By  on June 15, 2007

NEW YORK — When Wolford opens a 700-square-foot store at the Shops at Columbus Circle in the Time Warner Center in September, ready-to-wear will have a position of prominence at the front of the store.

The Austrian high-end hosiery firm, which hired Ronald van de Kemp as creative director in February, has been diversifying its assortment. "Rtw will take up some of the best space in the whole shop," said Michael Hatch, president of Wolford North America. "This is a large store for us. The store will really be the showcase for the new direction of the brand, which is beginning to show more rtw in the assortment."

Wolford, which will replace a Calvin Klein Underwear store, fits the Shops' objective of bringing more fashion retailers to the center. "This is the tip of the iceberg," said Webber Hudson, executive vice president of Related Urban Development, which owns the Shops at Columbus Circle. "[Fashion] is a very important component. I've been meeting with a number of well-regarded luxury brands."

J. Crew is interested in expanding, Hudson noted, adding, "We're playing with ideas on how to find something to offer their Crew Cuts kids' brand."

The new Wolford unit will be an example of the company's latest prototype — a modern, white, well-lit space that puts the focus on the products. For fall, those include dresses in natural fibers, soft jackets, loungewear and leather handbags and belts. "Our intention is to fully outfit our client," said Hatch. "She is becoming more lifestyle [oriented] and less focused on a single category."

Hatch said Wolford was underdistributed in New York. "This is a big step for us on the West Side," he added. "Historically, we've been on the East Side. As we evolve the rtw, we'll have to look at bigger spaces."

Productivity is a key criteria for the Shops at Columbus Circle in choosing tenants. "We've hit the $1,500-per-square-foot mark and this is our third year of double-digit sales increases," Hudson said. "That puts us in the same company as the Ala Moana Center [in Honolulu] and The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace [in Las Vegas]."Focusing on tourists continues to contribute to the Shops' success. "There's a huge opportunity to increase our business with tourists," Hudson said. "We've grown from tourists comprising 25 percent of our business a year and a half ago to 33 percent today. That number should get to around 50-50."

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel at the Time Warner Center, the Shops and high-end restaurants such as Per Se have proven that "people are not only willing to go to the West Side, they're willing to pay top dollar for it," Hudson said.

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