By  on August 2, 2007

MILAN — Giorgio Armani is known to be tireless and hands-on about building his business. However, there is one store opening the designer will have to miss — that of the reproduction of his Via Manzoni megastore in the virtual world of Second Life.

Instead, a computerized version of Armani, otherwise known as an avatar, will welcome viewers and shoppers on the site when it launches. And just as the designer is often in his stores checking merchandise and windows and talking to customers, so his avatar will be in the Second Life store on a regular basis. The store will allow viewers to purchase the brand's top 10 products virtually via Second Life currency, the Linden dollar, or in actuality.

More significantly, coming in September, Armani will start selling all Emporio Armani products online in the U.S. as part of an ongoing strategy of expanding e-commerce.

"In the last seven years, I have seen mounting enthusiasm for online fashion shopping in the United States through the growing success we have had with our A|X Armani Exchange site," Armani said. "Over this same period I have also observed the increasing sophistication of fashion consumers shopping online, which has encouraged me to develop this new site for my Emporio Armani lifestyle."

A soft unveiling of the Emporio Armani site is slated for Aug. 14, while the official launch will take place Sept. 7, to coincide with the Neiman Marcus Crystal Charity luncheon in Dallas. Armani has been invited as guest of honor and will show his fall collection.

Robert Triefus, Armani's executive vice president of worldwide communications, said that, for the first time, the designer will be interviewed online by the American public that day. "A major American portal will organize a live chat interview with Mr. Armani," said Triefus, declining to reveal the name of the Web site until the deal has been finalized.

The designer said there are only 10 Emporio Armani freestanding stores in the U.S. and that the Web site will enable consumers nationwide to shop the entire collection. "There are many attributes of an e-commerce store that I find especially appealing: the ease with which we can change the merchandise offerings; the instant information we receive on the way customers are shopping on the site, [and] the fact that the collection can now be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to so many people who have not had access to one of my stores in the past," said Armani.Triefus said the e-commerce site has been in development for a year, and the company is determined to offer online the same retail experience as consumers would find in Armani's brick-and-mortar stores.

The company is investing $500,000 in online communication and search optimization in the first season, working with leading interactive advertising agency Morpheus Media. The full range of Emporio Armani products will be available on the site, from clothing to accessories, eyewear, fragrances, jewelry and Red-branded pieces. Triefus said the site will comprise the "Experience" section, designed in collaboration with Saatchi & Saatchi Italy, and the "Shop Online" area, powered by the Italian Internet retailer Yoox. Initially, only U.S. residents will be able to shop, but the company plans to expand the site to Europe next year and to Asia after that.

"America is the most advanced country for e-commerce. It's only logical to launch there first," said Triefus, noting that, in the U.S., the company does not wholesale Emporio Armani apparel and accessories, with the exception of watches, jewelry and eyewear. The site also coincides with the launch of the fragrance Emporio Armani Diamonds, fronted by Beyoncé Knowles. In September, all Emporio ads will bear a reference to the online shop.

In 2000, Armani started selling A|X Armani Exchange products on the Internet; Emporio Armani watches followed in 2004, and, at the end of 2005, Giorgio Armani Beauty went online. All these projects were aimed at U.S. residents only.

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