By  on September 19, 2005

HOUSTON — With the Giorgio Armani label in all its forms firmly planted in the psyche of the shopping elite, the luxury clothier is seeking to expand its empire to include new stores, accessories and furniture.

The opening of the 5,000-square-foot Armani Black Label store in the Houston Galleria features the brand's new interior design plan, which includes specially fitted pleated linen walls and a multi-paneled mirrored ceiling. The ceiling design originated in Armani's Shanghai store in 2003 and will soon be reproduced in other Armani store locations.

Gaetano Sallorenzo, vice president of sales and marketing for Armani, who attended the opening and party, said the timing and location made Houston the right place to unveil the new look and merchandise.

"Houston is one of the most important markets in the designer business, and with our different brands already in Houston, it was the right combination of elements" Sallorenzo said.

The sleek store, accented by black and chrome, sits on a busy corner along The Galleria's "million-dollar mile," so-named for the luxury retailers on it, including Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Once home to the Emporio Armani boutique, 85 percent of the store's merchandise is now dedicated to the Black Label line, the most expensive of the clothing the designer sells.

Women's ready-to-wear starts at $500 and escalates to $25,000 for eveningwear. Men's ready-to-wear starts at $600 and men's made-to-measure suiting runs between $5,000 and $7,000.

The perimeter of the store is focused on accessories for men and women, including shoes, purses, sunglasses and jewelry. Racks suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the store hold the men's and women's clothing.

While nurturing younger shoppers at Armani Exchange, Sallorenzo said, the company wants to take devoted shoppers right on up the Armani ladder.

"The Armani Exchange label is a young, hip, price-conscious shopper who will grow into Emporio customers," he said. "Over the years these customers develop an attitude, an emotional attachment to the label. There are a lot of logos out there, but we are a label. We make a fashion statement with very high quality. You can't rely on a logo, but you can rely on the Armani label."The Casa Armani home furnishings line, which is at the top of the company's priorities list, includes streamlined, modern furniture, accessories and cool-toned linens. The collection launched in 2000.

There are two Casa Armani furniture stores in the U.S., one in Los Angeles and the other in New York, but Sallorenzo said that will soon change. Although Armani will not be opening dedicated furniture stores around the country, it will be a partner with stores that share the same vision.

"We work with the top furniture stores in America — beautiful, modern stores that fit our style," Sallorenzo said. "The Casa Armani collection will be available in these stores, in a space of its own." In Houston, the Casa Armani collection is available at Kuhl-Linscomb.

Next, the company has its eyes set on growing in Atlanta, a city that fits the Armani criteria: wealthy, young and interested in fashion, Sallorenzo said.

"We have plenty of customers out there who enjoy our aesthetic," he said.

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