By  on May 15, 2008

Hennes & Mauritz has kicked off a growth spurt in the Atlanta metropolitan area that will give it four stores in the region, including a 20,000-square-foot flagship, by the end of the year. They are H&M's first units in the Southeast.

The Swedish fast-fashion giant launched the series of openings on Thursday at North Point Mall in the affluent suburb of Alpharetta, Ga., about 20 miles north of downtown Atlanta. The 7,900-square-foot unit caters to suburban moms and daughters, offering only women's and young women's separates, dresses and accessories.

Although the squeeze on consumers makes this a challenging time for retailers, "The economy is not affecting our growth because we finance our expansion, and we're not invested in only one area," an H&M spokeswoman said. "We've been through downturns in other areas for 10 years and come through it. It's important to have market penetration and stay balanced."

Next up is the flagship, which is set to launch in June at Atlantic Station, a mixed-use retail and residential development in Atlanta's Midtown district that will offer the chain's full line.

Designated as one of 11 flagships in the U.S., where H.M. has 250 stores, the Midtown unit will offer women's, men's, children's, accessories and lingerie. Atlantic Station will be the only Atlanta store to offer Pink Label, H&M's trendiest women's collection, as well as any designer collaborations, such as past collections by Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and Roberto Cavalli.

Two more stores, one at Town Center Cobb, a suburban mall 15 miles northwest of Atlanta, and another in the Mall of Georgia, in Buford, Ga., 30 miles northeast of the city, will open this fall, similar in size and format to the store unveiled Thursday.

Since launching its first U.S. unit in New York in 2000, H&M first expanded around the New York area, then Boston and Chicago before moving into California and Las Vegas. H&M now has stores in 19 states.

"Atlanta customers have been asking about H&M for many years, and we can finally say that we've arrived," said Sanna Lindberg, U.S. country manager.About 400 people lined up for the grand opening, a few as early as Wednesday night. The first 200 customers received gift cards valued from $10 to $200, and two won a styling session with celebrity stylist Robert Verdi, who helped host the event.

Verdi said his favorite store items were shirtdresses, "anything with bows," brightly colored halters, crocheted dresses and hair accessories, most under $30.

H&M plans a total of 15 U.S. store openings by the end of this year. The retailer has about 1,500 stores in 28 countries.

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