. for a long time, but our sales in Asia have been two times as much as they were here," she said, "so we grew there first and then came back here."

In May, the company opened its second U.S. store, in East Hampton, N.Y., at 62 The Circle. The 1,500-square-foot boutique houses the brand's seasonal collection as well as the expanded accessories line of signature handbags and shoes. The store also will carry the lower-priced contemporary line Jill, which is being launched this fall.

"The East Hampton venue is a natural fit and progression for the brand," Stuart said. "Here we can create the appropriate environment and setting for the evolution of our collections and cater to women of distinctive style. I can't think of a more appropriate site for our newest store."

Following the opening of the East Hampton boutique, Curtis said he was already on the hunt for more locations. He said he planned to open 30 stores in the U.S. over the next two years. While leases have yet to be signed, Curtis said the expansion was expected to include retail outlets in Los Angeles and Chicago.

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