By  on March 10, 2005

NEW YORK — Puma has been steadily building up its fashion business in recent years, and now the company has opened its first store devoted exclusively to its sport lifestyle products.

The 2,000-square-foot boutique is located at 421 West 14th Street in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. It showcases apparel, footwear and accessories from its higher-end labels, including the Neil Barrett-designed 96 Hours, Nuala by Christy Turlington, Mihara by Japanese designer Mihara Yasuhiro and the vintage-inspired Rudolf Dassler line produced in conjunction with Dutch designer Alexander van Slobbe, along with the new Philippe Starck collection of footwear.

“This store is meant to be a place where we can showcase our sport fashion collections and microconcepts,” said Antonio Bertone, Puma’s global director of brand management. “We will have a lot of special one-off items in this store and it’s designed to be a lab where we can experiment with new ideas.”

The store has an open and airy feel, with sporty touches such as movable racks with big wheels that were designed by a Boston-area bicycle manufacturer. The footwear section in the back of the store is built like bleachers with ascending steps. The dressing room is located behind that area, with one wall designed with a special mesh fabric so that customers feel as if they are underneath the bleachers, Bertone noted. Bags and some footwear hang from the ceiling attached by nylon straps and carabiners, tools used by rock climbers.

“We wanted the design to be uncluttered with nothing touching the floor,” said store manager Thomas Trube.

On one wall is a graphic screen showing continuous images of ad campaigns for the lines sold at the store and each of the logos for the collections are subtly portrayed in large graphics on another wall. The store has a small black Puma sign on the front door with the panther logo and is differentiated by a black logo, as opposed to the usual red Puma logo, Trube said.

Most of the apparel and footwear retails for about $100 to $300 and these offerings are skewed toward a slightly older customer than the traditional line, Bertone noted. The store doesn’t carry any offerings from the core Puma brand.The new Puma store is located between the Alexander McQueen and Ten Thousand Things boutiques on 14th street in what has become a major fashion neighborhood. On the same block are Jeffrey and La Perla, among a number of other fashion stores.

“This is the right location for this store,” Bertone added. “It’s at the corner of the ‘It’ neighborhood in fashion and it takes Puma into a new context.”

He declined to give sales projections for the store, but said the sport lifestyle area is “extremely important” for the company now. The German giant, which recently reported global sales in 2004 of about $2 billion, has been steadily building its nonperformance offerings in recent years and a new showroom devoted to its sport-fashion collection division opened last year and is across the street from the new store. Puma has a number of stores around the world for its core collection, including about 25 in the U.S.

Bertone said other collaborative deals are in the works. He stressed that, while these are not performance collections, sports elements are incorporated into this store and into these lines. The 96 Hours spring line, for example, has a motocross theme.

“Sport is part of people’s lives and we are a sport lifestyle company,” Bertone added. “We see people overlapping what they wear for sport and street.”

Other traditional sports companies in recent years have been linking up with big-name designers and celebrities to build their brand in new directions. Adidas is now working with Stella McCartney, Yohji Yamamoto and Missy Elliott, while Reebok has inked deals with musicians Jay-Z and 50 Cent.

The Puma store opened quietly in mid-February and will be feted with a giant party next week, and advertisements for the store will begin appearing around the city in April, said Trube. Another sport lifestyle location is slated to open in the Georgetown area of Washington before the end of the year.

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