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Designer Crowd Has Ambitions on All Points of the Compass

Designers want to build on their 2004 momentum by opening more stores in the U.S., while exploring Europe, Asia and other far-off places.

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NEW YORK — For designers around the globe, building a presence in the U.S. has long been a critical element of their success.

Last year proved to be a time for making such marks for many companies, particularly with image-oriented retail ventures in New York, resulting in a major makeover of Madison Avenue and the 57th Street corridor to Fifth Avenue. Further downtown, the Meatpacking District had its own influx of posh hotels, restaurants and designer shops, growing so quickly that some fear the imminent demise of the neighborhood’s hip factor.

With such steps in place, however, designers are looking to 2005 to build on their momentum. In some cases, they plan to continue that expansion with new ventures in Europe and further afield.

Catherine Malandrino

The delays were frustrating, but when Catherine Malandrino finally unveiled her retail space in the Meatpacking District in November, it marked the completion of a corporate transformation 18 months in the making. The kaleidoscopic space at 652 Hudson Street is filled with reflecting mirrors, exposed brick walls encased in glass and hanging metallic crystals that show the full expanse of her product line.

Construction delays throughout the year were Malandrino’s biggest disappointment of 2004, but in the end, the effort paid off.

“It was a great way for me to finish off the year,” said Malandrino, before packing for a Christmas vacation in France. “I really feel comfortable in this new home.”

Next year promises to have further adventures in store for the designer, whose goals, both personal and professional, happen to intersect. As part of a newfound wanderlust, Malandrino said she plans to explore some potential markets for her designs.

“I’m going to discover countries that I have been very curious to find out about, especially Russia, Kuwait and China,” she said. “I’m doing a big trip in March and April, and I think it’s really going to open new horizons for me, too. I feel that those countries have been pretty unknown for me.

Oscar de la Renta

He launched a moderate-priced collection with Kellwood Co. He dressed the First Lady and her competition in his signature collection for the presidential debates. He even opened a Madison Avenue flagship. Yet when asked his biggest accomplishment of 2004, Oscar de la Renta replied without hesitation that it was the fact that he had named Alex Bolen, his son-in-law, as chief executive officer of Oscar de la Renta Ltd.

“I haven’t finished achieving my goals for 2004,” de la Renta said. “I just hope next year is going to be as good as this year.”

Bolen’s role as ceo was made official in July and stirred a series of changes aimed at ensuring a steady growth, the designer said. Apart from opening the Madison Avenue store in November, the company plans to open locations in Las Vegas and Bal Harbour, Fla. It also changed its lending facility to enable de la Renta to invest in production capabilities so that he can grow his business in U.S. stores.

Carlos Miele

For the Brazilian designer, 2004 was a year focused on building his presence in the U.S., having opened an in-store shop on the third floor of the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan and acquired an apartment just a block from his two-year-old signature shop in the Meatpacking District.

“The most important step in my career this year was opening the shop in Saks,” he said. “Now I am next to Armani, Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino and Alexander McQueen — these are the designers I admire so much and they were the first names I heard of growing up in Brazil.”

His goals for 2005 are just as ambitious. He’ll be opening another featured space in the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Florida’s Bal Harbour Shops, while also expanding his product offerings and global reach.

“I want to open a store in Paris next year,” Miele said. “I want to develop my separates and become as strong in sportswear, even in jeans, as I am in dresses now. I also want to finish my apartment in New York and start to have dinner parties, mixing friends from art, fashion and theater. I want to have more of a chance to know people in New York. I really feel New York is the right place to be.”

Kimberly Newport-Mimran, designer of Pink Tartan

Two years after launching her Pink Tartan label in Toronto, Kimberly Newport-Mimran brought her bridge sportswear concept to the U.S. for fall, selling to Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and other specialty stores, while opening a showroom in New York to handle her expansion. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because the designer is the wife of Joseph Mimran, the founder of Club Monaco, who is also involved in the Pink Tartan business.

Newport-Mimran worked in merchandising and product development at Club Monaco before launching her own collection, which she described as the “clothes that I love and that I love to wear.” The Pink Tartan label features classic styles such as shirtdresses, peacoats and turtleneck sweaters in high-quality fabrics.

“Our biggest accomplishment this year was opening the office in New York and exceeding all of our sales plans,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot of great editorial and we’re growing quickly. I want to continue that momentum and make the collection accessible to a lot more people, and I want to hang out in New York more.”

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