By  on June 17, 2008

Feting its 40th anniversary next year, Sportmax is accelerating its growth in the U.S.

The label, founded in 1969 as a more practical, informal offshoot of MaxMara that was inspired by Swinging London, opened a pop-up store on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles over the weekend. It also secured sites on Melrose Place in West Hollywood and Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, which will feature a new store concept.

And to round out its growth strategy, MaxMara Group executives plan to open up the Sportmax business for wholesale with the next spring season.

In its early days, Sportmax was viewed as an addition to the MaxMara mix, sold inside MaxMara stores. Over the years, however, the brand found its own clientele. Today, Sportmax is sold in the U.S. in 27 MaxMara boutiques. There are also seven freestanding Sportmax stores worldwide: New York, Milan, Paris, Tokyo and three in Hong Kong.

The growth of the label has prompted MaxMara to convert its unit on West Broadway in Manhattan, which sold MaxMara and Sportmax, into a freestanding Sportmax store.

"We started playing with the store and slowly exited the other collections," explained Luigi Caroggio, chief executive officer of MaxMara U.S.A. "By the end of 2006, the product mix was mostly Sportmax, and by the end of 2007, we changed the sign. In the past few seasons, we have seen such growth of the Sportmax collection through MaxMara stores that we decided to start looking for locations."

The company recently secured two units: a 2,200-square-foot space at 8473 Melrose Place in West Hollywood, which is slated to open this December, and a 2,000-square-foot one at 1111 Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, within a new complex being built by architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron. It is scheduled to open in November 2009.

To give Los Angeles a flavor for the brand, the company decided to open a pop-up Sportmax store on Rodeo Drive adjacent to Miu Miu. It is expected to be open through the summer and close on Sept. 30.

"We had the opportunity to utilize that space, and decided to take it as an anticipation to the opening on Melrose for the West Coast market," Caroggio said.The permanent stores will unveil a new concept created by architect Vincenzo de Cotiis, who is also the designer behind fashion label Haute, which is sold at Bergdorf Goodman. The move to hire an architect and fashion designer was deliberate. "We felt that it would bring something special," Caroggio said. The look of the new stores is loosely inspired by the Fifties, with textured surfaces, ribbed wood and printed glass. De Cotiis is combining rough materials with shiny surfaced ones to bring an antique feeling to a modern setting. The concept will first be unveiled in Moscow, where Sportmax plans a soft opening this September.

With the retail push, the company for the first time also decided to open its distribution to high-end department and specialty stores here, beginning with the spring 2009 season. "Until a year ago, the collection structure was not ready for the U.S. wholesale market," Caroggio explained. "Now, we have a strategy in place to give a strong presentation and to have a bigger impact."

Coats wholesale from $495 to $695, dresses from $290 to $640 and knits and sweaters from $125 to $260.

MaxMara Group does not break down numbers for Sportmax. In 2006, the company's overall sales volume was 1.2 billion euros, or $1.8 billion at current exchange rates, of which 45 percent was in exports. The company operates 2,254 stores worldwide in 90 countries, including Marina Rinaldi and Max & Co.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles crowd will get a different view of MaxMara this week. The company is the title sponsor of Women in Film's MaxMara Face of the Future award, which will be given to Ginnifer Goodwin at the 2008 Crystal + Lucy Awards at the Beverly Hilton today.

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