JIMMY CHOO STRUTS ACROSS THE POND

Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK--"Thank God you're here. Now I won't have to fly to London for my shoes."
That was the sentiment of one Jimmy Choo devotee when she learned that the British-based, high-end shoe firm will open its first store in the U.S. here next week.
While it might be an unusual comment given the spectrum of designer footwear available here, Choo does have his die-hard fans, many of whom knew him initially as a made-to-order footwear designer.
The custom business has largely been discontinued in favor of a manufactured collection, but one that could hardly be called mainstream. Recently, the attentions of such familiar faces as Madonna, Meg Ryan, Courtney Love, Nicole Kidman and Natasha Richardson have put Choo in the spotlight and driven demand beyond expectations.
"We finally had to sell several pairs of shoes to one customer who just had to have them, and couldn't have cared less about the mess," said James Gonzales, general manager of Jimmy Choo USA, referring to the unfinished state of the new store. Gonzales will manage the store and oversee the company's wholesale business in the U.S. Currently the firm sells to Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and other specialty stores.
The 1,600-square-foot shop is at 645 Fifth Avenue in Olympic Tower and has entrances on East 51st Street and on the inside of Olympic Tower's atrium. Three shop windows face the atrium.
Besides the store here, the firm plans to open perhaps 10 Jimmy Choo stores over the coming two years. Later this month, one will open on North Cannon Drive in Los Angeles, and another is scheduled to open in the still- under-construction Venetian, a hotel and casino complex adjacent to the Sands Exposition Center in Las Vegas.
Gonzales said other cities under consideration include Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago and Washington.
When the store opens on Friday--after a party in the Olympic Tower atrium hosted by fellow Brits Natasha Richardson and Plum and Lucy Sykes--shoppers will be able to choose from the full collection of Choo's unabashedly sexy stilettos and jaunty flats as well as sleek sandals and boots in velvet, gray flannel, leather and suede. Some pieces are topped off with a touch of mink.
For the first time, Choo's limited, but burgeoning collection of handbags will be sold in the store, with small leather goods slated to come next. The bags, for day and evening, echo the materials used in the shoes. Retail prices range from about $200 to $900.
The store's cozy, split-level interior is cream colored, accented by aubergine velvet on chair cushions and small pillows that display an individual bag or shoe. The space feels more like a boudoir than a boutique, a sense that Gonzales said was intentional. Also deliberate was leaving the prices off all the merchandise.
"We want to get to know our customers, and the comfy boudoir atmosphere encourages people to sit down, relax and get really good service," Gonzales said, adding that the firm will also run shoes up to the hotels or apartments of visiting clients. "Our whole image is about service."
The street level and upper floor each have a small sitting area and a full-length mirror, as well as a dressing room. That way, Gonzales said, customers can get the full effect of matching their dress and shoes.
The lower level houses stock, a buyers showroom and offices for staff, with room to expand to run U.S. distribution as more stores open.

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