By  on December 31, 2009

CHICAGO — As part of its ongoing expansion plan, Culti, the Italian design, beauty and spa brand, has unveiled its first U.S. location here.

Culti’s founder, Alessandro Agrati, said he believes the 1,100-square-foot boutique in the Windy City just off Michigan Avenue provides a perfect test market for the lifestyle brand, which spans several categories from fragrance and beauty products to clothing, furniture and interior design.

“It’s the best possibility in the beginning,” Agrati said of the Chicago location, which opened quietly on Black Friday.

“In our opinion it’s a very American city,” seemingly less international than New York and less Hollywood than Los Angeles, U.S. general manager Roberto Bevilacqua added, noting that if Culti can understand and resonate with clients in Chicago, he believes the company can succeed in other U.S. markets.

At the same time, Culti is scouting sites in New York, Los Angeles and Miami while reaching out to American spas and hotels in regard to carrying Culti products or striking potential partnerships.

The Milan-based company, which also operates a day spa and restaurants in Italy, also has its sights set on expanding further in Europe. In 2010, Culti plans to open a store in London, which will join flagships in Milan and Saint Moritz. Paris and Capri are also on the company’s radar for future stores.

Although Culti’s Chicago address is 840 North Michigan Avenue, it shares a building with Escada and H&M and its entrance is actually around the corner along Chestnut Street, a side street to the Magnificent Mile. Inside, the intimate Chicago location strikes a modern, clean, understated vibe featuring Culti products — from custom-order Culti sofas averaging $2,000 to $3,000 (the in-store sofa was covered in a mocha-colored cotton and linen blend fabric) to $45 candles and leather accessories starting at $80. Price points range from $40 for a home fragrance spray to $4,358 for a handwoven cashmere blanket.

Interestingly, Agrati launched Culti almost 20 years ago with home fragrance diffusers (the now-trendy glass flacons with wooden sticks). They were an instant hit then and remain one of Culti’s top sellers, priced at $95 and $155 in Chicago.

Perfumes running from $100 to $160, cashmere and silk scarves for $200 and pure cashmere stoles starting at $800 were also well received by customers at the Chicago store, where it is estimated that 2010 annual sales will be $1.5 million.

The store, which opened with no local press coverage, advertising or opening party attracted a fair amount of traffic from the start, Bevilacqua said, with new customers quickly connecting with the brand.

“In Europe, they try to understand [the brand and its products] and then they buy,” he said. “In Chicago, they immediately bought products. I was surprised.” And despite it being Black Friday, “no one asked about clearance or sales.”

Overall, Culti’s total retail sales hit 7.5 million euros, or $11 million at average exchange, in 2008, a 25 percent increase from 2007. A further 3.5 million euros, or $5.1 million, in Culti’s revenues last year came from interior design contracts.

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