By  on January 24, 2006

LONDON — Jimmy Choo Ltd. is setting out to conquer the East.

The London-based brand, which this year is celebrating a decade in the ready-to-wear shoe and accessories business, has just inked a distribution agreement in India and formed a retail joint venture in Japan.

"As we consolidate our business in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe, we are moving east," said Robert Bensoussan, chief executive of Jimmy Choo, in an exclusive interview.

Jimmy Choo, whose sales reached $100 million last year, has signed a long-term agreement with the Murjani Group, which also distributes the Tommy Hilfiger brand in the Indian market. Under the terms of the deal, Jimmy Choo will open seven stores, each one a minimum of 500 square feet, over the next five years. The first will open in New Delhi at the end of this year.

"For us, India is a more interesting market than China right now," Bensoussan said. "The Indian women are sophisticated and aware of fashion, and English is their language. They have money to spend, and they are independent.

"The Indian market may not be ready right now for luxury clothing, but it's certainly ready for accessories," Bensoussan added.

China, on the other hand, is a more male-dominated society, he said. "The men are the ones with the money, so with regard to men's wear, business is great. The women's business is still a work in progress," he said.

In Japan, Jimmy Choo has formed Jimmy Choo Tokyo K.K., which it owns jointly with Bluebell Japan Ltd. Bensoussan said he chose Bluebell because the company already is working with it in Hong Kong.

Jimmy Choo will open its first freestanding boutique in Japan next month in Omotesando in Tokyo. The long-term goal of the joint venture is to create a network of shop-in-shops in department stores, as well as freestanding boutiques. As in India, all the stores will be a minimum of 500 square feet.

But the company is not only expanding in India and Japan. This year, Jimmy Choo plans to open 14 units, which will bring its number of stores worldwide to 50.Five of the new stores will be in the U.S., in San Francisco; Boston; Las Vegas; Miami; Bal Harbour, Fla., and Hawaii. By the end of the year, the brand will have 18 stores in America, all of them directly owned.

Jimmy Choo also plans to open units in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, South Korea, Indonesia and Hong Kong, with plans in the works for stores in Istanbul; Kiev, Ukraine, and Mexico City, most of them franchises.

Thanks in part to the rollout program, Bensoussan estimates the company's sales will rise 30 percent this year compared with last year. "Our ambition is to turn Jimmy Choo into a $200 million company very fast," he said.

Currently, footwear generates 65 percent of revenue at Jimmy Choo, with the remaining 35 percent coming from bags and small accessories.

Bensoussan called the company's new owners "very supportive." The European private equity firm Lion Capital, formerly known as Hicks Muse, bought a majority stake in Choo in November 2004 in a deal valuing the company at 101 million pounds, or $178 million.

Tamara Mellon, president and founder of Jimmy Choo Ltd., retains a minority stake in the company, as do Bensoussan and other directors.

Bensoussan added that, by the end of the first quarter, Jimmy Choo plans to reveal details of its first online boutique, which, he says, embodies a unique concept.

The company continues to work on a series of brand extensions, the latest of which is loafers and other flat shoes and boots for the weekend wardrobe.

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