By  on July 29, 2008

TOKYO — Jimmy Choo opened its biggest store in Japan on Saturday, bringing its sexy stilettos and leather goods to this city’s most exclusive and expensive shopping neighborhood.

“We’ve been looking for the right location in Ginza for some time now and this has always been a plan for Jimmy Choo to have a flagship presence in Tokyo,” the company’s chief executive Joshua Schulman said in an interview at the store’s opening, extolling the neighborhood’s increasingly eclectic drawing power.

Testament to the fact that Ginza isn’t just luxury retail turf, Hennes & Mauritz chose the district for its first Japanese store to open this September, while Abercrombie & Fitch plans to open a flagship in the area next year. “We think that Hennes & Mauritz and Abercrombie & Fitch will add a new element to the area and the more people that come through just make it a more vibrant mix,” said Schulman.

The Choo flagship, which extends over more than 1,700 square feet on two levels, is located on a small side street near Chanel’s original Ginza store (not to be confused with the French brand’s megatower), as well as outposts for Dolce & Gabbana and Ermenegildo Zegna. The new Gucci and Giorgio Armani flagships are also nearby.

The Ginza flagship is the latest product of Choo’s global retail push. This year, the company is opening 21 doors, lifting its store count to 82 by year’s end. The new outposts include Manchester, England; Munich; Doha, Qatar; Macau; Rome, and a second Paris store on Rue Saint-Honoré. As for Japan, next month Jimmy Choo will open a shop-in-shop at Tokyo’s Seibu in Ikebukuro and come September, it will open its first store in Kobe.

The new store, Choo’s sixth in Japan, features the brand’s global store concept of neutral beige interiors, satin boiserie wall paneling, daintily curved seats and crystal drop chandeliers. Handbags, small leather goods and the brand’s recently launched eyewear collection are just as present — if not more so — than footwear in the new store. For every pair of strappy stilettos or fringed boots, there’s a slouchy Saba bag or a crocodile clutch.

“Since the launch of the brand in Japan several years ago, the range of product has evolved so much,” Schulman said. The executive noted Choo’s global business is about60 percent shoes and 40 percent leather goods and accessories, but it’s closer to a 50-50 breakdown in Asia, where the brand is more of a luxury newcomer.“We were born in Europe and America as a shoe brand and we entered Asia as a shoe and handbag brand…so the perception is a little different,” said Schulman, who joined Choo about a year ago after serving as president of Kenneth Cole New York and holding various executive posts at the Gap Inc. and Gucci Group.

Although Schulman declined to discuss sales figures, he said Choo’s business in Japan “continues to grow year on year” despite the overall weakness of the luxury goods market here. As a smaller brand, Choo has more growing room than more established competitors, he said.

“We’re probably taking market share from other people,” he concluded.

Choo’s sales rose 28 percent last year to 85.7 million pounds, or about $171.3 million at average exchange rates. The company, which Towerbrook Capital Partners bought in 2007, declined to release sales forecast for the current year, but a spokeswoman said Choois “experiencing robust growth in 2008.”

While both Salvatore Ferragamo and Bally have decided to cut some retail prices in Japan to combat the strength of the euro and jump-start sales, Schulman said that is not the plan at Choo. Instead, the company is focusing on having a pyramid of price points, ranging from a 38,000 yen pair of sunglasses to a 2.6 million yen Saba handbag in crocodile. In dollars, that would be $352.55 for the glasses and $24,122 for the bag. “It’s really about having a range,” he said, adding Choo will launch its first fragrance next year.

In terms of other product extensions, Schulman said the firm is focusing on accessories, so a ready-to-wear collection isn’t in the pipeline. He was less categorical when asked about branching out into jewelry and watches. “There’s nothing that I can announce right now, but we’re looking at different opportunities. Like I said, [Jimmy Choo president and founder Tamara Mellon’s] vision is to really fully accessorize the woman, and we’re being very deliberate about each category we add,” Schulman said. “We’re very pleased with the response to the sunglasses so far and we think that the success we’re having there really sets us up for success in other categories.”

The executive said the brand’s new Ginza unit, the site of a former jewelry store, will allow Choo to show Japanese customers the broadest possible spectrum of its product range. That said, he’s keeping his sense of humor and modesty when comparing the store to the $37.8 million Armani tower a few blocks away.“I can’t release what the investment was here, but I think it is safe to say it is smaller,” he laughed.

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