THE DESIGNER EXCHANGE PROGRAM

NEW YORK--Yves and Viv were here during the same week in September. Hervé is coming next month. Donna went to London to open her first DKNY shop, and she's going back again next fall to open the designer shop. Calvin made a rare public appearance at London's Selfridges in March for the launch of Escape for Men.
Why are designers racking up those frequent-flyer miles?
Business, of course. There's a taste for the American look in Europe--whether it's Donna Karan's sophisticated urban bridge collection in London, Ralph Lauren's polo shirt in France or Calvin Klein's underwear in Italy.
And for Europeans here, the States are fertile territory filled with potential consumers.
The biggest trend seems to be toward single-name shops, here and abroad.
In New York alone, Ferragamo inaugurated its twin stores at the entrance to the Trump tower in July; Max Mara unveiled its flagship store on Madison Avenue in September; Krizia will open a new, directly owned flagship store on Madison Avenue in November, around the same time that the pricy intimate apparel company La Perla is opening its midtown boutique, and Miuccia Prada said she's looking for space in SoHo for her Miu Miu line, which will be shown for the second time at the CFDA tents during show week.
Prada said that she and her husband, who run the business together, are working to expand on the U.S. market.
"It's an important market for us, and our apparel is doing very well, beyond most people's expectations," she said. Prada is also opening a new store on Madison Avenue next year to carry the full collection of apparel, bags and accessories, as well as elements of Prada's budding men's line. The existing store on 57th Street will be dedicated exclusively to accessories.
Prada plans to open a total of five stores in the U.S. in the next two years, according to Miuccia's husband and partner, Patrizio Bertelli.
The European economy is still in the doldrums, and as a general recession in consumer spending is receding in fits and starts, more and more Italian names are eager to stake out their claim to a share of the massive American market, although they acknowledge it isn't always easy to get a foot in the door.
In Europe, there's Donna Karan's DKNY store in London, which opened earlier this month. A designer store will open later next year.
"For us, because of our policy of limited distribution, the only place to expand was outside the U.S.," said Steven Ruzow, president of The Donna Karan Cos., who said one-third of the company's international business is done in Europe. There are plans to open a Donna Karan store in Munich, following one that opened earlier this month in Geneva.
Ruzow said there's no price resistance from customers at this price level.
"The jacket that costs $395 here costs 395 pounds there," he said. "They are still walking out the door."
Calvin Klein has made some big splashes in Italy with footwear, produced under license by Italian shoe man Diego della Valle, which just hit the stores and is reportedly doing well, and underwear, eyewear and fragrances, though the apparel isn't yet widely distributed here.
Klein opened a press office and showroom in downtown Milan this spring, and Karan opened her firm's first international press office there last July.
Ralph Lauren was one of the first to take his designs internationally. His polo shirts are a must for Italian yuppies young and old, worn in casual-chic style with jeans and loafers.
Two of Milan's leading boutiques, Bardelli and Trincati, can't keep them in stock at more than 120,000 lire ($77) each.
Lauren also still has a shop on London's Bond Street in the early Eighties. It is the only store in the world, other than the Madison Avenue location, that he still owns himself.
The company has 14 free-standing shops in Europe, with another deal in Germany close to being signed, according to Peter Strom, chief executive officer and vice chairman of Polo Ralph Lauren.
Donna Karan's DKNY, Blumarine and Ralph Lauren have all opened freestanding stores or shops-in-stores in the last several months in London, and designers such as Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Calvin Klein are searching for sites for their own shops.
In Karan's case, the boutiques are owned by Christina Ong, who also has been named the designer's London distributor. Klein is said to be searching for a similar partner.
The U.K. already represents significant business for most of these designers through wholesaling to such stores as Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and House of Fraser.
Meanwhile, some British designers are coming back this way to get more publicity for their lines than they can muster at home.
Liza Bruce and Tanya Sarne, owner of Ghost, have been showing in New York since the early Nineties, after previously showing in London. They made the change primarily because the majority of their business came from U.S. retailers, and Sarne said she gets far more publicity from her New York show than she does in London.
"We have achieved greater recognition and expanded into the Far East simply through showing [in New York]," Sarne said. "I barely get a mention in the European press when I show in London, but when I show in New York, my designs can be seen on television from Poland to Jerusalem."
Some European designers, however, are having trouble finding translations for American phrases such as "trunk show" and "schmooze."
"They're not called trunk shows or personal appearances here--it's quite a new concept in Europe," said John Galliano.
"I'm not used to this practice of personal appearances. It seems a bit strange, but I'm sure it's interesting," said Martine Sitbon.
"It's very important to do personal appearances, I think. But it would be very strange to do it in France, because they don't want it," said Leger, who will be at Neiman Marcus in Los Angeles next month to do a trunk show, and said he'd like to come to New York.
" I can't travel all around the world doing this--but it is very important to meet clients, too. I know I have to do it from time to time, but I'm a clothes maker, not a movie star."
Wrong, Hervé. According to Philip Miller, chairman and chief executive officer of Saks Fifth Avenue, it is a star business.
"People respond to a designer much as they respond to movie stars and pop musicians," Miller said. The flagship store here has hosted Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Hubert de Givenchy and Emanuel Ungaro, among others.
"It creates a major positive impression when these designers come," he said. "There's a groundswell of interest. Sure, you see a bump in all categories when the designer comes, but you try to make it happen--you do the windows with the fragrance, the handbags, the accessories, and hope the consumer will lateralize from one product to another."
And Dawn Mello, president of Bergdorf Goodman, coaxed Vivienne Westwood here last month for the designer's first public appearance in the States.
"The appearance of a designer who has received acclaim for a collection certainly attracts attention, and helps to sell clothes," she said. "Vivienne was one of the most influential names inside fashion, but she was not that well known, so her appearance helped create a stir."
European designers may be a bit skittish, but they recognize that if they want to build their business, the personal appearance plays a big role.
"It's vital that I go to meet the American woman," said Galliano, who did his first New York trunk show at Bergdorf Goodman last April. "They appreciate being advised on what to put with what and how to put it all together. To build a business, and post sales, it's not just about working with the stores. It's the only way for a young company like us to build."
Michel Klein will be going to New York "in the near future," to support the Guy Laroche Couture line to be sold by Barneys New York.
"I make appearances because I think a designer, instead of just designing clothing, needs to invest himself fully in what he does, said Klein. "He should have personal contact with the clients--for the sake of the designer as well as the clients. It is not just clothing we sell, it is more of a spirit."

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