By  on October 26, 2006

PARIS — The Avenue des Champs-Elysées flexed its athletic muscle this week with the opening of the biggest Adidas Sports Performance store in the world.

In keeping with the space's size, Europe's activewear giant called in some big sporting guns on Tuesday to celebrate the event, among them soccer legend Zinedine Zidane, teammate-cum-DJ for the soiree Djibril Cisse, New Zealand Rugby star Jonah Lomu and Belgian tennis star Justine Henin-Hardenne.

Although Zidane recently retired his cleats, the soccer sensation noted he had ambitions off the field as well. "I am working on a project with Adidas," he said. "You'll be seeing more and more of me with the brand."

"The Champs-Elysées has a very special meaning for us," said Roland Auschel, Adidas' senior vice president of the Europe/Middle East/Africa region. "Not only is it the most famous shopping street in the world, [but] we celebrated the World Cup here in 1998." Indeed, the shopping thoroughfare has experienced a sporty makeover of late. Nike opened its 10,000-square-foot flagship on the street last year, and leading European sportswear retailer Go Sport also has plans for a Champs-Elysées location.

With Adidas' sales in France already ahead of its home market of Germany, it's no wonder the company chose the City of Light for a Sports Performance store, its seventh such space in France.

At about 18,840 square feet, the 22 Avenue des Champs-Elysées address dethroned Adidas' 16,000-square-foot New York flagship on Broadway from its top spot. France also counts two Adidas Originals stores in Toulouse and Lille, with plans for a new Paris location in the works. On a global level, Adidas boasts 600 fully owned stores and more than 4,000 retail locations.

In fact, Adidas claims it controls a 14 percent share of France's sportswear market, ahead of Nike, which claims 11.8 percent.

"Adidas is the leading sports apparel business on the French market," said André Maestrini, president of Adidas France. He noted the brand's success in France is driven in part by its women's sports apparel business, as well as the soccer category.

Knowing thousands of fans flooded the avenue eight years ago when France swept the World Cup, Adidas hopes to create a similar rush of shoppers to its new locale. The brand expects some 150,000 visitors before the end of the year, 70 percent of them tourists.The sportswear firm completed its flagship in less than four months. The store's retail space covers two floors with a black-and-white interior that recalls Adidas' famous three-stripe insignia. The floor space is divided into several areas, including women's, men's and children's apparel; sporting goods categories made up of soccer, running, tennis, fitness-yoga and golf, and performance or lifestyle clothing.

Silver escalators lead to the women's department on the second floor with a 860-square-foot area devoted to the Stella McCartney collaboration collection. "We implemented specific areas for women, such as the lifestyle and performance categories," added Maestrini. "The women's category is essential, we wanted to create a feminine atmosphere and intimate space where shoppers can feel relaxed."

"It's functional and fashionable," said French épée fencer and five-time Olympic medal winner Laura Flessel-Colovic at the event.

"The women's apparel is the perfect equilibrium between technical and feminine," said Henin-Hardenne, who is ranked second in the world. "They listen to our needs and are constantly looking ahead."

Indeed, Adidas also unveiled Tuesday night a futuristic shopping method. Dubbed "mi Innovation Center," or mIC, the unit gives shoppers the opportunity to order customized shoes based on their performance needs and design preferences. A computer analyzes a customer's running style.

"We are providing customers with techniques that we use for our top athletes," said Maestrini. "We will be able to offer tailor-made services worldwide."

The glossy futuristic black cube boasts a computerized catwalk as well as a virtual runner that records the user's style of running. Prices for the customized shoes range from around 60 euros, or $75 at current exchange, to 110 euros, or $137.50, for a basic shoe, while additional customization options range between 10 euros, or $12.50, and 40 euros, or $75.

In addition to the cube, the mIC boasts a consulting zone and a specially trained expert who, like a personal trainer, advises customers on nutrition, exercise and products.

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