By  on October 24, 2008

MADRID — Oscar de la Renta wrapped up a five-day run here Thursday, officially inaugurating his 10th store and picking up a lifetime achievement award from Telva, Spain’s most prestigious fashion magazine.

In his flower-filled suite at the Hotel Ritz, de la Renta reminisced about Madrid in the Fifties, where he began his career sketching for EISA, Balenciaga’s haute couture shop (named after the late designer’s mother). “I lived not far from here and the cheapest breakfast in those days was at a small cafeteria in the Prado Museum,” de la Renta recalled.

“Sadly, all the Spanish fashion houses from those days have closed,” he said, ticking off iconic names such as Pedro Rodriguez and Manuel Pertegaz (“that little mosquito,” he chuckled).

Despite the struggling Spanish economy, Madrid was a logical choice for the brand’s first international launch, de la Renta said, “for sentimental reasons, of course, and commercial ones, too.”

Added chief executive officer and son-in-law Alexander Bolen: “We’ve been lacking in this market. The Madrid store — which is company-owned — is by far the best execution we’ve done in our 10 stores [eight in the U.S., one each in Madrid and Athens — the two launched in tandem]. “We want to open where we feel there is a customer we’re not getting, and if there are other accounts that pre-exist in the market, we can help them.”

The brand has scattered wholesale relationships in Marbella, Barcelona and Valencia, Bolen said, adding, “We’re excited about Spain and important wholesale business will come.”

The 3,014-square-foot, two-floor Madrid store had a soft opening at the end of September and to date has done “a nice business,” Bolen said. First-year sales are expected to reach $2.5 million to $3 million, or about $10,000 a square meter — and that number could double over a couple of years, he confirmed.

On Calle Claudio Coello, a shop-congested street in the tony Salamanca area, the new store’s neighbors include Diane von Furstenberg, Shanghai Tang and Maje. The store carries a range of women’s wear; accessories, including jewelry, shoes, bags and sunglasses, and a capsule men’s collection based on Oscar’s own wardrobe, according to a spokesman. “If we get traction with men’s, we’ll expand from there,” Bolen said.

Like the label’s other interiors “because we want a consistency of retail experience,” the location features grainy walls in coral found next door to de la Renta’s house in Santo Domingo; plaster palm tree motifs; oversized mirrors; open shelving; blond anigre-wood flooring, and, downstairs, a fireplace.

De la Renta said his customers here are likely to be residents rather than tourists — of all generations, including “old friends” and an already-established customer base. “The key to success is reaching not just one generation, but three — mothers, daughters and their daughters,” he said.

Eveningwear is projected to be the leader, Bolen said, “but sweaters and blouses are our best-selling classifications worldwide and at the same time, we are letting customers know about the daywear.” In addition, bridal will be important. “We have purposely positioned bridal at the high end of the market; our least-expensive dress is $6,000.”

In general, prices range from 3,000 to 12,000 euros, $3,851 to $15,409 at current exchange, for eveningwear; 2,200 to 2,800 euros, or $2,826 to $3,597, for daywear, and 800 to 1,500 euros, or $1,028 to $1,927, for knits.

Madrid is only part of the brand’s rollout plan. The Athens store, launched about 10 days ago with the designer on hand, is a franchised operation of less than 2,600 square feet in partnership with Greek retailer Haris Tsimogiannis. A planned Moscow location is late due to construction delays, de la Renta said, adding the store now is scheduled to open at the end of the year.

In addition, a 400-square-foot boutique opened in London’s Harrods on Monday. Bolen said several stores are planned in the Middle East within the next three to five years. “We are proceeding with caution,” he reiterated, “but we are proceeding. Medium-long term, we are extremely optimistic about the prospects of our business. Meanwhile, the upcoming three months will tell us a lot about what the next year-and-a-half is going to look like.”

Traditionally, Telva’s annual award party in the Palace Hotel is a glittering occasion with Spain’s fashion swells turning out in force. De la Renta shared the head table with Spanish Infanta Cristina de Borbón, local politicos and Madrid designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada and her husband, newspaper publisher Pedro J. Ramírez.

Yves Saint Laurent designer Stefano Pilati picked up the Best International Designer Award and afterwards bear-hugged Pedro Almodóvar actress Bibiana Fernández. Other guests included Nati Abascal, a de la Renta confidante, in a black and red floor-sweeper with a black fur stole; her sons, Luis and Raphael Medina, Duke of Feria; Spain’s top torero Enrique Ponce and his wife, Paloma Cuevas; Pronovias designer Manuel Moto and Gabriela Palatchi, the daughter of the bridal manufacturer’s owner, and a very pregnant Carolina Herrera Jr., who came with Genoveva Casanova, recently divorced from the Duchess of Alba’s son, Cayetano Martínez de Irujo.

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