By  on April 6, 2006

MILAN — Hugo Boss AG opens a women's wear store here today, the latest step in the German company's strategy to win over female shoppers.

After a botched debut in women's apparel in 2001, Boss has reclaimed lost territory in the segment, achieving double-digit growth over the past few years. Women's wear sales in 2005 grew 38 percent, and chief executive officer Bruno Sälzer said the company's women's wear volume should gain another 40 percent this year to reach 135 million euros, or $164.7 million at current exchange.

“We had a difficult start for a couple of reasons,” Sälzer said in a phone interview from Boss headquarters in Metzingen, Germany. He said the company has since improved its fit, fabric quality and delivery times.

“I personally don't think it was a bad women's line. It just wasn't a line women expect from Hugo Boss,” he said. “Now women tell us [our] fit is much better than at the beginning.”

Sälzer said Boss has crossover appeal to women since so many of them are already shopping its stores for their boyfriends and husbands.

The store here is the fifth of the company's boutiques dedicated exclusively to women's apparel. There are three in Canada, two in Toronto and one in Vancouver. The fourth boutique opened last week in Geneva. Sälzer said the company plans to open another five women's stores by the end of the year. A Newport Beach, Calif., unit will open this fall, the first freestanding store on U.S. soil.

But Boss's women's wear presence doesn't end with that dedicated retail channel. The company sells its women's lines — specifically, its more formal Boss Black collection, its trendier Boss Orange line and its fashion-forward Hugo collection — in the corners of some of its men's stores.

About 62 percent of the brand's women's wear sales are at Hugo Boss's fully owned or franchised stores. The remainder of the business is wholesale, through 750 doors in 62 countries. There are 100 points of sale in the U.S., including Macy's, Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor.

Sales of women's wear totaled 95.7 million euros, or $119.63 million, last year, which was 7.3 percent of Boss's 1.31 billion euros, or $1.64 billion, in consolidated sales. Sälzer reiterated the company's goal to expand women's wear sales to 30 percent of total revenues by 2013.The ceo said the company's wide range of women's apparel and accessories makes Hugo Boss a viable competitor with brands as varied as Giorgio Armani, Max Mara and Theory in apparel, and Prada, Gucci and Coach in accessories.

Still, many retail prices in the store here are lower than those of many designer brands. At Boss Orange, a cotton skirt costs about 219 euros, or $267, while a silk bomber jacket fetches 400 euros, or $488. A silk skirt in the Boss Black collection costs 364 euros, or $444, and an embroidered floral coat sells for as much as 1,126 euros, or $1,373. Handbags at both labels run an average 300 euros, or $366.

The store here is the biggest women's outlet yet, covering more than 4,000 square feet, 3,000 of which is selling space. It sells Boss Black and Boss Orange, and accessories from both labels. Boss produces 80 percent of its leather goods in-house through factories in Italy and Poland.

In-house architects designed the store. True to the existing retail concept, it has a light and airy feel, with beige and white walls, pale stone floors and blushed-steel accents. The Orange and Black collections share dedicated space on both floors.

The store is located on Corso Matteotti 8, a busy downtown street that's home to Brooks Bros., Calvin Klein Collection and Escada stores. Jil Sander, Jimmy Choo and Burberry are also in the neighborhood.

About two years ago, Hugo Boss dedicated a corner in its men's store here to women's apparel. It has been shut, now that the women's store is open. Mario Birocchi, managing director of Hugo Boss Italy, said accessories, jersey knits, shirts and pants sold particularly well there.

“The success convinced me that we should open an exclusively women's store here,” he said.

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