By  on October 2, 2008

LONDON — Of all the challenges facing Jimmy Choo, the biggest is probably this: feeding a voracious clientele, even with some major economies struggling.

This week, the company opened a second Paris store, on the Rue Saint-Honoré and, at 1,600 square feet, the shop is even bigger than the first, on Avenue Montaigne. Across the Channel, Middle Eastern clientele at Choo’s London stores rose 146 percent during the month of August, and in the U.S., the brand is the top-selling women’s designer footwear label at Nordstrom with consistent year-on-year increases.

Although Choo has always been a strong seller at retail — it consistently has been one of Net-a-Porter.com’s top-performing brands since 1999 — the company is only now beginning to behave like a power brand. Chief executive Joshua Schulman and president and creative director Tamara Mellon have begun tapping into the underexploited European market with new stores, burnishing the brand’s image and revving up the fashion content of the designs.

And their work appears to be paying off: While they declined to comment on the brand’s projected sales, industry sources said they will reach 110 million pounds, or $202 million at current exchange, in 2008, a 29 percent rise over last year.

The Paris store is the latest example of the new-and-improved Choo: It has a VIP area, more space to showcase a wider range of merchandise, and is in the heart of the city’s fashion quarter — near Colette, the Ritz, the Costes and a Roberto Cavalli flagship under construction.

“If you’re staying at the Ritz, it’s the first store you see when you walk out in the morning, and the last one you see at night. It was our missing jewel,” said Schulman during an interview with Mellon at the brand’s new headquarters off Kensington Church Street here.

“The city needed a second store, and we’d been looking for three years for the right space,” said Mellon, adding the company was often asked to shut the Avenue Montaigne store for private clients or royal families, one of the reasons for the VIP room in the new unit.

France is now the brand’s second-largest market after the U.K. Choo also has a store in Cannes, which opened earlier this year, and concessions at Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.

Paris is also the latest in an aggressive retail strategy set out by Schulman to bulk up Choo’s presence in Europe. “The results of that strategy are now coming to life,” he said. To wit, over the past year the company has opened units in Rome, Munich, Barcelona and at Selfridges in Manchester, England.

Outside Europe, other Jimmy Choo stores have opened in cities including Macau, Beijing, Tokyo and Los Angeles. Over the next few months, and into 2009, openings are planned in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Hong Kong International Airport and Hong Kong’s Elements shopping mall.

Schulman said business was booming both in the Middle East and Japan, where the company’s base is still small.

Alongside the retail rollout, Schulman and Mellon have been making the brand more retailer- and consumer-friendly. They’ve upped the number of annual collections to six, adding an edgy catwalk capsule line, as well as pre-fall and cruise collections.

“The pre-collections are bigger than ever, and in some cases they are as big as the main collections,” said Schulman.

There is now a Jimmy Choo magazine that comes out four times a year to coincide with the main and mid-season collections. The magazines’ photographs and images are similar to the ones in the store windows, and the Web site.

“It’s about tying all the pieces together, using a consistent visual language to create a bigger impact on the consumer,” Schulman said. Terry Richardson has shot the fall 2008, cruise 2009 and upcoming spring 2009 campaigns, all featuring Angela Lindvall.

Mellon said they’ve also taken the opportunity — in the magazine and in the showrooms worldwide — to style the collection’s shoes and bags in their own way. “It’s a chance for us to show how we visualize the collections,” she said.

The brand will launch an enhanced Web site and global e-commerce platform in February. The improved site will have a video component, upgraded imagery, and will tie in with the magazine, advertising images and store windows.

On the product front, the first Jimmy Choo fragrance will launch in 2009, and a sunglasses line bowed this year. The company is also expanding its range of small leather goods and more casual, weekend accessories.

But growth and change at Choo isn’t limited to the business end. Retailers say the company has been evolving by leaps and bounds on the creative side.

“The company has gotten very aggressive with its new designs, and they continue to elevate the design, develop heels and overall construction of the shoes,” said Ron Frasch, president and chief merchandising officer of Saks Fifth Avenue. “They are a very big, important business for us.”

Natalie Massenet, chairman and founder of Net-a-porter, said while Choo used to be best known as a luxury shoe brand, it’s become more fashion-forward as well over the past three to four seasons.

Bestsellers include a pair of $1,295 zip-front stilettos that were sold out by Sept. 1, the $2,000 Bill Boots with beaded fringes, the Lohla-Jayne tote bag, whose prices start at $1,595 for a smaller style in nappa or patent leather and rise to $4,995 for a larger bag in python, and the opening-price weekend flats that start at $415.

Retailers are not the only ones that recognize the growing value of the brand. Industry sources said Jimmy Choo is among the British Fashion Council’s nominees for its Brand of the Year award, which will be presented in November. Also, Choo will receive the Brand of the Year award at the annual Accessories Council Excellence Awards in November.

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