By and  on January 18, 2010

PARIS — The downsizing continues at Yohji Yamamoto.

The Japanese firm said Monday it was mulling the closure of its flagship in Antwerp, Belgium, its largest store in the world, following the shuttering last week of two units in New York, on Grand Street and Gansevoort Street.

The closures are part of a restructuring plan put in place by Japanese private equity fund Integral Corp., which took over Yamamoto after it filed for bankruptcy protection with the Tokyo District Court last October.

Yamamoto also said Monday it would prolong the suspension of its men’s secondary line, Y’s. The brand has set a showroom presentation for its principal line, Yohji Yamamoto Homme, during Paris Men’s Fashion Week, having already opted out of a runway show last June.

The Antwerp store, opened in October 2007, spans 10,300 square feet. The fate of the store will be decided in the next few months, a spokeswoman in Paris said.

The company noted it would focus on France, the U.K. and Hong Kong as its key overseas markets.

Yohji Yamamoto Inc. also named a new board of directors consisting of incumbent chief executive officer Shohei Otsuka; chairman Yoshihiro Hemmi — whose appointment was announced in October — and Reijiro Yamamoto, representative director and partner of Integral, who is not related to the designer.

Hemmi, a former Adidas Japan executive, told WWD in an interview last month that Integral is attempting to make the brand more “muscular.” He reiterated that Integral plans to close about 20 to 30 stores over the next few years.

Hemmi said past management engaged in foreign expansion plans that were too ambitious for a niche luxury player like Yamamoto. “The approach that the past management has taken in terms of building megashops with million-dollar investments in fixtures — [those strategies] are better [suited] to the Louis Vuittons and Hermèses of the world, who have deep pockets,” he said.

Integral is working with Otsuka, who is also the husband of Limi Yamamoto (Yohji’s daughter), to find the best strategy for a niche brand with an intensely loyal consumer base and distinctly Japanese heritage. That could mean tapping into a number of tools such as personalized marketing, multibrand distribution channels and Internet sales, and broadening the brand’s reach to new markets like China.

“I don’t know how many customers Yohji has today. Probably in Japan it’s 200,000 or less. So just try and make that 300,000 and it’s a 50 percent business growth, so it doesn’t take a grand shop in Ginza to make that happen,” Hemmi said. “There are probably different, more personalized approaches to grow the business.”

Annual sales at Yamamoto peaked in 1999 at around 12 billion yen, or about $109 million at average exchange for that year, but have declined since then to about 7.5 billion yen, or about $80 million, for the year ended Aug. 31, 2009, according to the most recent figures available.

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