By  on December 22, 2006

Valentino is?moving?north?and South.

The U.S. division of the Italian fashion house has implemented several initiatives to give the brand a presence in Canada and Mexico. Graziano de Boni, president and chief executive officer of Valentino North America, said the company's U.S. business is developing at a healthy clip, particularly in women's wear and women's accessories, and he felt the time was ripe to widen the reach.

"We are ready now to tackle some other markets that are on our radar," he said. "Both these economies have been thriving, and there's a growing appetite for the luxury market, and still an underrepresentation of luxury brands."

In Canada, Valentino is already sold in two doors at Holt Renfrew and a slew of smaller specialty stores. The company has set up an office in Toronto, and hired a local sales manager and public relations and marketing manager to run it.

"We want to play a significant role as a local player, not just as an importer," de Boni noted, adding that he eventually envisions a freestanding Valentino store in Toronto. "Once the wholesale starts to max out, it makes sense to have your own stores."

In Mexico, the company is pursuing a different strategy. Last fall, Valentino signed an agreement with a subsidiary of Grupo ECE, which also distributes brands such as Etro and Emporio Armani there. Until now, Valentino had little representation in the country, and it was mostly focused on men's wear. De Boni said that the plan is to expand the wholesale network, particularly in resort areas for stores that are heavily geared toward accessories. The group also will be in charge of the designer's first store there, slated to open on Mexico City's upscale Presidente Masaryk Boulevard next fall.

"Our intention is to develop women's wear and accessories," he said. "The interesting thing about Mexico is that, in addition to the high-end department store El Palacio de Hierro, next fall Saks is opening its first store in Mexico City. That will start to create some local competition and create an opportunity for brands to expand their distribution in these markets."

Valentino operates seven freestanding stores in the U.S. "We're halfway there," de Boni said. "We're looking at opportunities to open stores in such markets as Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco. We can probably go up to 10 to 15 stores in the U.S."He added that the timing of these openings depends on the availability of real estate in top locations, though Dallas is most likely going to be open by the end of 2007.

Meanwhile, the company also is developing the M Missoni brand, which is licensed to the Valentino Fashion Group, formerly Marzotto. The brand, priced well below the Missoni brand, has recently experienced a revival steered by Angela Missoni. M Missoni's first company-owned unit worldwide, on West Broadway in Manhattan's SoHo, opened last May. The plan is to add at least three freestanding stores next year, on the East and West Coasts and in the Sunbelt, and de Boni is looking into cities like Nashville, Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta and New Orleans for expansion.

M Missoni had worldwide wholesale sales of $45 million in 2005, with the U.S. wholesale market representing 45 percent of sales. In the U.S., the line is sold at stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and about 120 specialty shops. The company also just started selling M Missoni at Bloomingdale's with a shop-in-shop at the new unit in San Francisco.

"We are negotiating for a few [freestanding retail] locations," di Boni said. "Today, the customers in those regions are as savvy as everywhere else, because of the access of information, but they are lacking in availability. Opening our own stores is also an important vehicle to gain more knowledge through direct contact with the consumers."

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