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OUCH!--The Italian textile and apparel industries are bracing for a nasty little hike--up 3 percent, to 16 percent--in the value-added tax on clothes and everything else made of fabric. The increase, passed by the Senate last week, is expected to get approval from the House of Deputies next week. Manufacturers are less than pleased. The tax jump, coupled with the weakness of the lira and higher prices of raw materials, means that retail apparel prices could rise 15 to 20 percent in the next four to six months, according to Alfredo Ciampini, managing director of Federtessile, the Italian textile association.

CREDIT-CARD CAPER--The National Association of German Retailers, which has lobbied hard against changing the country's restrictive shopping hours, is now going after credit-card costs. The group's legal adviser, Stefan Schneider, has suggested that retailers should be able to ask card users to pay higher prices than customers paying cash, to cover those costs. Current credit-card contracts in Germany state that this is verboten. But, said Schneider: "This is a limitation of entrepreneurial freedom."

SHOPPING PARIS--It happens every year, just in time for the Paris ready-to-wear shows: more stores. A 3,800-square-foot Genny store will open March 16 on Avenue Montaigne, featuring all the Genny fashion and accessory collections including Genny Platinum, the "couture" line. Late last month, Jean Paul Gaultier opened a 1,600-square-foot store that features JPG, Gaultier jeans and some accessories on the ground floor of his headquarters on Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine. And Gianfranco Ferre opened a second franchised men's store this week on two levels on Rue du Faubourg St. Honore.

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