By  on April 14, 2006

MILAN — "Home away from home" has certainly taken on new meaning for many Italian fashion designers who have branched into furniture and interior design as well as the hotel business.

Milan's six-day international design and furniture exhibition, the Salone del Mobile, which closed here on Monday, gave these designers the chance to showcase their newest home lines and related licensing deals and provide fresh details about their increasing travel ventures.

Giorgio Armani and his hotel partner, Mohamed Alì Alabbar, chairman of Emaar Properties, said 30 Armani-designed hotels are scheduled to open in the next 15 years at a $3 billion investment; Versace announced an agreement with Tag Group to decorate private jets with the brand's new Home Couture line; Rosita Missoni designed her latest Home Collection as a "mood board" for the first Missoni hotel, set to open in Edinburgh next year, and Etro appears to be the latest fashion company poised to design hotels.

Whatever the intent, the Salone del Mobile proved once again a powerful window for the industry and a lucrative business opportunity — even for companies that simply participated by offering their spaces for art exhibitions.

"Last year, we doubled our store [volume] for the week during the Salone," said Giorgio Guidotti, president of communications at Max Mara, pointing to a long line at the counter of the Sportmax boutique in the tony shopping street Via Spiga. At this shop, the company presented artwork by Yves Behar and Andrée Putman, drawing heavy traffic and increasing sales of Sportmax merchandise. "There are so many artists who are looking for central locations," said Guidotti.

Armani certainly means business with his Casa line; there are plans to open dedicated stores in Buenos Aires, Beirut, Tel Aviv, Mexico City and Miami. A spokesman confirmed, "We currently have 75 stores, of which 23 are freestanding and 52 are in-store shops. The objective is to open a further 40 stores by the end of this year including 10 freestanding and 30 in-store. This would mean that by year end, we would have 33 freestanding and 92 in-store shops." Armani Casa's retail revenue rose 40 percent to 30 million euros, or $37.5 million, last year.

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