NEW YORK — Esprit is still trying to find its way home.The company, which began in San Francisco almost 35 years ago, has since made a name for itself in Europe and Asia, while losing ground in recent years in the U.S. as it struggled to find the right American formula.Esprit said earlier this year that it planned to completely revamp its U.S. strategy by creating shop-in-shops in department stores across the country and opening Esprit megastores, similar to those in Europe.Heinz Krogner, chief executive officer and chairman for Europe and ceo of Esprit International in New York, said he still plans to achieve these plans, but added that he has learned a lot this year about American retail, which has pushed him to slow things down a bit."Our own retail is on hold for now," he said. "Esprit has always been known in America as a department store brand, so we are working on developing our relationships with the department stores, which is going very well, so far, and I think our concept will help to bring people back to the department stores."Since February, when Krogner announced the re-entrance of the brand in the U.S. — the company wound down operations for a short time — a lot has been accomplished. The company set up its U.S. headquarters at 1370 Broadway in Manhattan and hired a staff to head up operations. Macy’s West is testing the brand in shop-in-shops in 17 of its stores, and Esprit has signed several licenses throughout the year: shoes and accessories with Jones Apparel Group’s Nine West division; outerwear through The Levy Group; children’s wear by Adjmi; swimwear with Beach Patrol, and loungewear by Carol Hochman."If this works out well, I have every reason to believe we can open stores here and be successful with them," he said. "But first, we are working with our wholesale partners to make sure that they make money, and make sure they know that we are here to help them. If they need visuals in the store, we will provide that for them."Krogner said he expects between $50 million and $70 million in wholesale volume in 2003 in the U.S.While the Esprit brand offers a variety of clothing segments, including men’s, misses’, junior and children’s sportswear, American shoppers know the brand primarily as a junior brand. In this case, Macy’s West has opened junior shop-in-shops that offer some of the misses’ collection, as well. Men’s wear has yet to enter the U.S. In Europe, department stores have six or seven Esprit shop-in-shops within one store for the different categories."I hope we can eventually do this in America, too," he said. "But we have to build up to that. That takes time."

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