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Alligator on Fifth: Lacoste to Open Store Near Saks

NEW YORK — Riding its wave of renewed popularity, Lacoste has grabbed a prime piece of Fifth Avenue real estate for a new store, WWD has learned.<br><br>The Paris-based brand plans to open in July a 2,600-square-foot store on the southwest...

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NEW YORK — Riding its wave of renewed popularity, Lacoste has grabbed a prime piece of Fifth Avenue real estate for a new store, WWD has learned.

The Paris-based brand plans to open in July a 2,600-square-foot store on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 49th Street, diagonally across the avenue from Saks Fifth Avenue and next to Rockefeller Center.

“This is an aggressive move predicated on the success we are enjoying, particularly in New York,” said Bob Siegel, chairman of Lacoste USA. “We’ve developed strong brand momentum.”

Lacoste is expected to close its 1,800-square-foot unit on Madison Avenue, between 54th and 55th Streets, although exactly when hasn’t been determined. It is possible that the company will operate the two stores for a while. The lease on Madison is up in May 2004.

“It was too small to really maximize,” Siegel said, though he added that the shop has been tracking at “well over” $2,000 in sales per square foot. “It’s a small, highly productive location. We love what we have been able to accomplish there. The Fifth Avenue location has 40 percent more space, and it’s a high-profile location with a tremendous amount of traffic — much more of an international, tourist crowd. It takes us from being a destination store on Madison to a store where people will really discover us.”

Siegel acknowledged that on Fifth Avenue, “It will be pretty hard to do better than $2,000 a foot, but we certainly have high expectations.”

As a corner site, at 608 Fifth Avenue, the new shop will have high visibility, with 35 feet of frontage on Fifth Avenue and 50 feet on 49th Street. The neighborhood could get even busier, with next year’s opening of American Girl on the southeast corner of 49th Street and Fifth Avenue. The Chicago-based American Girl sells dolls and doll accessories, children’s clothes and will feature a restaurant, a theater and space for special events.

Moreover, Lacoste on Fifth Avenue will show off the company’s new interior design concept, unveiled at recent openings in Orlando and Dallas. “It’s a bold, futuristic look, pure white, with wall fixtures lit from the back that bring alive the colors that Lacoste stands for,” Siegel said.

The concept was created in a collaboration between the Paris-based architect Patrick Rubin, of Canal Associates; Christophe Pillet, a furniture and interior designer; Lacoste creative director Christophe Lemaire, and New York-based store architect James D’Auria.

Over the past few decades, Lacoste has had its ups and downs. It was licensed to Crystal Brands in the Seventies, became an outlet vehicle, and turned off a lot of customers. But in 1993, the Lacoste family got the brand back and stopped selling in America for a while to cleanse out the merchandise. Over the last couple of years, the label has become hot again and has a younger appeal. It’s been boosted by the vivid colors of the sportswear, increased advertising and savvy marketing — placing products on such Hollywood celebrities as Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman — and by its famous alligator logo, which is seen as hip, with an air of status but not ostentatious, and without designer prices. Lacoste also offers accessories, shoes and eyewear.

Siegel said Lacoste will finish the year more than 25 percent ahead in the U.S. “One of the things really growing with us is our women’s business. It’s really attracting a very youthful consumer to our store, a lot in the 18- to 25-year-old range. We think women’s will be close to 50 percent of our business,” from the current 40 percent.

“They’ve been doing amazing things with the brand, but it could do more with the real estate strategy,” added Steven B. Greenberg, president of The Greenberg Group retail real estate consultants, which helped Lacoste find the Fifth Avenue location.

Greenberg noted that while Lacoste does have stores situated on prominent thoroughfares, like Rodeo Drive, Worth Avenue and the Champs-Elysée, there is much room for growth in the U.S., considering there are only 13 regular-priced Lacoste stores and four outlets in the country. The lease on Fifth Avenue was signed a week ago, and Lacoste takes possession of the space Jan. 1. It has been occupied by the Swiss Trade Commission. This spring, Lacoste is also opening in Scottsdale, Ariz., and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Regarding the pace of the U.S. expansion, Siegel said “We’re taking it slow. We want to do it right. Being a private company certainly doesn’t force us to run off and do things in a haphazard way.”

Devanlay, owned by the Maus family in Geneva, has worldwide rights for apparel from the Lacoste family.

Lacoste is widely distributed in New York, and will continue to be so this spring at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, Scoop and Searle.

Asked if the Fifth Avenue opening could affect distribution, Siegel said: “I think [the store] will make the brand more desirable.” “It’s not going to take business from the market. It will just give it a more prominent position.”

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