By  on March 5, 2009

PARIS — How’s this for conceptual: Despite a grim economic climate, Martin Margiela’s freestanding stores and corners in Paris logged a 21 percent sales increase in January versus a year ago.

On average, sales in Margiela’s 35 shops and corners around the world posted a January bump north of 10 percent.

It’s a sign of continued, albeit tempered, momentum for the iconoclastic men’s and women’s wear designer, who celebrated 20 years in fashion last fall amid wide speculation he was walking off into the sunset.

“He’s still in his position,” assured Margiela chief executive Giovanni Pungetti, while disclosing the Belgian designer has recently reduced his day-to-day involvement and is now rarely spotted in the company’s rickety, all-white hallways. “He’s not here eight hours a day.”

Asked if Margiela would be backstage at his women’s fall fashion show on Friday, the ceo shrugged, “I don’t know. Sometimes he is, sometimes not.”

In an interview in his office at Margiela’s quirky headquarters, his desk a thick pane of glass laid over two sawhorses, Pungetti said the company would continue to expand its product universe and exhibit at Milan’s furniture fair Salone del Mobile next month.

“The idea is to go to Milan to show our philosophy in interiors that can be interpreted in the future. We feel our brand is a universe that can be enlarged to other territories,” he said.

Pungetti was cryptic so as not to spoil the “surprise” of its presentation. He characterized the Salone presence as more of a teaser for a launch in 2010 rather than an introduction of home objects or furniture.

The furniture collection is another example of the expansion of the brand since it was acquired by Renzo Rosso’s Only the Brave Srl in 2002. The house’s first fragrance, under license with beauty giant L’Oréal, will be unveiled to the trade in November, with distribution to follow in 2010, Pungetti confirmed.

What’s more, a second collection of fine jewelry, in partnership with Italy’s Damiani, will be unveiled later this year. Pungetti cited promising sell-through above 40 percent in the company’s London and Paris stores for the first collection, which arrived last November. Retail prices range from 1,000 to 5,000 euros, or $1,250 to $7,250.

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