NEW YORK — Banana Republic will introduce its petite collection at its four flagships in the U.S. this month.

The fall petite line will be sold at the Banana Republic stores at Rockefeller Center in New York, Grant Avenue in San Francisco and Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Calif., beginning Friday, and will be available at the Michigan Avenue unit in Chicago starting Sunday.

The petite styles will be similar to the regular-sized line, but will be specifically proportioned to petites.

Since August 2001, Banana Republic’s petite collection has been available only at the retailer’s Web site at bananarepublic.com, where it will continue to be offered.

“We do not look at the launch of the product as a test, but rather as just the introduction of our petite product into our stores,” said a Banana Republic spokeswoman. “There is already substantial information from online sales and research that there is an ever-growing appetite in the marketplace for must-have novelty product for petite women. We believe that by allowing the customer to see, feel and try on the product, the in-store experience will be that much more enjoyable than just being able to shop online.”

Based on national studies compiled by Banana Republic, some 45 million, or 43 percent, of females in the U.S. fitted the definition of petite women — 5 feet, 4 inches and under.

The Web site will continue to carry the entire petite collection that replicates 80 percent of the women’s line, twice the assortment the flagships will carry at the launch.

The spokeswoman noted the company chose the four locations because they were Banana Republic flagships. “We chose these particular stores based on space constraints. These four stores have the ability to convert rooms and are also in major metropolitan areas in which there is a significant petite population. We felt that these stores had the ideal location and size for the launch,” she added.

Banana Republic officials couldn’t be reached for comment on how much business the four flagships will generate with the petite collection in its first year, nor on how much business petites garner online. Neither the Banana Republic stores nor the Web site carry plus sizes. The regular-sized line goes up to size 16.Petites will offer work and casual elements in all categories — suitings, pants, shirts, outerwear, leathers and suedes. Key knitwear items will have an increased number of petite sizes such as small and extra small.

The spokeswoman expects the petite line to be rolled out to additional Banana Republic stores, possibly for fall 2004. Banana Republic currently has 400 stores. “We are targeting about 30 to 50 stores based on what we perceive will be a very successful launch this month,” she said.

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